Lonely Planet Vietnam is a comprehensive travel guide that provides all the basic information a traveler would need for traveling in Vietnam. Be it information on the history, lodgings, transport, food or places of interest, you can find it in the book. Of course, other Vietnam travel guides are just as good. It is just a personal preference that I stick to Lonely Planet.
For information on motorcycling in Vietnam and the Russian Minsk motorcycle, you can refer to the very excellent website MinskClub Vietnam. You can even find a soft copy of the Minsk manual on their site.
I left Dien Bien Phu early at 615am. I was enjoying the scenery and did not notice some fallen debris on the roads. I was unable to stop in time and fell. A girl on bicycle witnessed my misfortune and helped me up. I was embarrassed. Other than some superficial scratches, I was alright. However, the same cannot be said of the motorcycle. The gear pedal was stuck. I rode at first gear to a nearby village and found a helpful villager. Together, we managed to knock the pedal back into position. I thanked him, posed a photo together, took down his address and left with a promise to mail him the photo.
After the accident, I rode carefully, determined to reach Sapa in one piece. The roads to Sapa were beautiful, offering sweeping panoramas of green mountains enveloped by white clouds. I reached Sapa just before 4pm and stayed at Cat Cat Hotel. With its rice terraces, hill-tribe people, cool weather and hiking opportunities, Sapa definitely deserves a stay of a few days. Unfortunately, I was alone and did not really wish to join day tours with other travellers. However, if opportunity permits, I would like to invite some friends and revisit Sapa in the future.
After a quick run-through of the Minsk, a filling up demonstration at a nearby petrol station and buying of a set of poncho, Cuong decided I was ready to go. Knowing Hanoi’s notorious traffic, he offered to guide me out of Hanoi. I rejected his kind offer and quickly lost myself in the streets of Hanoi. It did not help that it started drizzling.
I finally made it out of Hanoi at 1pm. The roads near Mai Chau were twisty but fun. It was good introduction to the mountain roads at Sapa.
Near Mai Chau, I stopped at a viewpoint for some photo taking. I met two friendly locals who were also admiring the scenery. Realizing that I was going to spend the night in Mai Chau, they took upon the task of leading me to Lac Village. I reached Lac village at 4pm and stayed in a White Thai stilt house (Guesthouse 19). The dinner provided by the host was excellent.
The best and most reliable Minsk rental in Hanoi is Cuong’s Motorbike Adventure. They are conveniently located at 1 Pho luong Ngoc Quyen (about 300m north of Hoan Kiem Lake). For the exact location on the map, check the Old Quarter map in your Lonely Planet Vietnam. Their contact numbers are 04.9261534 (shop) and 0913518772 (mobile). Alternatively, you can reach them at their email address email@example.com. Cuong and his staffs speak excellent English.
The Northwest Vietnam loop takes us from Hanoi to Mai Chau, followed by Son La, Dien Bien Phu, Sapa, Lao Cai and Yen Bai before bringing us back to Hanoi. It is best to plan five to six days for the trip, so that you can ride at a reasonable pace with adequate time for sightseeing. The minimum number of days required for the trip would be three days. Personally, I spent four days for the trip.