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  • Writer's pictureEliane Bowden

A Most Beautiful Road

Day 4: Sơn La - Tú Lệ (119 km)

Day 7: Tú Lệ - Tân Uyên (142 km)



On the advice of a friend, we head to a resort plopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Le Champ Tu Le Resort is set on a hill in the Tú Lệ valley and surrounded by small villages inhabited by Hmong People - an ethnic minority that is spread throughout Northern Vietnam and Southern China. To get there from the unremarkable town of Sơn La, we take two provincial roads: DT106 and DT109 that were aptly called “most beautiful road” by another tourist who posted photos of the route on YouTube.


To our delighted surprise, this motorcyclist did not lie, and indeed, these two roads took us through some of the most breathtaking vistas we've seen on our trip so far (and luckily, they were beautifully intact). Up and down we went from windy mountain peaks to humid valleys, across raging rivers, great basins, and more rice fields than we could count. Past tens of tiny roadside villages – some no more than seven bungalows strung together. To give you an idea of how frequently we stopped, this route should’ve taken us around 3 hours, and yet it we took 6 to arrive at our destination.



I’m glad we took our time through these passes, as the air was clear (an uncommon occurrence at this point) and the weather was on our side. Unfortunately, photos really don’t seem to do the landscape much justice. It’s the experience of riding through these areas where the full effect leaves one’s jaw behind: driving through a mountain pass where the face towers straight up from the road side, the trees growing almost directly on top of each other; making eye contact with water buffalo grazing along the roadside. The Most Beautiful Road ended at Le Champ where we spent two days lounging, resting our poor sore bottoms, and taking advantage of the breakfast buffet - which had exceptional sticky rice.






The Opposite of Touristy

TT Tan Uyen doesn’t get many foreigners from what I can tell. We left Le Champ anxious to hit the road again (or was that because I had three strong Vietnamese coffees?), and three hours later, found ourselves in this small town that only had one hotel.


It was a pleasant novelty, the locals followed a look but don’t touch attitude with us – their shameless stares much more welcome than the aggressive touts we’re now experiencing in Sa Pa. As we searched without success for a restaurant, kids passing in alleys would stop and follow us - no doubt in awe of Jared’s blonde curls. Even as we rode on our motorcycles down the main roads, children clinging to their parents on the backs of scooters would wave and shout HELLO! A little boy with a round face followed us in a most stealthy way for ten blocks. Getting on his bike as soon as it looked like we meant to leave our current spot and circle us, arriving just after we reach our new destination, and peaking at us from the side of his eye.


Google Maps was not serving us up any useful directions to a meal, and our usual habit of eating dinner at 4:30PM after a day of riding was not conducive to finding out where locals ate. So, we consulted our hotel receptionist and she pointed us to a joint a few blocks down the street. We strolled up to an empty restaurant with 15 ft high ceilings, a garage door for an entrance, metal tables, blue plastic chairs, and two old refrigerators that didn’t look like they were plugged in. Mom, dad, and two daughters sat out front eyeing us as we approached. Through a very challenging Google translate exchange with the dad, we finally agree on a meal of fried noodles.


The dad walks away and returns later on his scooter, which he rides directly into the restaurant, pink plastic bag in hand - looks like we’ll be eating instant ramen - no doubt a safe bet for tourists. While we wait, he hands each of us an interesting variety of banana. Stouter and fatter, they are more fragrant and less starchy than their western cousins. Biting into them, they have less give and have a more slimy quality - can almost taste the seeds. I think I may like them more than the ones from home.



As I’m scraping the last bits of stringy beef noodles into my mouth, the dad comes over with a small bowl of what looks like bright yellow corn kernels. Turns out they are corn, but like nothing we’ve ever tasted. You know when you go to a Michelin restaurant and they serve a dish that appears to be one thing but tastes completely different? Like a strawberry that’s actually made of tomatoes. Well that’s what this corn experience was like. I was expecting the American sweet corn from home, but it was far from that in both texture and taste. The corn was extremely fragrant – like jasmine – and the texture had a chewy quality akin to mung bean or mochi. It was a delight for the senses, and I’m sure the family had a laugh watching our confused expressions. As we left the restaurant, having paid about $6 CAD for our meals, the dad gave each of us a strong handshake, and we left feeling more than satisfied.

2 Comments


Tracey Wilkinson
Tracey Wilkinson
Nov 13, 2023

Fantastic post. So beautifully written. Makes me feel like I’m almost there with you.😀

what a wonderful experience.

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Chris Davis
Chris Davis
Nov 13, 2023

Wonderful post Elaine...Love the descriptions of the food, esp the corn with the jasmine fragrance part. .. maybe a little travel food critic side hustle ? :)

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