We left Hue one morning for Phona Nha, roughly 225km (140 miles ) away if you take Highway 1. If you’ve read any of these Motorbiking posts, you’ll know I loathe Highway 1 so we decided to mix the route up a little bit. We still had to take a little bit of that dreaded highway, but when we had the opportunity we veered off onto the more scenic and longer Ho Chi Minh Road. The Ho Chi Minh Road, named after the country’s most famous leader, is a small two lane road that spans from Hanoi in the north all the way to Saigon in the south. While it’s not as direct as Highway 1, it is in my opinion much more beautiful and worth the extra couple hours it would take us to get to Phong Nha.
The ride along the Ho Chi Minh Road was absolutely beautiful. For most of it you could see mountains out in the distance and you wouldn’t see another car, truck, or bike for a long time. It really felt like you were off the beaten path while on the road. I wish I could say the entire ride was easy and carefree, but unfortunately we did have a couple major scares that stopped us in our tracks at one point.
In my “Tips for Motorbiking Vietnam” post I talked about how bus and truck drivers in Vietnam are, to put it lightly, bat shit crazy. It’s almost as if they have no regard for their own lives, let alone the lives of others. It was the single most aggravating thing about riding through Vietnam, which has a sort of caste system in place when it comes to riding. Pretty much the bigger you are on the road, the more you can get away with and motorbikes are at the bottom of the totem pole.
So we had just turned on to the Ho Chi Minh Road. We’re cruising along, taking in the sights and the beautiful weather, when all of a sudden a logging truck comes around the corner in the distance and is barreling down in our lane! We’re still a couple hundred meters away at this point but we both see it and don’t know what to do. There wasn’t much of a shoulder to drive on to, so that option was out the window. As we’re getting closer the truck finally starts moving into his lane ( WHICH IS COMPLETELY EMPTY BTW! ) and we kept going. We both looked at each other like “wtf!?” but just kept on riding.
Maybe 45 minutes later we’re riding along when it happens again! The truck is just barreling down in our side of the road. Not overtaking someone or anything, just driving in our lane. We figure he will see us and move over like the last one but as we get closer we realize he’s not moving. I was on the left and Breada was closer to the shoulder, so at the last second I had to move across the lane and she had to take the tiny bit of shoulder to the right. Honestly it was probably our biggest scare of the entire trip. We had to pull over after for a few minutes just to calm down since our adrenaline was pumping and while we were pulled over yet another truck came marching down in the wrong lane!
From then on we took it pretty slow and made sure we had a nice long line of sight in case it was going to happen again, but luckily it didn’t. Even with our scare, we ended up getting to Phong Nha in a pretty reasonable amount of time which is always nice. There’s nothing worse than driving at night when you don’t really know where you’re going.
I still have no idea why the trucks were riding on the wrong side of the road. If it was just one I would figure they were overtaking someone that just turned off the road before we saw them, but three is more than just a coincidence. I’ll have to do some research on why they drive like that and if I turn anything up I’ll update this post, but for now it remains a mystery. Despite the crazy truck drivers, it was all worth it as soon as we got to Phong Nha. About thirty minutes before we hit Phong Nha I decided to put away my GoPro to conserve battery. I figured I’d gotten enough footage for the day, and that the rest of the drive would just be more of the same scenery. Of course I couldn’t have been more wrong. We’ve mentioned before that every time we’ve thought that Vietnam couldn’t possibly get more beautiful it does. Phong Nha was no exception. Riding into Phong Nha was absolutely breathtaking. Luckily we would be spending a few days there so I had time to get some footage, but there’s no way to describe that initial feeling of seeing massive lime stone karsts covered in so much green rising up to greet us. Once again having our lives flash before our eyes a few times while riding on our motorbikes ended up paying off in the form of totally stunning views.