Vietnam Bike Tour: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Day 3)

DAY: 03Screenshot from 2014-06-04 23:53:31
Distance: 395km
Origin: Middle of nowhere
Endpoint: Middle of nowhere, 50km north of Phong Nha
Pho Consumed: 1

Today’s Author: Felix


Screenshot from 2014-06-04 23:53:40

Awakening to the blessed frigidity of the little hotel’s air conditioning, we decided we’d try to push a bit further today and set a goal for ourselves of reaching the Phong Nha national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site approximately 400km from where we spent the night.  Before heading out, we grabbed a quick bowl of beef Pho for breakfast at a shop about a hundred meters down the road from our hotel that some locals pointed us towards.  Thus far, our meal plan of “wander down the street until we see a sign for Pho” has worked remarkably well (no digestive issues, either).


As an aside, neither of us has the faintest idea why the Vietnamese prefer to eat hot noodle soup for breakfast in a climate where the mercury can hit 100F before noon (not to mention the near-constant 100% humidity).  Admittedly, it is incredibly delicious and quite filling, but it seems a bit… counterproductive.

After finishing our tasty-as-usual breakfast, we walked back to the hotel, loaded the bikes, and headed over to the gas station to fill up and do some basic maintenance checks.  The bikes seems to be in pretty good shape, only needing a bit of oil on each chain and for Zach’s engine.  We set off around 10:30, and quickly found ourselves on the Ho Chi Minh highway – a two-lane paved affair much more hospitable than the previous evening’s terrain.  Able to open up the bikes on the open road, we were able to easily hit 80 to 90 kph. Judging speed proved to be a bit tricky as each of our speedometers disagreed with the other, and neither agreed with the combination of Google Maps and our wristwatches.

We stopped for a quick break around 11:20 to snap some photos in an absolutely gorgeous valley, but didn’t dally for too long as the heat was already becoming miserable.

We made a longer stop around 12:30, roughly 100km in, giving us an average pace of roughly 50 kph.  While no one at the shop we stopped at spoke a lick of English, we were able to gesticulate sufficiently to procure a few bottles of wonderfully cold water and a bag of potato chips.  Unfortunately, our communication skills did not extend to having the shopkeeper take a photo of us, so we had to settle for a selfie.

2014-05-15 12.45.49

After getting back on the highway around 12:45, we made pretty good progress.  During this trip, we’ve seen all sorts of insane cargo loads on motorbikes and scooters, seemingly supported by some invisible magical force (Communist Party line: something something something indomitable will of the Vietnamese people, etc.).  However, on this particular stretch, we passed a gentleman with a full-sized refrigerator balanced on his passenger seat- secured only with his left hand!  Anyways, after about 60km, we came upon an ambulance with its sirens off going roughly the same pace as us, and we followed it for another 50km until our next stop for fuel and water, around 2:30.


Following our fuel and water break, we passed some more incredible scenery, including a very pretty lake and a few rivers.  One thing we noticed is that the Vietnamese seem to have a fondness for hanging out on bridges and looking at rivers.  We started seeing more trucks, including a few with massive loads of grain hanging off in every direction- picture a gigantic mushroom shape with some wheels sticking out of the bottom and you’ll get the general image.  We also passed a very tall big rig with some passengers – riding 25ft up on top of the cargo!

We did have a brief moment of rain, but managed to outrun the storm and only suffered a few minutes’ worth of drizzle – although we did stop to move our electronics into a pack, which we then put under a rain cover.

We made one more stop after another 100km or so, where we enjoyed some overly sweetened drinks of mysterious composition (no water) and attempted to top up our SIM cards as we both seemed to have exceeded our limit of 3G data service and had been consigned to the indignity of EDGE data (#firstworldproblems).  After more gesticulating with some very confused but helpful locals, we managed to put more money on our phones, but our data service still seems to be relegated to EDGE only.  We did, however, also manage to procure some delicious cookies (think reverse oreos; chocolate creme, vanilla cookies).  The town also had a pretty large and impressive-looking church that we passed on our way out.  Interestingly, there was a similar church less than 2km away in another town, but we haven’t seen any others like them before or since.

2014-05-15 12.12.37

As the light began to fail, we entered a more mountainous area with some incredible riding roads.  Kilometer after kilometer of nice 50 kph sweepers stretched out ahead of us, but we had to be careful as there were still a few trucks on the highway.  These trucks weren’t well suited to the road and presented a serious road hazard for the unwary.  As things began to get darker, we also noticed that many of these trucks had been customized with bright strips of wildly colored LEDs – certainly a different take on the trucker aesthetic compared to Smokey and the Bandit.  Also of note is the fact that we didn’t see any Westerners the entire day, including on the road – perhaps fewer people do this trip than we originally thought?

We ended the day in a tiny village along the highway, where we were directed to a perfectly serviceable guesthouse.  Thankfully, they had air conditioning – the air was still quite hot, even at 7pm.  While we didn’t quite make it to Phong Nha (turns out Google lied and it was more like 450km), but we did hit our 400km goal almost exactly.  After haggling a bit over the price of the room, we sat down to a simple dinner of soup, egg, rice, and greens.  Before we turned in, some friendly locals insisted we share a drink with them.  After a round or five of cheap but surprisingly drinkable vodka (and a lot of smiling, gesticulating, and hand-shaking), we were able to beg off and communicate that we had to be up early to hit the road again.

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