Leaving Hanoi was nice n easy. My original plan was to head South for a day with Hebert and Philip and then break off West to take the newer Ho Chi Minh highway. One day’s cycle away was Ninh Binh – a place which many told us was a must visit. When we arrived is was a bit like er, why woz it we came here again? It was a lot quieter than the hustle and bustle of tourist crammed Hanoi, but otherwise there didn’t seem to be anything special about it. Well, it turned out the attraction was a National Park just 8km down the road. The next morning we got up early to be the first there. We organised a 2 hour boat trip through various karst peaks and small sections of underground river. It was nice enough, a bit chilly, but for me it felt like this was just the warm up for the mighty Phong Nha National Park.
It made sense for me to continue down South on the same road until as far as Vinh so I continued with die Deutschen. That day the road started to get pretty hellish. It was the usual story of trucks and buses driving too fast, and pot holed roads. I have just heard the statistic that apparently 40 people on this road everyday, and it used to be 200 (!). Seems a bit high if you ask me but from looking at how people drive you could well imagine it. It was on the third day I believe that the road lived up to its reputation as the so called Road of Death. There was a group of onlookers stood in a circle as we were cycling through a town.. As we approached we saw the skid marks of a truck, two scooters on the floor and a police officer photographing the scene in particular the helmets and accompanying big pool of blood next to them. There were no bodies to be seen but from the looks of things it was almost definitely a fatality. Grim. If that didn’t make you want to wear your helmet then I don’t know what would. So the following morning I put mine on.
It was more or less perfect cycling conditions all the way down except we didn’t really see the sun. Much of the way we enjoyed a strong tailwind which on one occasion was strong enough to push us up a hill at 30kph without too much effort.
It was funny how many times people tried to stitch us at restaurants. One night when they brought out the bill, they brought with it a menu with the “new prices” as opposed to the one we had just ordered from. They expected us to pay the new price but of course they didn’t a Dong more than the original menu they showed us. This has been the story time and time again in North Vietnam. Apparently the situation isn’t nearly as bad in the South according to other travellers.
Since back in China we have witnessed many shops and shopping malls decked out with Christmas décor. In Vietnam the situation has been significantly worse, or better if you’re into Christmas marketing. I have now had the joy of hearing Jingle Bells several times, but so far no Wham. What sort of Christmas is this?
On the way down I did some research about the Phong Nha cave system. It seemed the best place to stay was the Phong Nha Farmstay. This meant that it didn’t make any sense to leave AH1 RoD until the last minute. I felt like it would have been nice to have some more hours of sunlight to cycle in. After 7 months of cycling, and especially with the tailwind and on this flat terrain it felt like I could comfortably but down 140s and 150s so it has been annoying having to stop around 5ish.
The final day I said goodbye to Philip and Herbert who were heading further South to the Demilitarised Zone and onwards to Hue where they will be spending Chirstmas eve. I was lot of fun cycling with Hebert the last few weeks, and Philip’s good sense of humour also made it a pleasure to cycle with him too. There’s a good chance we will meet again somewhere down the line.. I cycled off by myself for the first time since I came off my bike in Tajikistan 3.5months ago. I was super excited to be making my way to this UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of the world’s largest limestone aprks.The road made its way past an impressive graveyard shrouded in mist and then through a pine forest, large swathes of which had been chopped down for rubber trees. A Vietnamese guy came out on a motorbike met me in the street, showed my the Phong Nha Farmstay business card, and gave me a one man escort down a mud lane to this unique hostel/homestay where I have been since yesterday.