I planning my trip to Vietnam and Angkor in September, I am planning to go to Sapa (of course I would not miss it), initially I planned to go with a Tour, after some Internet reading I changed my mind and decided to go by my own and hire the guides/tours in Sapa.
Now, after more reading, I’d like to spend 4 days in Sapa area, rent a motorbike(Minsk or similar) in Lao Cai on Thursday and go to Sapa for Thursday and Friday, go to Pha Long Saturday Market, sleep in Bac Ha, Bac Ha Sunday Market and back to Lao Cai to take the Sunday night train to Hanoi.
I have a Garmin GPS, where I can load maps (Topo and Roads), and although Sapa area does not have detailed maps, I have been able to locate these towns and some roads.
Now the many questions:
* How are the roads?
* How is the weather in September?
* ow are the motorbikes (condition, reliability, should I expect it to break?)
* hat to do if motorbike breaks or get a flat tyres, I suppose there are not many mechanics in the area.
#1 etulio has been a member since 10/5/2008. Posts: 13
Our researcher in the north has just finished motorbiking all the areas you describe -- I've dropped him a line, asking him to answer this thread as he can probably give you better first hand advice than I could. In the meantime the balance of his notes should be on the site next day or so.
Remember that prices in Sa Pa increase on Fridays and Saturdays.
(1) You might not be able to buy a return portion of a rail ticket in Ha Noi - but you CAN in Sa Pa and Lao Cai. Only buy as soon as you can FIX your return date.
(2) Bac Ha has 600+ hotel beds just make sure your hotel has NO TIN ROOF or is NEAR A PUBLIC LOUDSPEAKER!
(3) I have detailed road maps I can e-mail to you - if you let me know where.
(4) Motorcycles tend to be of simpler / basic design and many 'repair' people can help you - tire repairs likewise BUT ALWAYS CARRY REPAIR KITS - and a pump. Vietnamese roads are dumping grounds for all sorts of metallic debris.
(5) Weather in September will be good - just remember Lao Cai Town is usually about 20 degrees warmer that Sa Pa. CNN reports Lao Cai weather.
#3 CatBa has been a member since 5/3/2007. Posts: 349
Thank you somtam2000 and CatBa, this forum provides a lot of first hand valuable information.
I will eagerly wait for the motorbiking report.
CatBa, are you referring to Celsius or Faranhait Degrees??? regarding the temperaturem according • http://www.wunderground.com, the Lao Cai temperature on September 22th 2007 was 23 - 33 Centigrate Degrees, should, what should I expect in Sapa??
Thank you for the maps, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been several years since I drove a motorbike, but I ride Mountain Bike during weekends, so I hope a 125cc motorbike should be light and should not be a problem for me.
#4 etulio has been a member since 10/5/2008. Posts: 13
Even though VietNam has automated weather stations dotted around the country, connected by satellite to their Met Office, they never report Sa Pa separately.
Could be a political thing, especially in Lao Cai Province, as the chair of the Peoples Committee is more Communist than Socialist.
The only tough time in Sa Pa is around January through March, but I'm Canadian and don't really ever feel cold in VN.
#5 CatBa has been a member since 5/3/2007. Posts: 349
CatBa, thank you. Please, remember to send me the road maps.
I have found the Minsk motorbike repair manual, so after reading it I will become a "Minsk Certified Mechanic" and I will not be afraid of it breaking down, he, he.
#6 etulio has been a member since 10/5/2008. Posts: 13
This is Don, the Travelfish researcher that just did the region you're talking about.
The road between Sapa and Lao Cai is excellent (curvy and fun) though be careful when the mist descends (slippery as all get out and you can't see your hand in front of your face!) From Lao Cai to Bac Ha is pretty good, though I saw signs that they may be fixing to tear up and rebuild part of it. Nothing you can't handle on Minsk.
Don't worry about becoming a Minsk mechanic--there are repair shops everywhere--just look for the words 'Sua Chua Xe May.' These guys can fix a Minsk in their sleep and parts are easy to come buy. If you're a do-it-yourselfer, they'll usually let you rent their tools for a small fee, but be prepared for a crowd of guys to gather offering sixteen different opinions as to what you're doing wrong!
You know, I'm not familiar with the Pha Long market and I can't seem to find it on any of my maps--do you know what town it's near?
My general advice on markets is to arrive the night before and wake up early. The most spirited livestock trading goes on early, and the daytrippers from Sapa don't arrive until 10 or 11am.
If you're approaching Sapa from Hanoi, you might save yourself some time looking for a rental in Lao Cai by renting in Hanoi and putting your bike on the train with you--it costs an additional 100,000 VND, but then you can hit the road running straight from the train.
#7 DonMorgan has been a member since 29/3/2006. Posts: 3
Hello Don, thank you for the info. It has been a long time since I drove a motorbike (I'm 49), but I ride MTB in weekends, so I hope it won't be a problem to drive the Minsk, I'll practice before I go to Vietnam.
According my maps, Pha Long is in the road from Bac Ha to the China Border, just in the border, this is a snapshot of the map I will have loaded in my Garmin GPS, you can see it at the top:
The road from Lao Cai to Bac Ha makes a "circle", which is best the upper or lower road??
Cat Ba, please, send me the maps.
#8 etulio has been a member since 10/5/2008. Posts: 13
(1) Maps will be available later this week;
(2) Pha Long (there are two - the other near Son La) might be too close to the border and likely requires a permit. There is a border zone that varies from 2-5 kilometres approximately in width - depending on the area - from which Travellers are excluded. Period. If you can get a permit you will most likely need a 'guide'.
Exemptions are made for Permanent Resident Foreigners who have a need to be there or who live there.
The GPS: Lat: N22.8167 / Long: E104.2500. The altitude is about 3,280 feet.
(3) I guess you realise a Minsk is a large and weighs in at around 112 kilograms. The basic Honda hog carrier is the Wave, an upgrade of the Cub model (see < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Wave_series >).
The advantage is that this motorcycle can be 'folded' to fit in the hold of a larger bus OR hoisted on to the roof rack of a 'local' bus of the type you will encounter in the northeast. This is not so easily accomplished with a heavy Minsk.
(4) Carefully inspect your 'stead' and carefully note all damage, best done with the rental guy pointing at the damage and you photographing him and the damage. This avoids arguements described in an earlier post < http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/vietnam/3751_Ninh-Binh-DON-T---QUEEN-MINI-GUEST-HOUSE/0 >.
Also bring your sturdy lock from home and buy substantial chain in Ha Noi (enough to go around a BIG tree trunk).
Also make sure you have copies (not originals) of the ownership, licence and insurance as well as a simple form of receipt. **Do NOT ask for a formal receipt - a pre-printed form - as these are government forms that mean you have to pay tax of 10% on top of rental fees! This should keep any curious policeman happy.
(5) Honda Waves are easily maintained and parts sources are found all over. Don't buy new spares for a rental unit - there are plenty of used, recovered parts - often at markets.
#9 CatBa has been a member since 5/3/2007. Posts: 349
Hi CatBa, thanks a lot for your answers
(1) Is there a way to know in advance if a will need a Government permit to go to Pha Long (may be too close to the border and likely requires a permit).
(2)As per previous post the roads are good so I can drive either Minsk or Wave, are they both available for renting in Lao Cai?.
(3) How much should I expect to pay for Minsk or Wave, 10$?
(4) Are there many Motorbike Rental shops in Lao Cai?? Are they open at Hanoi train arrival??
(5) Will the rental provide some short of small tool kit for a flat tyre (Pump, flat tyre repair kit, tyre removing tools)
(6) I will rent the motorbike for 4 days, do you need I have to buy spares??
#10 etulio has been a member since 10/5/2008. Posts: 13
(1) Generally no, until it is too late. Previous violators have been put in "hotel arrest" and deported the following day to somewhere else in VN.
You should check with the police - or hotels and / or travel agents - to ascertain the need ESPECIALLY near the border or even beyond Ha Giang town.
(2) Waves are more readily available in the tourist centres - contact Lao Cai Tourism for infomation. Minsk' are more available in Ha Noi and HCMC. They are not so popular with VN drivers (like many things from Russia).
(3) Don't know - I use a 4 wheel drive from my employers.
(4) See 2. When I visit places all over VN the last thing that crosses my mind is a motorcycle (except the poor driving!). Try contacting hotels by e-mail - or Lao Cai Tourism. The provincial web site is < http://laocai.gov.vn/home/pages/ >.
(5) My wife has a Piaggio MP3 3-wheeler and a foot-pump in the motorcycle market cost USD$9; repair kits are plentiful - VND20,000 each. Minimal supplies normally provided by rental places. IN FACT IT MIGHT BE ADVISABLE **NOT** TO MENTION YOU ARE TOURING ALL OVER. Just say you are tooling around for so many days.
(6) Don't bother if you rent a Honda - spare tubes and tires are amazingly cheap. I recommend KENDA manufactured goods. My Kenda tubes / tires on my Dahon bicycle are rated for 80psi - but I don't carry pigs so I run at 60psi. Spares are everywhere as Waves are wheels of choice - USD$1000 for the basic model.
(A) Don't forget your International Licence.
(B) It would be smart to carry spare gas. Over here they use miscellaneous plastic containers - you might think of bringing something a little safer with you that could hold a gallon or two. In Canada we have one and two gallon containers, maybe you do in Spain.
#11 CatBa has been a member since 5/3/2007. Posts: 349
A colleague pointed out that the over-priced Victoria Hotel in Lao Cai rents motorcycles. The only thing he didn't know was whether they rented to non-guests.
Ha Noi bike rentals are around USD$10/day. If you pick one up there you will have to make arrangements at the station vis-a-vis transport in the freight car.
Settle the freight car BEFORE buying your ticket to Lai Cai. The road between Ha Noi and Lao Cai is not good from any perspective - road surface, road width or other drivers. And now the cops have speed traps courtesy of the E.U.
#12 CatBa has been a member since 5/3/2007. Posts: 349
CatBa, regarding my questions, I was referred to this article in a Spanish forum and according to it, it is possible to rent the Motorbike in Lao Cai and drive to Pha Long market:
This guy rented a Motorbike in Lao Cai ("I rented my Minsk at the Vietnamese/Chinese border town of Lao Cai") and looks like he drove to Pha Long and did not have permit issues ("One rainy morning I visited a hillside market located only four miles from the Chinese border. After spending a few days in the eastern tribal region, I drove to Sapa").
If planning the trip is being such an interesting and amazing experience, to do the trip itself will be beyond expectations.
#13 etulio has been a member since 10/5/2008. Posts: 13
I am planning to do the northwest loop (Hanoi - Mai Chau - Son La - Lai Chau - Sapa - Yen Bai - Hanoi) at the end of this month. I found your advices on this forum already very helpful, but I still have some questions I hope someone can answer:
* How is the weather usually in this area in the last week of May, first of June?
* Has anyone an update on the conditions of the roads in this area?
* Do you advice Minsk or Honda for this trip?
* I heard that 'Cuong's Motorbike Adventure' has closed down... does anyone know whether this is true?
* How bad is the traffic on this route? Should I expect many crazy truck drivers or is it a relatively peaceful area?
* I don't have an international licence. Has anyone been checked before?
I am also very much looking forward to your report. I hope it will be online before I leave next week. Did you do the whole loop or just around Sapa?
#14 Ehlen has been a member since 13/5/2008. Posts: 2
Folks, apologies for piling on to an existing thread but a brief word of caution regarding a particular motorcycle rental outfit in Sapa:
Motorbike Adventure Tour, Manh Hung (091) 302 2004 emails: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
This guy Hung is set up at a couple locations south and west of the market with a half dozen or so Minsk bikes and some scooters. We made the mistake of paying for the initial petrol top-up, which left us in the position of haggling over the actual amount used, and after a heated argument he ripped us off to the tune of 150,000 dong or so (he tried for 300,000) - not much in the grand scheme of things - but I advise you to agree in advance to return with a full tank (i.e. he gives you the bike with a full tank). Also as had been noted elsewhere the Minsk (his anyway) trails a thick plume of smoke which is obnoxious to anyone riding behind you and to local pedestrians (of which there are many).
#16 GIP7 has been a member since 12/11/2013. Posts: 1
I'm planning a bike trip to north Vietnam. I read an article about a guy that recommends the bike trip with Minsk Tours organized by Manh Hung. Anyone with experience of this guy?
I'm 189cm tall (6' 2Â½") and 105kg (230 lbs). Is the Minsk suitable for me? What bikes do you recommend me to rent?
#17 kalsa1962 has been a member since 7/7/2014. Posts: 1
If anyone is still looking to rent a Minsk in Sapa, there's a guy who has about five for rent. You can find him in town on Fansipan road (the road going to Cat Cat village). He'll be on the first or second corner past the street with the BBQ restaurants when you leave the central square. Look for one or two Minsks parked on the side of the road. He has a couple signs posted on this street as well The only office he seems to have is what looks like a makeshift barber stall. He charges 10 bucks a day. His email is minsk.Sapa@gmail.com.
#18 slackjaw has been a member since 12/12/2007. Posts: 1