Friday, 28 February 2014


We got our bikes fixed and then decided we better get going north and back to Dong Hoi to return my scooter, the poor guy who rented it had been majorly stressing as I was supposed to have it back about 10 days ago.  He kept ringing me and I would be like ‘yeah yeah, I’ll be home in a couple of days’.  I meant it too but plans kept changing, I felt so sorry for him, he was holding no security on the bike and I’m sure he thought he was never going to see it again!
We got going late though and stopped by at the Vinh Moc Tunnels, built during the Vietnam war and housing over 300 local people for nearly 6 years.  17 children were born underground here as they sheltered from the heavy bombing.  This place is a must see if you are in Vietnam, amazing to see the inginuity and determination of these people and the conditions they endured.
Our late start meant we wouldn’t make it to Dong Hoi that night so we stopped in the tiny town of Ho Xa, it was actually bigger than we originally thought but we had stayed on the outskirts of town thinking that was it.  

Getting food was again hilarious, after finding somewhere with beer, at room temperature, we set about organizing dinner.  The old lady had zero English and even our limited Vietnamese was useless here.  After much confusion for about 10 minutes she simply handed us a pan and let us loose in her ‘kitchen’.
When we were done, even she was impressed with what we had whipped up and I have to say, it was pretty bloody good.  We had a fairly quiet night here though and once again had no hot water, it was far too cold to have a shower otherwise so once again we were feral and simply went without.
On to Dong Hoi the next day and the poor scooter guy gave me a huge hug and couldn’t wipe the massive grin off his face! I said to him ‘I told you to relax mate, I’d bring it back’!  He was so happy he didn’t even notice the big scratch up one side where I dropped it one day.  I was taking a leak on the side of the road and mustn’t have put the stand down properly, I heard it go over but there was nothing I could do. 
A quick check of the local bus schedule and I made a dash out to a little terminal and jumped a crappy bus bound for Phong Nha.  It was slow, crowded, uncomfortable and hot – I felt right at home!

  When I stepped off the bus out the front of Easy Tiger there was a big cheer from a couple of the guys that worked there, they figured they would see me again one day, just not so soon!  They just laughed, I’m not the first person to fall in love with place.  So here I sit at the Cavern Bar, finally caught up on all the stories and completely up to date.  Think I’ll go have a beer!

Our 'kitchen', mama was so impressed with our cooking, she had a go at her own batch

The next day was our ride back up north to Hue over the Hai Van Pass, a famous stretch of coastline that takes you over the mountains with stunning views all the way (as always!).  Another icy cold day on the bike, at least we weren’t getting rained on though and eventually we were pulling in to Hue after an amazing day on the bike. 

We checked in to the DMZ Hotel and warmed up in the shower before venturing out again, Pete had to get some work done on his bike and had specifically been waiting to get to Hue to see his regular mechanic.  The guy ended up making a rack and frame for saddlebags for Pete’s bike which only cost $25?!!  Ridiculously cheap, would have been over $200 in Australia.
It was now that time of the day for a cold beer and after a couple at the Hue Backpackers across the road, we quickly decided we were having a dirty big burger and fries!  You do miss these things at times and it was dam good. 

In our quest for a pool table we found ourselves at Brown Eyes Bar later and it was very quiet but hey, it was happy hour!  I have forever been spoilt for Mojito’s now, these guys serve them up in a bucket!  Haha, the only way to drink Mojito’s from now on, they were huge but Nea and I were sharing, didn’t stop us getting more than a little sloshed though.
I have this in built drunkness detector, if you see me dancing at a bar, you know I have had too much.  I’m sure my family will be amused and worried at that statement as they know what I’m saying!  But we danced, drank jumbo Mojito’s, talked bullshit and had a great last night out with Nea, we were gonna miss her, she had been so much fun and a great addition to the journey.  I daresay we may meet up elsewhere to travel at some stage, she also does seasonal work and loves to travel.
Nea was off early the next morning on a 24 hour overnight bus to Saigon, I couldn’t think of anything worse than that with the hangover she must have had!  Pete and I hung around Hue for a few more days and had another couple of nights at Brown Eyes where we met more great people, I teamed up with a local guy and we were unbeatable on the pool table 2 nights running, literally holding it for hours. 

 Had to stop for a pic of this, my trusty machine ticking over 50000km

Jumbo Mojito's

First time Pete has had any hair in years!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Still unshowered, we set off the next day and headed for Da Nang and Hoi An, an awesome day and completely different again.  This ride took us on much smaller country roads through tiny villages, beautiful farmland, rice paddies, large rivers, small creeks and beautiful tight winding hillside roads.  

Once again we took a slightly wrong turn and ended up at the Laos border, but glad we did as the 15km section we went down and had to back track was a bloody awesome ride.  If you ride then you will love the non-stop tight little corners it throws up.
On our couple of stops in small towns, the local guys were mesmerized by Nea’s blonde hair once the helmet came off, in fact, everywhere we went she was popular.  Pete and I were totally ignored by these guys that would want to come and ‘chat with us’, but it was only Nea they wanted to ‘chat’ to!
When we finally hit Da Nang, the traffic was a little intimidating but we got through it ok, in fact I would say that for how busy and chaotic it seems, that the Vietnamese are the best drivers/riders in all of SE Asia that I had seen by far. 

Feral and unshowered we hit a slightly up market place for a long awaited pizza!  We pigged out on hot pizza before jumping back on the bikes to head the last 20 km to Hoi An where we would stay for the night.
We checked into the Sunflower Hotel where we FINALLY had a hot shower, it felt amazing to be warm and clean again.  Pete went off to see a mate of his while Nea and I went for a wander around town, then decided to hit a travel agent for tickets. 

She had to get to Saigon and I was also trying to get down there for a couple of days to meet some people about a position on a sailboat.  It was proving impossible for me to get down there in my time frame, with Tet celebrations still happening but Nea managed to get an overnight bus ticket from Hue in a couple of days time.
Originally we were going to take the bikes so I put my ipad under the scooter seat for later but we changed plans and walked, so after about 10 minutes up the road I had a panic attack.  I had left the keys in my scooter and the Ipad under the seat… fucken dumbass!  I raced back and was well relieved to see the keys still hanging out the ignition and Ipad still there.  Whew!
Off we went back up the street and found somewhere to get a bottle of wine and have a beer.  About halfway through our bottle Pete turned up, we sat and finished the bottle (well Nea did!) and then went out for some fine dining at The Little Menu.  It was pricey but some seriously great food there, if you go, check out the duck spring rolls, absolutely amazing.
Never one to call it an early night, we found another little bar somewhere, 3 Dragons, and upon walking in I saw a Sydney Swans scarf hanging over the bar and a bottle of Wild Turkey behind it!  Was I dreaming or had I just stepped into my house?!  

I have only enjoyed my favourite drop once in my SE Asian travels which was in Phnom Penh, obviously I proceeded put a pretty good dent in this bottle and more good times were had, I couldn’t have asked for 2 better travelling companions.  Somehow we found our way home, there was no sober voice of reason among us tonight!
The Little Menu
Mother Nature had it in for us today unfortunately and although we were riding through possibly the most beautiful scenery you are ever likely to find, we could hardly see it as we were rained on all day, with fog and low cloud reducing our visibility at times to only 10 meters. 

Another twisting mountainous road, the scenery (when we could see it) was even better than the trip to Khe Sanh, but it was bitterly cold and wet and we just wanted to see our next destination, Prao.
After a massive day in the icy weather we finally rolled in to Prao feeling like popsicles so we quickly found a place to stay, Nha Khach Guesthouse.  Now this place was primitive to say the least, it didn’t even have keys for the room, but there was promise of a hot shower.  

There were so many things wrong with this place I can’t even get into it all, but nobody had a hot shower, or a shower at all.  Some dry clothes on, we headed out to ‘explore’ the town, took all of about 5 minutes.  Next step?  Find beer and food!
We found a tiny little place that had hot beer and ice, all good, then it was up to Pete to do the old ‘what have ya got, give us a look, na, don’t want that shit’ routine and after going through the ‘kitchen’ and fridge we managed to organize some noodles, veges and beef.  

All part of the fun and we all had another great night, nothing beats coming out to these little places, mixing with the locals and simply having fun trying to communicate.
This tiny town in rural Vietnam doesn't see many tourists and it is definitely worth a visit, not only for the scenery you will encounter on the way, but just to get a taste of real Vietnam.  We plan on redoing the ride from Khe Sanh again when it's not raining.
Prao and our 'guesthouse'

It's thirsty work all that riding!

Still having a blast despite the conditions

Sheltering in a tunnel for 5 minutes

Oh yeah, had to get a tube changed on the bike.  Luckily it happened in a major town and was sorted in no time.

Nea took this one, I thought it was a cool pic
So it was back into town to check out a pool place I had seen earlier, but when we got there and I saw the tables I nearly fell over laughing, there were no pockets?!  Here were a couple of beautiful tables that were perfectly straight all the way around the inside!  

One of the girls spoke enough English to explain the rules, they play with a red, yellow and white ball.  You each take a coloured ball and the object is to hit your opponnents ball and the white off the same shot.  Actually harder than I thought it would be but I played around for a while trying to master it, never know when that skill may come in handy!
After a quick stop here it was off to another local place to sink a few beers while we waited for Nea to arrive, man do the Vietnamese like a beer or 10!  It didn’t seem to matter where we went, there were always locals smashing beers like there was no tomorrow.  A few beers with the locals here and it was time to check in at the hotel for Nea, but she hadn’t arrived yet.  

We were slightly worried as she was riding alone on a real piece of shit Honda Win, the bike of choice for all the backpackers.  They usually buy them for about $300, ride them across Vietnam and sell again.  Nea will still argue that her bike was better than my scooter, but I think she is dreaming!
We went for a quick ride and perched ourselves in a vantage point (place to drink more beer) on the edge of town so we could see when she arrived, but we hadn’t even sat down and she turned up.  We decided to sit at ‘vantage point’ anyway and had a couple of cold drinks and got to know each other. 

Pete had met her before, so had I apparently on the rooftop over Tet, but for some reason we hadn’t chatted.  Nea is a real adventurer and was the first Swede to do Son Doong cave just a week or so earlier.
We got her checked in to the hotel and after we all had a scrub it was back to our little restaurant where tonight, Cuddles the chicken met a similar fate as Fluffy!  It’s a hard gig being a chicken in Vietnam!  

Another great night and it was off to bed in preparation for another day on the bike tomorrow.  This next leg would take us further down the HCM West Hwy and into Phrao, a tiny little town that barely sees a tourist.
Pocketless pool tables??!!
Of all the 'squatters I have used, I have never seen one with a cistern?
Nea, Pete and what was left of 'Cuddles' the chicken
Day 1 saw us riding through Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, a mountainous, winding road through forest and jungle with amazing views the whole way.  A ride of around 250km, we were on the bikes for a few hours as the tight corners and steep hills, with our luggage, meant an average speed of only around 50kmh.  We finally pulled into Khe Sanh in the early afternoon and quickly found a cold beer or 2 to wash down a hard day on the bikes. 
After checking into Khanh Phoung Hotel, newly built and apparently the best choice in town, it was time to start the fun task of finding dinner!  We were directed just up the road from the hotel, out the front and turn left, maybe 40 meters away.  With basically no English and no menu, Pete started what would become a funny trend. 

He pretty much just says ‘what have ya got, give us a look’ and marches into the kitchen to look around! It was very funny, if you had met Pete, he just has this look and sound like he’s angry, we started calling him ‘Angry Pete’, but he’s far from it, just a nice guy with a funny demeanour.
When all else fails, you just get them to kill a chicken and that’s exactly what we did, but only after spending 5 minutes trying to explain that we wanted it bbq’d not boiled as they seem to do so often.  We were sorted, now there was nothing left to do but have a few beers while we waited for Fluffy the chicken to meet his grizzly doom.  Poor Fluffy!
The girls here were great though and came out to sit and chat (sort of) with us, then a table of Vietnamese guy’s came in that could all speak perfect English and the chaos ensued.  It was a great night of chatting, drinks and a delicious Fluffy, just one of those random nights of fun that happen if you get out there and let it.  

During the course of the afternoon though we had been in touch with a Swedish girl, Nea, from Phong Nha who wanted to join us.  Being in no rush we said we would wait in Khe Sanh 1 more night for her to arrive.
So the next day we just went exploring on the bikes, we actually ended up at the Laos border and went through some security checkpoint apparently as people in uniforms started yelling at us to turn around and go back!  Oops.  Then it was out to the Khe Sanh Marine Base where we checked out all the anti American propaganda…  I mean all the interesting material on display!  Not a whole lot to see really, but it kept Pete off the beers a little longer!
My poor scooter loaded up
This is the type of scenery we endured all day!
Khe Sanh
Friendly locals
Our mean machines...  Pete struggled to keep up with me on his 400.....    
The remains of fluffy...    he sure was tasty!
Look for this hotel


But it doesn’t end there, Phong Nha keeps dishing up the natural attractions, grab a boat from the tourist office, if you are alone or just a couple, wait around until you have enough people, it won’t take long.  Or organize the night before with people from your guesthouse or over a cold beer at the Easy Tiger, you pay 350k ($35 au) dong for the boat, so the more people you have, the cheaper it is.  This will take you up the river and into the Phong Nha cave.

The Phong Nha Cave is a small opening in a huge limestone cliff face that is accessed by river, they will paddle you in and then drop you off to wander around the cave system.  I didn’t get the full story, but it was used during the Vietnam war to hide out and store boats, supplies etc and I’m pretty sure it was used as a ‘highway’ that came out somewhere else.  You can see marks in the first cavern where US airforce pilots had sent missiles in to stop this supply, but failed.

Just the riding around the area alone make it worth the trip, plus the town just has this aura that draws you in and I fell in love with the place instantly, as do most that visit.  The amount of people that come for a day or 2 and stay longer is unbelievable, some of them never leave!

  As soon as I spent a little time here I thought ‘what a place to invest and setup a business’, the place is lacking so many facilities here that an outsider investing and helping the locals would actually be welcomed.

I pretty much spent my time here going on different rides through the National Park, swimming when warm enough, lazy afternoons at ‘The pub with cold beer’, back to the caves, meeting new travelers by the fire at night, generally just enjoying the abundant beauty of the place and the unique vibe about the place.  You could get ‘trapped’ here if you’re not careful!

The traveler’s I met here were some of the best people I have gotten to know over the last 2 years and I have formed many friendships here that will outlive just our time in Phong Nha.  But I am getting side tracked giving you all the tourist info. 

I originally came to town for 2 nights and ended up staying 5 before I decided to head back to Dong Hoi and get the rest of my gear.  With Tet coming up it was either find somewhere new and wait it out there or stay here.  Not much of a decision really.

During Tet, all transport is pretty much sold out and it is a really bad time to be moving as a lot of places are closed, no Vietnamese wants to work over Tet.  I ended up staying 2 weeks there, riding, exploring, swimming, caving, meeting new friends, fishing, just loving the atmosphere of this place.  I wasn’t sure I would ever leave! 

But I knew there was so much more of Vietnam to explore and it was time to head off.  After talking with Ben and Joel from Easy Tiger my plans changed again and I decided to head off down the Ho Chi Minh West Highway to Khe Sanh and explore this apparently amazingly beautiful part of Vietnam.

A mate I had made here heard my plans and quickly decided he was coming too, Pete is also from Western Australia and does seasonal farm work, allowing him to visit Vietnam for 3 months at a time, twice a year.  Most of that he spends at Phong Nha where he can live ridiculously cheap in between riding around the country.  So a plan was set and we were to head off in a couple of days.

Some funny pages from the 'Pub with cold beer' menu
Pics around Phong Nha
Entrance to Phong Nha Cave