The Mahoney 'TopGear' Vietnam Road Trip - Part II
Trip Start Aug 07, 2011
110Trip End Jul 14, 2012
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By 10am most of the traffic in the cities is relatively OK and by now we were accustomed to Vietnamese driving so we got straight on the road south from Danang to Hoi An. There were a few policemen about on the corners of certain roads in Danang but luckily we didn't get pulled over for a "fine" this time. We planned to drive down the coastal road to Hoi An and it was nice enough to begin with but soon went inland and past the usual resort developments.
We arrived in Hoi An around 1pm. Harold and I have this agreement with Fran whereby if we chauffeur her around, she'll go find us some shelter for the night
After much needed showers we got changed and headed to town. Hoi An is an ancient town whose facade hasn't really changed in centuries. Not only is it famous for being ancient, but it's also famous for tailoring. We've never had anything tailor-made and with a couple of weddings this year how could we refuse! We'd been tipped off by the couple we met in Vang Vieng about a tailor here - the number one on Tripadvisor called 'A. Dong Silk' - and so we headed straight there to see what was on offer.
By the time we'd spent the good part of 3 hours there we'd decided to get 3 suits and a coat for me, and 2 suits, a dress and a coat for Fran (unfortunately Harold had to go without)! We were only in Hoi An for two days and so all our clothes needed to be made by the time we left
As we left the shop we were taken to the 'factory' where our clothes would be made. Unfortunately in Hoi An there are a lot of shops who simply send your measurements off to a big factory somewhere nearby. The beauty of A. Dong Silk is that they have their own 'factory' across the road from the shop. It's a crazy-busy operation but absolutely fascinating. We'd find out the next day just how easy these guys make tailoring look!
So at around 5:30pm we left A. Dong Silk and headed to the centre of Hoi An. We'd got into town just as the sun was going down which meant for a beautiful setting! We walked down the edge of the river and it was just stunning, with ancient shop frontages now made into restaurants and cafes.
We were starving and gasping for a beer so we headed straight for the nearest restaurant with a sign outside saying "draught beer 4000VND" - that's 20p to you and me! Sold! We were lucky though because the food was amazing too! The Hoi An speciality dish of Cao Lao (a pork and noodle dish with crackling) was so tasty!
Afterwards, we wandered the streets back to our hostel passing the beautiful Japanese bridge, nabbing a cheeky slice of cake in one of the cafes along the way and imagining how life used to be here back in the day
Day 7 - 21st March: Hoi An
The next day we had a late morning rise from bed and headed across the river to the islet of An Hoi for brunch. We had to be back at A. Dong Silk for 2pm so we spent much of the morning and early afternoon just having a mooch about the town which was nice.
At 2pm we got to the tailors. Unbelievably they had my 3 suits and coat, together with Fran's two suit trousers ready for a fitting. A few pins and folds later and the clothes were off back across the road to be adjusted. We were told to come back at 5pm for the rest of Fran's fitting and then again at 7:30pm for both of our final fittings. Fran's dress was taking a bit more time but we could forgive them for that considering how much stuff they had to make for us....in 24 hours!
The afternoon was spent killing time but we did find an amazing cheesecake in a cafe called 'The Cargo Club' and randomly a humongous flip-flop on our walkabout (as you do).
We went back to A
9pm ticked by and we were still there trying to get the suits and dresses perfect.
We finally left at 10pm. To be honest we couldn't complain as they were going to get the adjustments made by 8am the next day! It was an absolutely awesome service! In actual fact the suits for me were "too perfect" as they showed up that I actually have one shoulder bigger than the other. So perhaps I should be called 'Andy-modo' (after Quasi...) from now on! By 10pm though we were a little tired and hungry and so we just ate a quick dinner and headed back to the hotel.
Day 8 - 22nd March: Hoi An to Hué
We woke up relatively early to get to A. Dong Silk for 8am to make sure everything fitted perfectly. Thankfully it did. As you can imagine though, 5 suits, 2 coats and a dress pretty much takes up another whole backpack so as much as we wanted to take it with us for the next 3 months we had to pack it up and send it home from Hoi An post office! So mum and dad look out for a box full of suits in about 3 or 4 months time!
We were soon on the road with Harold after sorting out the suits etc. Fran had wanted to spend a day at the beach while in Hoi An but unfortunately we had to prioritise the suits so instead we decided to head to the beach this morning to grab some breakfast before we got on the road properly.
After breakfast at the beach we set off back up north, rode up the coastal road through Danang (following our noses somewhat although it's hard to get lost when you're following a coastal road)! Soon enough we were at the bottom of the road that led to the now famous Hai Van Pass. For those who haven't heard of it, the Hai Van Pass is the mountain coastal route that the guys from Top Gear rode in their Vietnam Special. Jeremy Clarkson described the pass as "a deserted ribbon of perfection", and so needless to say Fran, Harold and I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for a while!
The ride was truly stunning and exactly how you would picture in your head riding a motorbike across a coastal mountain pass! It was only about 30km from end-to-end so unfortunately it was over far too quickly but we had around 140km to ride in total that day and so had to press on.
After such a stunning ride over the Hai Van Pass everything else seemed to pale into insignificance that day and so we soon made it to Hué around 3:30pm. It's funny because we're riding around these cities with basic maps from the Lonely Planet and no real idea of how to get to the backpacker areas yet we still manage to find our way without too much of a problem.
Fran kept up her end of the bargain and found some lovely accommodation at a hotel called Phouc An DMZ so we settled in and freshened up before heading out for a quick visit to see the Dieu De National Pagoda. To be honest it wasn't amazing but we stopped to watch some of the young monks play football who tried to show off once they knew they had a western audience, which was funny!
Once back at the hotel we headed next door to 'DMZ Bar and Cafe' for a bit of an over-priced bite to eat and a couple of beers before hitting the hay.
Day 9 - 23rd March: Hué to (ahem) Khe Sanh
In the morning of day 9 we decided to get up particularly early in order to visit Hué's Citadel (Kinh Thanh), a former imperial city
After we got back we packed up the bike and got on our way. We had around a 160km ride that day and so we were keen to get on the road. Today was the day that we were going to start on the 'Ho Chi Minh Trail' which is the route the Viet Cong used to transport ammunitions and supplies up and down the country during the war. Fortunately for us they've built a proper road through the mountains now which makes things a lot easier!
It took us a bit of time to find the correct route out of town, but nothing that asking locals whilst pointing at maps couldn't solve! We were soon heading the 50km west towards the mountains and a place that had been recommended to us called 'A Luoi'. It was another great ride. The roads were empty and to begin with we were making good headway until we started riding further into the mountains. The road basically followed a gorge in the hills and was really windy. At many points along it there were roadworks trying to improve the road where it seemed that there had been landslides similar to that which we've seen all over SE Asia due to heavy rain
Don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful ride with stunning scenery it just took us forever to ride that first 50km to A Luoi!
We finally made it to A Luoi, and the beginning of the Ho Ci Minh Trail. It was early afternoon by this point and so we decided to stop off and have some lunch at a small cafe. After re-energising we got back on the road.
Again the road had little traffic on it but this time the road was in good knick and no sign of roadworks. We were going along quite nicely next to another motorbike when suddenly the bike next to us broke really hard and this stupid dog ran out in front of our bike...
Even though we weren't going that quick I broke as hard as I could but because the dog ran and stood in front of the bike, Harold and I had no choice but to run into it!
The dog ran off crying and we fell off Harold. We stood up to survey the damage and due to the sheer weight of the bike itself Harold had picked up a couple of scratches, his wing mirror had come off, his headlight was cracked, the handle bars were slightly misaligned and the gear lever had bent to a funny angle! As for us, we had a few scrapes down our arm and knee
We decided that we should probably stay the night in A Luoi and not try and get to our original destination, Khe Sanh. So we booked ourselves into what was probably the only hotel in the town and took Harold to the nearest mechanic.
We got Harold fixed that afternoon for the princely sum of $15 - the mechanics are truly amazing here! That meant we were free to have a chilled evening and then get back on the road in the morning.
Day 10 - 24th March: A Luoi to Dong Hoi
After a comfortable nights sleep and a bit of Twilight: Breaking Dawn (for Fran of course) we had some Phô for breakfast. Phô is basically a noodle soup with meat and herbs and so it takes a bit of getting used to for breakfast when you associate such tastes with dinner, but to be honest we've become accustomed to it now. We've got to the stage now where sometimes we just order rice and they give us whatever meat they have out which could be anything (did I tell you they eat dog meat over here!).
Anyway, we had to make up a bit of lost time from yesterday and so to get to our planned destination for today, Dong Hoi, we had to get going early doors because it was a 230km ride away! We soon got on our way. Unfortunately the clouds had gathered in the mountains on the Ho Chi Minh Trail ahead of us and it looked like rain so we stopped about 15mins into the ride to put on our waterproofs
It mizzled (or drizzled, I don't really know the difference) most of the way up the first 85km of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and having never ridden in the rain before we took it extra slow! The first part of the trail this particular day traversed the side of mountains and followed a gorge through the centre of the country. I found it hard to imagine the lines of Viet Cong marching ammunitions and supplies through this part of the country during the war, the mountains must have been so tough to trek! Thankfully the road was now a highway which made riding easy.
We ended up making good time and after 85km the Ho Chi Minh Trail splits in two: one way hugs the western border close to Laos, and the other way cuts through the east of Vietnam eventually making it to just west of Dong Hoi. We'd been told that the western trail was beautiful but pretty desolate with few petrol stations, so we wisely decided to take the eastern option which was more tourist-biker friendly!
The eastern Ho Chi Minh Trail couldn't have been more different than the ride from A Luoi to Khe Sanh - the landscape was completely flat and not a hill in sight
Afterwards we were on our way again. We made it to Dong Hoi by about 3:30pm and had decided that we weren't going to ride from Dong Hoi to Hanoi because it would have cut time out of things we wanted to do in the north and wedding presents such as Ha Long Bay and a trip to Sapa. So we hoped we could change the train ticket we'd already bought to the night train on 25th. Luckily they had space and we thanked our lucky stars because it meant we could do everything we now wanted to do up north. The only downside was that Harold would have to go on the train before us because there wasn't a luggage compartment on our train - I'm sure he'll cope on his own for one night!
After booking the train we checked into a hotel, freshened up, headed out for some dinner and just came back to chill for the evening.
Day 11 - 25th March: Dong Hoi to Hanoi
The next day we planned to have a duvet day, watching movies and of course the Grand Prix
We left the hotel around 5pm and headed to the station to wait for our train which would be leaving at 6pm. It's standard procedure for trains to arrive late in SE Asia so we didn't leave until closer to 7pm. Thankfully we had booked so-called 'soft sleeper' seats (well beds really) which were much more comfortable than the 'hard sleeper' seats we had on the last train which were actually like sleeping on a block of wood!
We slept like babies that night and arrived safely in Hanoi at around 5am on 26th April.
Arriving in Hanoi meant that our 1,200km Top Gear-style road trip through Vietnam was now complete. It was epic and definitely worth it to see the real Vietnam! Yes there were ups, downs, problems with the bike and the odd incident with a dog but we wouldn't change anything and are so glad that we did Vietnam our way! For me it goes to show again just what you can do when you put your mind to it - who knew that by the end of our travels we'd be fully-fledged bikers!
The only final thing left to do (but don't mention it to him because he'll never forgive us) is to sell Harold! :-(
"On that bombshell..."
See you next time!