Ho Chi Minh Trail

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  , Thanh Hóa,
Sunday, December 16, 2012

I think it’s around 15th December and I’ve booked into a hostel in Hue for Christmas Eve, I hope I make it on time as it’s approx. 800km, it really depends on the terrain and the weather.  Getting out of Hanoi was chaos, and there is a lot of one way streets which meant my planned route was slightly off!  I had taken a few snapshots of maps on my phone for the route out which was just as well as my phone didn’t pick up a signal all day.

So I set off on my adventures and manage around 110km although I’ve no idea the name of the place I’m staying as my GPS isn’t  locating me at all, but arrive at Tuan Phuong Hotel (180,000 VND or 5.60) and the journey down was amazing (I later find out I stayed Thach Quang).  Getting out of Hanoi was nuts, the traffic really is crazy and there is always someone going the wrong direction on every road I’ve been on!  I got out to the main OL21, there’s a new road being built which just made the route part building site, so I don’t think it could have been worse.  There were almost a few bumps but I managed to brake/swerve just in time to dodge people who coming flying out at you from every direction, cutting straight across your path and I’m relieved to make it out in one piece.  

It’s a beautiful sunny day and once out of town I have stunning views, flat green paddy fields and vertical limestone mountains against a clear blue sky, it is pretty spectacular, the shapes of the mountains are more rounded and a very similar to Halong Bay and I love it.  As soon as I’m out of Hanoi everyone is really friendly and I hear my first shout of ‘hello’ of the day from inside someone’s house.  I get the funniest eye popping looks today and some of the friendliest smiles ever, I really enjoyed and although I had planned on camping, when I asked for somewhere to sleep I’ve been told there’s a place nearby so I just head for that instead.  The locals, being locals, always underestimate and 2km turned into another 10km on top of that and I arrived only after some help from a guy showing me the way in his car, but by the time I arrived it was dark and I was tired and hungry.  I was relieved to get in but I couldn’t get any food, there was nothing open any more so I ended up cooking up soup, noodles and tuna on the camp stove inside my room.

So next day wasn’t an early start as I was tired, a young girl was cycling alongside me mesmerized, she went to turn off while still looking at me, then decided against – meanwhile I moved to the inside but she changed her mind and came back into road, nearly ramming me off it and I caught her finger on my handlebars… ouch, first bump and hopefully the last.   I have another incredible day, sun splitting the skies and clear views and once again the mix of green paddy fields and the lime stone mountains which rise up vertically behind the fields.  I feel I’m just in awe today and every corner I turn, my jaw hits the ground in wonder.  Everyone on the road says hello to me today and I mean everyone, going both directions, so I spend the whole day waving, shouting hello, smiling or nodding back to them, it’s unbelievable.  I only cycle 65km today before deciding on an early stop and I get booked into a nice GH with a balcony at Lach Lam, I sit and enjoy the sunset before having a shower and quick nap before dinner, the sky is so clear and full of stars tonight – clear and bright and surrounded by corn fields.
So this seems to be the way of my journey, I love the traffic on the roads, the farming, the animals, and of course the people.  I have an early start the next day on my way to Lang Men (80km), and spend so much of it taking pictures of the scenery and people on the road.  At one point a few wait at the top of a hill for me with sugarcane, it was so kind of them and I enjoyed a few minutes speaking with them.  I got lots of pats on the back and thumbs up for my efforts and I laugh when one of the women feels my legs and tells me I’m ‘strong woman’, yep there’s no personal space here!  I seem to attract everyone today from the wee girl in a Santa suit blowing me kisses, while a small baby was planted on my knee for photos and being stopped and handed oranges for my journey.
I left early the next morning and my breakfast stop was… well different.  Two young guys were drunk (and getting drunker) at the table beside me before jumping on their motorbikes and speeding off (I’m on the road with these guys)!  Meanwhile an old woman with black teeth from chewing tobacco (beetle) got me to go for breakfast at her place, the ‘man came to read the meter’ and gave them their bills (same, same) and the ‘dog man’ came to deliver which I tried not to think about although I couldn’t eat the ‘meat’ in my soup just in case.  All the women are busy working while the men drink or play chequers or similar.  
After breakfast I went out back to use the toilet which was a handmade clay hole leading to the outside of the building, it had no door only half a sack you could hook across, and squares of card were left for wiping.  On my return I had to walk through a kitchen area and there was a pool of blood in an area used for slaughter, unfortunately there were also drips of blood from the back of the motorbike which had been delivering ‘dog’… I really don’t want to think about it, although the Vietnamese are open about eating cats and dogs ‘anything that moves’ one guy told me, the thought turns my stomach!  There are lots of pigs being transported around today and buffalo, there must be a market somewhere near?  After around 80km to Tri Le and I found somewhere to stay, getting a visit from the local Police checking my passport and visa before I could get to bed, it’s the first time though for a number of days.
So the rain begins, it is pouring but thankfully cleared in the afternoon, I’m a bit weary today, legs are tired so I’m just plodding away but I feel better after I have breakfast (at 11am) I think I left it too late so had no energy at all.  It’s all up and down today, there’s no flat ground so I feel like I’m pushing all day, although I do manage another 85km to Vu Quang, it really was a struggle but the scenery was amazing, both sides of the mountains and looking over towards Laos were I’ll be one day.
I didn’t sleep well again, I end up away early and once more I’ve no energy in my legs and find it difficult responding to the many ‘hello’s’ which continue along the road, I’m not a good Ambassador for Scotland today… I’m tired and a bit unresponsive.  I stop at a cemetery and cook up some lunch while resting in the sunshine, I realise I’ve not had breakfast again, I can see a pattern emerging here and it’s not doing me any good, I need to make sure I have breakfast from here on in for that much needed energy in the morning!  
I met 6 bikers coming down from Hanoi who are well impressed that not only am I cycling on my own, but that I plan on getting to Saigon (they’re only going half way), they have support vehicles with them and it makes me realise just what I’m taking on, I must be crazy.  I get plenty of good luck wishes and pats on the back as they head off wondering how I’m going to manage.  Somehow I find a hotel at Hoa Bien (85km), I was sure I’d be camping out tonight, the journey was really beautiful probably today, the best scenery I’ve had yet.  
I head to Phuong Nha (60km) as I’ve heard the caves here are incredible, the road down is full of lime stone mountains and children running out to see me.  I’ve a big climb today which I just plod away at but I’m relieved once I’m over.  There seems to be a lot of churches around, all are the same design and are maybe every 10kms, I wonder why there are so many?  Just before I cross the bridge into Phuong Nha I have to stop and watch the hundreds of people working in the fields, its back breaking work but they are tirelessly preparing the fields for their crop.  
I meet a lovely Vietnamese couple at the hotel who actually escaped from Vietnam in the 70’s when they were 18/19 yrs old, on a boat bound for Malaysia, eventually settling in Melbourne.  They are an older couple and Alec is apparently 9th in line to the Palace here in Vietnam, Anne and I have a wander round the market in the afternoon and strangely enough we are asked if we are sisters?  Over dinner they tell me the caves are a must do, so I decide to stay on and visit the next morning before cycling in the afternoon (I’m aware of time to reach Hue for Christmas).
I decided on Paradise Cave which was newly discovered and  is the largest cave in Vietnam, its 30km away so I agree a price with a motorbike taxi to take me out, wait and return.  The inside is like an ‘Alien’ movie (now I know where they get their ideas), it doesn’t seem real at all inside and the shapes are unbelievable.  I’m glad I made time to visit before heading back and on my way to Li Trec (60km), unfortunately the weather is wet and wild and I’m completely soaked through and exhausted by the time I arrive.  The GH bring me dinner to my room, it very traditional food of rice, pork, veg, soup, fried egg and fish way too much but extremely tasty, I actually put half of it aside for my breakfast in the morning.
When I leave the weather is miserable, wet, blowing a gale, no visibility, floods, no one else on the road, no fun at all, I must be mad being out in this when no one else is but I want to reach Hue by tomorrow (Christmas Eve) and I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere over Christmas so I’ve no choice.  I completely surprise myself to keep going, sometimes I’ve no idea where I get my strength from managing another 90km.  

I’ve been thinking about all my family today and for some reason John in particular, I think he would love Vietnam.  It’s been an unbelievably heartbreaking year for the family and I often wonder why so much can be put in someones path in life, I also know however that strength, support, love, friendship… many things help to make it through each day.  I love all my family sooo much, and I will miss them all this Christmastime.  
Ok, so last push, 65km to Hue, it’s Christmas Eve but I’m not there yet!  Weather is once again terrible, plus road works on the road which I’m careful around because last thing I want is a puncture.  There are absolutely no views as the weather has totally closed in, I’m feeling pretty tired and miserable.  After 40km though the weather picks up and I start to realize that I am actually going to make it, the skies start clearing and I can see mountains in the distance towards Laos.  I arrive at Hue Backpackers at noon and I'm delighted, relieved, exhausted but most of all looking forward to Christmas, so I check in and arrange to join them for Christmas Lunch and Secret Santa.
So Merry Christmas to everyone, here’s to a few days rest and some Christmas cheer, Santa’s coming ‘Ho Ho Ho’.
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