Hue to Da Nang
NOTE This is just an account of our time spent on the road, for more info on the central coast cities of Vietnam, click here
The first leg
Leaving Hue we stopped in for some quick oil changes, planning on leaving town early enough to reach Da Nang in time to take advantage of some time at the beach. The hope of leaving early disappeared as our motorcycles were in need of more maintenance than we originally thought. The third gear on my motorcycle felt strange earlier and the mechanic told me that without fixing it I would have a hard time making it over the Hai Van pass. We opted to stay one more night in Hue as it took an additional five hours to repair the bike. That’s what happens when you buy old, cheap motorcycles!!
Following one more stay in Hue, we drove toward Da Nang by taking a lesser driven route that followed the coastline south on a long peninsula. The drive along the QL49B was absolutely worth it, although it increased our driving time by an hour. Driving along this narrow, bumpy road we passed by many rice fields and even detoured along one of the narrow trails used by farmers to access the fields.
The best part of this route was passing by many large groups of children, all dressed in uniform. Kids waving and yelling hello never gets old and always puts a smile on my face.
After about an hour of riding, we turned off of the QL49B and crossed a bridge over to the busy highway QL1A. As we neared the highway, Tash signaled for us to pull over because her clutch handle miraculously decided to break off! As I walked toward her motorcycle I could see that the handle was only hanging on by the cable. Jolene decided to drive around the area to look for a mechanic.
In Vietnam there seems to be a mechanic on every street corner, but she eventually came back with no results. Nearby, two men were working on repairing an old building so I showed them the broken lever. One man on a ladder, quickly came down and showed me how much it would cost by taking out some money and pointing at the amount. We agreed with the price and as he hopped on his bike he told that he would be gone shortly. Within five minutes he returned with a new handle and had reattached it. It blows my mind how helpful the Vietnamese are!
Once again, we were able to cruise at full speed. After a slow start to the day it felt good to be closing in on the Hai Van pass, which had been my most anticipated stretch of road in all of Vietnam. About ten miles before reaching the pass I told myself to stop at the next available gas station. Soon after that thought my bike began cutting out and losing power. I pulled over to the side of the road and informed the girls that I had just ran out of fuel. As I turned the gas on reserve and resumed riding I prayed for a gas station.
In the distance I saw a roadside stand with what looked like bottles of different colored water. Quickly pulling off the road and coming to a sudden stop, I caught the attention of the man working at the stand. After pointing at my gas tank, I breathed a sigh of relief when the guy nodded in approval and proceeded to dump in the fuel. Of course just a mile down the highway was a large fuel station with better prices, but I didn’t mind paying a premium to avoid being stranded on the side of the road.
We were told by a hotel employee to check out Elephant Springs, which is an excellent spot to swim in a river with many small waterfalls and swimming holes. We detoured off of the highway onto a narrow, dusty road for about a ten minute drive into the hills. On the way there we passed a small Buddhist temple with large statues and beautiful flowers lining the steps.
A small hike was required to reach the springs which were incredibly beautiful and refreshing!!
Hai Van pass
As we drove near the base of the Hai Van mountains I began to feel excited from weeks of anticipation. Although there were a few clouds, we were fortunate to be driving through some great weather. At times sun beams looked like they were piercing through the clouds to light up specific areas of land and sea.
Even though I had high expectations for the Hai Van pass, it didn’t disappoint!
Da Nang to Hoi An
First thing in the morning I went out to find someone who could repair the luggage rack on Tash’s motorcycle. I found a mechanic on my second attempt that was willing to help me out. After finishing what he was busy with he took a look at the broken rack, jumped on a scooter and signaled to me that he would be right back. When he arrived with a piece of rebar I knew he was going to fix it right. It took a couple of hours by the time he finished bending the rebar, fitting it in the tube frame and welding into place, but well worth it. By the time I got back to the hotel it was noon and we quickly loaded up and headed out.
But we didn’t make it far as I discovered that my back tire was completely flat. Instead of walking the bike to find a mechanic we decided to see if the scooter rental next to the hotel could air up my tire. Unfortunately they couldn’t put air in it, but they did call a mobile repair guy. Within 5 minutes he showed up and quickly started working. Thirty minutes later I had a new tube and we were finally on our way. This experience along with the broken clutch handle made us realize that it is always more effective to ask the closest person for help. Even if they can’t directly help, they will find someone who can.
On Our Way
The ride to Hoi An was short but we did have one unusual encounter. A woman shouted at me while I was on the motorcycle at near full speed. She was asking me where we were going and telling me to follow her to a popular tourist destination. We had considered stopping by the Marble Mountains but with our late start to the day we chose not to go. As we neared the turnoff the woman signaled for us to turn, but we politely waved at her and kept on our way. We didn’t see her again but I half expected to see her turn around and chase after us. Not long after we safely arrived in Hoi An.
Hoi An to Kon Tum
As we headed away from the beautiful central coast we found ourselves on a skinny little road that wove its way through fishing villages, rivers with fisherman and rice fields. It was a short trip to a larger highway but it offered much to see.The first couple of hours was very relaxing as the roads were not busy and nicely paved. It seemed like every fifteen minutes the monotony would be broken by another small town full of children waving hello. In one such small town we passed a motorcycle struggling to pull a trailer with a pig as big as the bike itself!
As the road became windier we started to climb and found ourselves surrounded by orchards. Small buckets hung from each tree with a spout placed above and I realized that these were rubber trees. Additionally each tree had a spiral carved up the trunk, which acts as a funnel to catch the liquid rubber. I had also read that there are many cinnamon trees in the area but I wasn’t sure if I had seen one or not.
Construction zone danger
We stopped next to a very large reservoir to stretch and take some pictures.
Not long after our break we began climbing over a pass where there was a seemingly endless amount of construction zones. These construction zones consisted of a warning sign followed a few hundred feet later by barricades and caution tape blocking off one of only two available lanes. It seemed quite odd that almost all of these construction zones did not have anybody working in them and of course no traffic control.
As we rode through our first few zones it was quite safe as traffic was minimal. But as we chugged along in third gear up a steep hill, I saw a construction zone in the distance followed closely by a sharp corner. Nearing the zone, no traffic was coming so we cut across into the oncoming lane and said a prayer. I felt trapped as we were only half way through the zone and I watched the corner intensely, awaiting our possible fate. Although I always had an escape plan if a truck came toward us, I didn’t want to use it. Moments after reaching safety a large bus came roaring down the hill, horn blaring.
It seems as though the buses and trucks are trying to make up time on the downhill portions of the road. We encountered a few more sketchy areas, but we rode as cautiously as we could and eventually reached the end of the mountainous section.
The missing backpack
While going through the pass it started to rain so we pulled over again and put on our ponchos. About 45 minutes later we stopped in a small town for oil changes and some food. That was when I looked at Tash and by the look on her face I knew something terrible had happened. It turns out that she forgot to re-strap her small backpack after getting the poncho out. Instead she just placed her rainfly back over the bag. I decided to go back and look for it while the other bikes were getting oil changes.
As I rode out of the town I had many thoughts running through my head; “If her bag fell off right away I’m going to be riding for an hour and a half, I wonder if I have enough gas, I doubt I’m going to find it, I’m going to be gone more like two hours because I’m gonna be searching the sides of the road while driving, I should have brought some money, I bet someone already picked it up, if so how am I ever going to find them”.
I just told myself to keep going and as I kept thinking negative thoughts I saw some young men waving at me ahead. I’m thinking “no way” but I stop and mention a lost backpack. One guy ran into the back of the nearby shack and comes out holding the bag!! I feel like the bag had a magical aura surrounding it while trumpets played in the backgound. I said about 1,000 thank yous and I was wishing I had some money to give them for their generousity. When I returned into the town with the backpack Tash was in tears. She felt overwhelmed by her forgetfulness and the kindness of the local people.
Crazy bus drivers
After the backpack had been safely returned and all of the oil changes were complete we walked across the street for some Pho. The traditional Vietnamese soup was delecious and only cost $2.25 for all three of us together! Not long after our lunch break we continued riding on two lane roads, full of more small towns and crazy bus drivers.
Nearing a sharp corner outside of town, I spotted a car approaching in the distance. As we neared the corner towards the car my eyes widened. A bus was quickly gaining ground on the slow moving car and judging by the speed of the bus, I knew he was going to pass.
Not wanting to lock up my brakes with two riders behind, I slowed down and hugged the last centimeter of asphalt. On the apex of the corner, I met the careening bus with inches to spare. Immediately I looked back to check on Tash and Jojo, whom were both just fine. No matter how careful you can be while driving in Vietnam, there is definitely an element of luck.
Due to the long day of riding and mishaps along the way, which included my phone falling off the motorcycle at full speed, we approached Kon Tum as the sun started setting. About 15 miles outside of the city it was time to turn on our headlights. Not surprisingly, Jojo’s and my headlights decided not to work. Our only option was to slow down and ride on the shoulder. I tried to follow closely behind other people until we reached the security of the city street lights.
Kon Tum to Qui Nhon
We rode out of the city the following morning and it didn’t take long for us to see something unusual. As we approached an intersection, two men on a motorcycle quickly darted out from the sidewalk in front of us. It appeared that they would be safely out of our way until a police officer, also coming from the sidewalk, cut them off with his motorcycle. This resulted in all of us locking up our brakes, I almost ran into the policeman and Jojo bumped into my bike. The two men quickly did a u-turn in front of us and sped off towards traffic. The officer quickly caught up to them again and this time was successful in stopping them. We had no idea what that was all about and we didn’t stick around to find out.
Bananas and potholes
Shortly before reaching the city of Pleiku, we branched off of the highway to take a more direct route back towards the ocean. The road was very narrow as many surrounding trees and bushes had started to reclaim their territory. We saw more tractors than cars, which made for a relaxing ride.
As we got farther down the farm road and started climbing over some hills, the road got extremely rough. In some areas the potholes were impossible to avoid and we were forced to go extra slow. Although this “short cut” extended our trip by at least an hour it was well worth it.
We had already driven through numerous farm regions and beautiful countrysides at this point, but this was different. I felt like we were able to get up close and personal on our slow drive. Eventually we stopped to buy some fresh bananas and we definitely came to the right place.
Across the street there was a traditional grass-roof house…..
…and of course more great views were nearby
After 45km of backroads, we made it another highway and cruised into the coastal city of Qui Nhon. Little did we know, this would end up being one of our favorite towns…..