Today, Google maps plots a route across the Cau Long Bien Bridge out of Hanoi to the east and directly across the Red River.
Out of the three routes offered by the map, I choose Route 2 to stay near the coastal area and follow the lowland around the mountain range that overlooks the bays. Vietnam has a wonderfully diverse countryside, but the coastal route, especially on this stretch, is magnificent. Most of the roads are in very good condition, and they are travelled by an assortment of traders and long distance transports. The Chinese play a big part in this region, and many of the ‘locals’ are displaced Chines, or families that have moved here. Conflicts between the two countries have produced an interesting and cross-cultured community.
This region has been the scene of a number of Chinese invasions and the last major issue was in 1979. Chinese forces amassed on the border through December and January. At the time, the Chinese had an alliance with Cambodia, while the Vietnamese became politically closer to the USSR (The former Russian federation). This caused some friction, and Vietnamese citizens were massacred in Cambodia in the lead up to the invasion. On February 17th, China invaded in an attempt to destroy military structure in the north Vietnam region. The Chinese forces advanced and took Lang Son in early March, which represented a last defence before Hanoi. The well trained Vietnamese army pushed back and the Chinese retreated, but systematically destroyed almost everything on their way back across the border.
Back on the coast I am presented with incredibly beautiful scenery. Just three hours east of Hanoi and I head along the TL 326, which runs just north of Ha Long bay, a truly beautiful view. The pillars of limestone protrude from the sea, creating encircled, calm natural harbours.
There are nearly 2000 islets along this coastline, and the fishing community live among them, many on floating harbours that they moor to and fish from. There is something magical about this area.
Heading off north, I join the QL18 towards China. I expect to be in Mong Cai around 15:00 and to cross the border by 17:00.