Thursday, 19 December 2013

Day 135 - Son La Morning and the 'Shortcut'

I woke up to a nice and sunny morning in Son La and decided to see a bit of the city and take in some of the sights before moving on.

This is a longer post than usual with more pictures to give a better overview of the day.

I started of with a walk around the market before going to see the prison built by the French. The market was very nice and I could have easily spent the whole morning walking around there and taking pictures.

Because there were almost 200 km between Son La and Sapa that I hoped to cover in one day, I did go to visit the prison after a short walk around the market.
The prison is mostly in ruins but still quite interesting to visit and it's on a hill so provides some nice views of the city and surrounding landscape. There is some propaganda on the descriptions but not as much as found in the Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi.

It was almost noon by the time I gout out of Son La and on the road and despite this, I figured I stop for a quick coffee in a village while passing through.

The coffee was nice and the people there were very friendly, they were interested in the motorbike and gave me a tip of a shortcut to get to Lao Cai and from there to Sapa.
Now, maybe I should have become suspicious about the shortcut when they mentioned getting there in 1 hour or it being only 40km away, despite Google maps showing a distance of 198km.

I put the differences in time and distance to some mis-translation or just the guy being a bit optimistic but figured local knowledge might beat Google maps.

After stopping off for a visit at the Son La power station, it was time to turn off from the main road and from the way Google maps suggested and onto the road recommended by the locals.

Well, it turned out that this road was no much of a road at all in most places and certainly not a shortcut. It had some fantastic views but most of it was a dirt track and this was in the best places. There were a lot of road works going on, muddy and rocky passages and I never knew what I would find around the next corner.

The way kept getting worse and worse with the occasional part that was usable but it also kept getting later and later without a sign of a bigger town or a place to stay. At least I had enough fuel but after having to cross through a river and almost getting stuck in sand the bike started complaining and the engine shut off every time I used the brakes on a slope.
The positive part was that I did surprise myself how well I managed to get through this road considering I only driven a bike for around 2 weeks and the views were great.

Eventually I made it back on to the main road after it got dark and miles away from both Sapa or Lao Cai. It was also quite cold by now and still a way to the next town. The road was pretty much clear so I could drive fast and get to the town and find a guest house for the night.

It's been an interesting day and the lesson learned is to trust Google maps and stay away from shortcuts.

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