Day 3: Pho Chau to Hue
- 11 hours riding time
I should start by making a mention about navigating around the towns. The one brilliant thing (that we certainly weren’t expecting) is the incredible 3G mobile coverage throughout Vietnam. Every little town you hit seemed to have a 3G tower no matter how remote it was. This got us out of trouble on more than one occasion as although we had quite detailed maps of the main roads, the little roads within the towns were not covered. Having bought a 3G local Mobifone SIM for the iPhone I was able to whip out google maps on more than one occasion to get us back on track.
Moving on to the morning in Pho Chau. We were up again by 6am and made the decision based on the previous days effort that we were already falling behind schedule. We had planned to be in Hoi An by day 4 and wanted to spend a good day and a half there to rest and get fitted up for some suits. At this stage it was still some 600kms away or two full days of riding. As such we decided to cheat a little and head to Dong Hoi and try to jump on a train from there to Danang, thus saving us nearly a full days ride.
Having had such a big ride the day before it was also time to do a little preventative maintenance on the bikes. As usual Shaun was piss farting around in the morning trying to send emails or chat to his girlfriend so Jarrod and I set about tightening and oiling the chains.
It had been a very misty morning which meant the air was very cool and it was pleasant ride in. The downside was that it meant slower going coming through the mountains as you couldn’t see the potholes or cows on the road ahead. Having skipped breakfast in Pho Chau we knocked off about 80km before stopping at Phuc Dong for a late breakfast Pho Bo. Well, we asked for Pho Bo but by the look on the waitresses face and gesturing something in Vietnamese I’m fairly certain we ate some other sort of meat (at times its best not to think too much about what you’re eating).
The ride after breakfast turned out to be the best ride of our trip in my opinion. The highway wound itself down from the mountains and into a deep valley with spectacular views either side. The only thing modern in this place was the road. The traffic consisted of no more than the odd push bike and occasional buffalo as we passed through the tiny villages. I really don’t think I can put into words just how incredible this ride was so I’ll let the pictures and video do the talking.
After making our way out of the mountains we reached Phong Nha, famous for the cave system that is believed to be one of the biggest in the world. Although the area is world heritage listed they still took no shame in putting a dirty big sign on the side of the mountain so you certainly can’t miss the turnoff. Unfortunately due to the recent rains that had caused all the mud slides along the way (and flooded most of Thailand) the caves were closed as the water level was too high to get in.
We continued on towards Dong Hoi and (thanks to google maps) found our way to the train station by about 2pm ready to sit down and relax on a train for the afternoon. This would not be the case however, as we immediately found out that the information we had gathered on the trains earlier that day had not been entirely correct. Although we could get on a train at 3pm that would get us into Danang by late evening, our bikes would have to wait until the next day and would not get in until about 3pm in the afternoon. This simply would not work.
Realising that we were running out of daylight hours and with the need to cover a significant amount of ground that day we decided we had no option but to push on to Hue (another 180kms away with only about 3 hours of daylight left). Skipping lunch we found our way back to Hwy 1A and started heading south. Barely 5km down the road after dodging never-ending potholes and playing chicken with container trucks we were only averaging about 40km/h and that was never going to get us there in time. As such we made the decision to wear an extra 15km and cut back into the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This ultimately turned out to be a great decision. Once back on it we were able to cruise at 70-80km/h and started to tick the km’s off in good time.
Once at Dong Ha we had no choice but to head back onto Hwy 1A. Thankfully by this stage the road had started to improve, although the traffic hadn’t. With wider roads we were able to further develop our undertaking skills and were cruising past all the cars, busses and trucks on the road. Now I’m sure plenty of bike riders here are horrified that I just said we were undertaking (overtaking on the kerb side) trucks and normally I’d be in the same boat but Vietnam is a little different. There seems to be an unwritten law (although not always followed) that bikes have the right to the 1 to 2 metres of the shoulder of the road and in many place the roads are specifically designed as such. Trucks in particular seemed to be far more aware of riders on the inside than those doing what we consider the “correct” practice of overtaking on the outside or other lane. In fact we seemed to surprise numerous drivers doing it this way and eventually learned that the shoulder was the safer option in most cases.
About 40km out of Hue we hit road works just as it was starting to get dark. While all the cars and trucks were ordered to stop, bikes were simply waved through to ride over the freshly laid bitumen. This caused the first major issue for me as to get around the road laying machines we were waved back up onto the other side of the road that at that point was sitting about 3 inches higher than ours. Unfortunately I didn’t quite make the angle of return sharp enough as I was worried about veering into the path of the trucks coming through and my back wheel caught the lip and sent the bike over. Now luckily for me it was at such low speed that although I dropped the bike, I remained standing so I’m not classing it as an “accident”. This is a contentious issue with some of the other guys but for the now I’m sticking with just a “dropped bike”.
The bike survived with barely a mark so I dusted it off and we got back on our way. The last 30km into Hue was in complete darkness and seemed to take for ever. Things were even worse for Jarrod who had a tinted visor. When down he couldn’t see a thing other than tail lights and with it up he couldn’t see for the smoke and dust that was being kicked up by the vehicles in front.
Eventually we made it to Hue at about 6pm and checked into the aptly named Victory Hotel. After the day we’d had it definately felt like a huge victory just to have made it to Hue. We handed in some laundry to be done overnight and found the nearest eatery to get some grub (food) and plenty of fresh cold beers.