117 km: 9h15m travel time Left at 8am arrived at 5:15pm
At the reception of the guest house Cuong had organised tea and coffee for everyone at 7am. Huyen walked past with a huge tray of bacon and eggs from the guest house kitchen across the road to a local restaurant where we made bacon and egg rolls while the dogs begged for a snack. Jenny, Sue and I made sure they had a good breakfast.
We stopped not far out of town for a history lesson of this area. There was a lot of fighting in this area with the French Armed Forces. In the past there were tigers and monkeys, too.
The 23 km to Đông Khê was quite smooth and after we passed the busy Saturday market we turned on to a minor road towards Ta Lung then to Na Lang. This was a very pretty green valley between the limestone karst hills and the roads lined with fields of corn and rice. The sun was out, and the temperature was in the low 30s.
We were off the map now onto some small single lane roads with no trucks, just scooters and small vehicles. This is seriously off the tourist trail.
We crossed the single lane bridge into Tà Lùng, one Jeep at a time then refuelled the cars and the travellers with a coffee in town just 200m from the Chinese border. This was amazing drip coffee served with ice and sweetened condensed milk. They also served us a cool Jasmine tea.
We arrived in Quảng Uyên at 12:30pm for lunch in a local restaurant. Another delicious meal with something new today some deep fried crispy fish. A bit like whitebait, but bigger. After lunch we set off for our round trip to Ban Gioc Falls on the border with China. These falls are in the north eastern province of Cao Bằng and are 30 metres high and 300 metres across, making Ban Gioc the widest (but not the highest) waterfall in the country. The falls occur on the Quây Sơn River, a beautiful jade-blue body of water flowing from China through a pastoral landscape of rice fields and bamboo groves surrounded by limestone pinnacles.
This area is often called Hạ Long Bay on land with sharp rock formations jutting out of green rice fields. The roads were in good condition and easy to drive.
During the day the mechanics were called on to tinker on this and that on the Jeeps. Seeing a Jeep with the bonnet up will be a regular sight on the trip. The mechanics seem to have enough spares to build a Jeep or two from scratch. Each Jeep is also carrying spares.
The drive back from the falls, even though we were back tracking, was beautifully bathed in the afternoon light. Many people were at work in the fields using whipper snippers or larger equipment to harvest the rice. Buffalos were everywhere, some muddy and wet from a nice wallow to cool off.
We arrived out our very flash hotel the Hoàng Dung in Quảng Uyên. My room had a lovely view across the rice fields and mountains.
We had dinner at a home stay just a short walk from the hotel. We were going to stay here originally but Cuong thought we might need air conditioning.
The dinner was fabulous, and the owners served us local rice wine. I think it could give you a pretty good hangover. Still, I ended up drinking quite a few of the small shot glasses and chanting “chup sook kway” - I think this means “to your health”.
The homestay business seems to do well as they had a nice Mercedes Benz parked at the homestay! It was a good night, lovely people.
On the short walk back to the hotel, as usual, all the adults and kids want to say hello. I am finding the Vietnamese people, especially in the country towns, very endearing.