Cycling to Dong Trieu, Vietnam – Hurdles and Hoops

We get some bad news that sends us scurrying for Hanoi

This post is part of our epic series documenting 19 months of cycle touring through 22 countries. If you want to know more about cycling to Dong Trieu from Halong Bay, read on.

(Don’t miss: Our post covering everything you need to know before cycle touring Vietnam)

10,101 km so far.

Resolving our visa difficulty is, unfortunately, a priority today. We were meant to spend the day relaxing with Jane’s parents, moving from a cafe, to the beach, to a walk along the waterfront, to a restaurant for lunch, or something of that nature.

Instead, we got up early, dashed off to the local market for breakfast, and then headed to a travel agent to find out our options for extending our Vietnam visas.

(Don’t miss: Our post about everything you need to know before visiting Vietnam)

Fact Finding in Halong Bay

After the helpful staff at Saigon Travel made a few phone calls, we were told we do need to go to Ha Noi, and we need to be there by Monday when the immigration office reopens. It is a great relief to see that nobody seems overly concerned with our expired visas.

Travellers’ note: You can also get an extension in Hai Phong or Ho Chi Minh City.

Hopefully we can downgrade this incident from catastrophe to annoyance.

herb garden bike halong bay vietnam

I’ve heard of growing an herb garden on your bike, but this is ridiculous.

We both agree that we’d like to ride to Ha Noi instead of taking a bus – we have a goal of making it to Bali without taking any unnecessary public transport. It is only a two day ride from Ha Long, and since today is Saturday, as long as we leave this afternoon we can make it. We have been assured that staying in a hotel with an expired visa won’t be a problem. We’re hoping this is true.

So, we plan on spending a few hours with Jane’s folks before hopping on our bikes and riding 60 km or so to a nha nghi (Vietnamese for guesthouse).

Another Hiccup

Since the travel agency had been so efficient, we were already at the stop when the shuttle bus from the cruise ship pulled up. Jane’s mom got off the bus, but no Tom. He was feeling “indisposed”, as he put it, after last night’s dinner, so he had stayed behind on the ship.

Travellers be warned: you can’t judge a book by its cover. Table cloths and shiny cutlery don’t mean a thing. Unless a restaurant has lots of happy patrons, no matter what it looks like, don’t even bother. Then again, sometimes you just have bad luck, and someone in the kitchen undercooks the chicken.

Jane’s note: I had already been annoyed by that restaurant the night before, and now I was ready to go throw a brick through their window, or at least give them a stern talking to. Mom convinced me that we should leave well enough alone.

While Tom was recovering on the ship, we had some quality time with Diane. We took her to the local market, where Jane and I had eaten delicious banh my for breakfast. Diane didn’t like the looks of the stall we’d chosen, but to our eyes it was a clean spot, run by a friendly woman.

woman in halong bay market

This is where we had our morning Banh Mi in Halong Bay. Mom wasn’t impressed.

She had cracked fresh eggs into a clean frying pan, and served them up to us on delicious fresh French bread. What could be simpler or more local?

Vegan note: Yes, vegan friends, we have taken to eating eggs in Vietnam. They are abundant, freshly laid, and the only readily available protein option apart from tofu that we have found so far.

We spent some time in a cafe, catching up on the news about Jane’s siblings and their families, talking about our plans for the next year, and hearing about the sites Tom and Diane have visited on their cruise.

jane's mom enjoying the day in halong bay

Even Diane can’t resist going online when there’s free WiFi.

Tom was feeling well enough to join us for lunch and although he still wasn’t up to eating, he was a good sport as Diane asked us to describe some of the best meals we have had on the trip.

Jane and her parents in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam before cycling to dong trieu

Jane and her parents in Ha Long.

Jane’s note: If you ever want to spend a nice day with your family somewhere, don’t do it in Ha Long. It’s pretty much the worst of the worst when it comes to tourist towns. Unwelcoming and unfriendly, with hawkers and touts wherever you turn. It’s difficult to find any peace or a place to just sit and enjoy each others’ company.

Cycling to Dong Trieu, Then on to Ha Noi

We had to say goodbye around 2pm as we had to hit the road.

Jane’s note: I am so happy we got to see my parents. It was pretty tough to ride away after a day in their company. All the homesickness that can build up on a trip like this came welling up inside of me, and there were a few tears behind my sunglasses as we rode out of Ha Long.

Although many parts of Vietnam are mountainous, the bike ride from Ha Long Bay to Dong Trieu is incredibly flat, never exceeding an elevation of 50 m above sea level.

Today’s road began as a beautiful, smooth new road, allowing us to easily cruise along at about 26 km/hr. After about 30 km, however, the new road turned to almost new — aka under construction. Things quickly slowed down as the road became a dusty, torn-up mess, with traffic from both directions diverted to a single side of the road.

Midway through the road work we passed Yen Tu Temple and the many pagodas and temples that form its grounds. Yen Tu is the most important Buddhist site in Vietnam. The main temple sits on top of Yen Tu mountain, but on this cold, cloudy day I am not sure it would have been worth climbing the stairs.

Cycling to Dong Trieu – Where to Stay

Glasses shop car parked inside – cycling to Dong Trieu.

Glasses shop with free parking, Dong Trieu, Vietnam.

When it came time to check into the only decent hotel in Dong Trieu, we started to get nervous all over again about our passports. If these guys wouldn’t take us, we’d be out in the cold. By some minor miracle, the hotelier didn’t even ask for our passports. This is the first time that’s happened since we arrived in Vietnam.

So, we didn’t have to explain why we were in the country with expired visas and he didn’t have to put us on the books, allowing him to pocket the cash we gave him for the room. Win win.  


  1. Comment by Trinh

    Trinh February 19, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    Hi, we met at Zenith. Can’t find the article I saw (pretty much sure) about your trip on vnexpress any more.
    About Ha Long: it’s lovely, but have to go out the bay on a boat. As being a Vietnamese, sad to read your note about Ha Long.
    Good luck,

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen February 21, 2014 at 7:12 am

      Hi Trinh! We got the article (via email) so thank you for searching for it. Maybe we will run into that couple as we head into Laos and Thailand! Was great meeting you.
      We did go into Ha Long Bay – see the posts before this one for our trip to Cat Ba. It was really just that the town of Ha Long doesn’t offer much apart from somewhere to stop before seeing the Bay. It would have been much more enjoyable to wander Hanoi with Jane’s parents, but with no distractions we were all able to enjoy each other fully, so that’s the positive side of it.

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