Vietnam Bike Tour: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Day 6)

August 8th, 2014 Comments Off

DAY: 06Screenshot from 2014-08-08 20:41:22
Distance: 370KM (-50 from goal)
Origin:Hue
Endpoint: Middle of nowhere 50km shy of Nha Trang
Pho Consumed: 1 each for dinner
Today’s Author: Zach

Screenshot from 2014-08-08 20:41:10

We targeted more than 400KM today, including a 3-4 hour stopover in a city called Hoi An.  That roughly translates to 8 hours of riding, plus 3 hours of tourism, would mean we’de need to take advantage of every minute of daylight that we had.  As such, the alarms went off promptly at 5:30AM.  And then again at 5:40AM.  And again at 5:50AM.  By 6 Felix was in the shower and my eyes were partially open.

We finally stumbled out of the “Google Hotel” for the last time around 7AM, ready to hit the road bright and early.  As we road south towards Hoi An we quickly found out that our headaches with Rt. 1 were not yet over, and in fact that road was a miserable bus-overtaking-truck-in-a-2-lane-highway-move-or-become-pancake the whole way.  Every now and then we would ride through a town where it would open into a 4 lane highway with a center barrier which was wonderful.  Until the breaks in the barrier every 200 meters or so where motorbikes would pull U-turns without even looking and nearly run into whomever happened to be in the fast lane on the highway.  Maybe this system of lawlessness works in Hanoi where everybody is doing 20kmph the whole time, but when you have cars and motorcycles doing 100+ on a 4 lane highway simply darting into the road becomes a nonstop series of heart attacks.

To add to that, we had a bit of mechanical trouble with the chain on my bike.  Pulling over to the side of the road, taking out the toolkit and working those good-ol mechanic muscles did the trick.  Not without a good bit of extra sweat though!

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I’ve also had an interesting thought.  There are so many motorbikes, each following an individual routing algorithm, that it actually visually looks like a fluid flow.  I witnessed the stream of bikes moving about 60kmph on a highway and watched a bus drive perpendicularly through the road.  The bikes slowly bent around the front of the bus — continuing to pass of course, as the bus crept slowly into the road.  As soon as the rear of the bus was onto the highway the bikes were now going around the bus on both sides.  As more and more of the bus moved through the highway the flow of bikes slowly closed off on the front, and continued opening up behind the bus.  Literally like the bus was moving through a river of motorbikes.

So, enough whining, time for some good stuff.  Felix claims that just outside the next major city, Da Nang, Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear went up and over a mountain and Clarkson labeled it one of the best drives in the world, and he would know!   Now-a-days they’ve built a tunnel through the mountain, but with that kind of recommendation, we decided to go up and over.  We were not disappointed!  The views were spectacular, and we even found a heard of goats on the way up!

At some point on the mountain we realized that we didn’t have any pictures of us actually riding the bikes, so we stopped to take some action shots.  Over 300 of them, as it turns out.

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We mostly just sailed straight through Da Nang, but with one exception.  The main highway through town, very abruptly, was completely closed.  And the river of motorbikes didn’t seem to mind at all — they just turned left and right.  I made the instinctive decision to simply follow the river.  We ended up being part of a 1KM long snake of motorbikes winding through these tiny 1 meter wide alleys.  It was the most ridiculous thing.  These alleys are probably normally just people going about their business on foot, but today was literally host to a constant stream, with zero intreruption, of bikes going way too fast with literally no space inbetween them.  We eventually wound our way out of the alleys and back onto the highway.

We sailed straight past our destination of Hoi An by about 8KM.  Our first legitimate wrong turn in ages.  We turned around and found a tiny hidden offramp that was literally a steep dirt downhill.  No wonder we missed it the first time!  We followed this awfully skimpy excuse for a road for about 5KM east to go from the main highway to Hoi An.  This road could more accurately be described as an alleyway than a road.  Whilst on the almost-a-road-but-not-quite a motorbike pulled up next to me with a girl on the back who started yelling at me asking about what hotel we were going to etc.  Skeptical of the free advice, and also mostly trying not to fall off this tiny road or run into a wall, I managed to ignore/shoo off the shouting girl.

We finally got to Ancient City of Hoi An and promptly got yelled at by some security guards that we couldn’t ride our motorcycles in.  Instead they pointed us to this fat dude with half a shirt who would “park” our bikes for the day.  Without much choice, we handed the guy the equivalent of $2 and parked.  It was near 11AM and neither of us had eaten, we were also extremely hot, sweaty and dehydrated (read: irritable).  So, we sat down at the first or second restaurant we found, and did the usual TripAdvisor double check, 4.5 stars, excellent!

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After a delicious but a bit excessive lunch we set out to look at some old stuff.  We looked at some old stuff.  Here are pictures of some of the old stuff.  It was old.

Around 2PM we made our way back to the bikes to find that the Fat Man had not stolen all our stuff, yay!  Our helmets were nowhere to be found though.  We tried knocking on the door of what we thought was the Fat Man’s shop but didn’t get an answer.  After a few minutes a nice lady from the shop across the street called to us and pointed at her head.  We pointed at our heads.  She then pointed to behind some manikins in her store where, voila, there lay our helmets.  Onwards!

We filled up for gas outside of town and set fourth towards our destination: the biggest city within spitting distance of Nha Trang, our destination for day 7 and the next major stop in our journey.

The roads were, unfortunately, none better than this morning.  Highway 1 is an absolute nightmare the whole way.  We road for a solid 4 hours and covered less than 200KM before it started to get dark out. Averaging less than 50kmph is really frustrating, constant stop and go.  Felix described it as a “constant battle” and it was.  We pulled over at dusk and discussed night riding again.  Our past experience was pretty obscene and we were both keen to avoid a repeat.  However, the road was in much better condition, there was less traffic and I posited that perhaps it might be acceptable.  We decided to give it a try for a short while and see how it went, and pull over if it felt dicey at the first town we could.

We made it about 25KM, or about half an hour, before it started to feel stupid and unsafe.  We stopped at this giant 4 story building (very rare and unusual for these sorts of towns) that had a big sign outside that said “HOTEL” (amongst other unintelligible things).  We were greated by a giant family of about 12.  A whole bunch of kids, a tiny dog, what we assume is mom and dad as well as grandma.  Clearly a family business.  We negotiated a price by typing numbers into my phone ($10 for the night) and proceeded to move our things upstairs.  The room had AC and a fan and the beds weren’t made of lead, so to me that was success.  We took a quick rest before going out on our usual “find a sign that says Pho” journey for food.

About 1 minute into our “Find the Pho” journey we found the Pho.  We ordered the Pho (by saying Pho and holding up 2 fingers for 2 people).  They gave us Pho.  The Pho had meat in it, but it wasn’t the usual Pho kind of meat.  It was some kind of fake Pho meat, so we wondered.  So we didn’t eat the fake Pho Meat, just the Pho.  It was good Pho.  We paid $1.50 each for Pho.  Pho-inished.