Leaving Hoi An was nearly heartbreaking. We spent 10 days there (11? I don’t know I’ve lost track of time) and we loved every single one of them. If it wasn’t a small town and had a decent market for English teachers it would be at the top of our list of places to stay long term, but it doesn’t so it will just have to be a weekend vacation stop.
Our last two nights in Hoi An we stayed at a fancy schmancy hotel for Breada’s birthday, the Essence Hotel and Spa. It was amazing, and by far the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. We were clearly the outliers at the hotel, and definitely the only backpackers. I can also safely assume we are, and likely to ever be, the only guests to pull up on and leave on our own motorbikes. Everyone else came in hired cars and taxi’s, but what’s the fun in that?
Luckily our next stop, Da Nang, was only about an hour away and was pretty much a straight shot, which is good because I had a plastic bag full of snacks tied to the left handlebar for the ride since I had no room in my bags.
As we arrived in Da Nang i was in awe of some of the massive (and expensive!) resorts lining the streets. These properties easily go for $300+ a night but to me they are a waste. Beautiful yes, but you’re so far away from everything and you’re just in your own little bubble. You could be anywhere in the world at one of these resorts why bother coming all the way to Vietnam? I also have this same issue though with resorts anywhere in the world. To me, you might as well just stay home if you’re not going to experience the culture and just stay in your bubble. That being said, if someone offered me a free night at one of these extravagant properties I wouldn’t turn it down 🙂 .
Our spot in Da Nang was not quite as fancy, but we’re easy and it got the job done. Can’t really complain when a private room cost $10 a night. What was nice too about this particular segment of our trip was our two friends, George and Cathy, who we reunited with in Hoi An, spent the next 5 days or so riding with us. I mentioned it before when riding through the mountains but I’ll say it again: it’s so much better riding in a group of people. Not sure why since it’s not like you make conversation while riding ( though the locals do! ) but it’s just more fun getting to experience these beautiful sights in a group rather than by yourself.
Da Nang itself is an up and coming city to say the least. Unlike the other major cities we’ve been to, Da Nang is less crowded ( a relative term in Vietnam ). There are massive city blocks just empty and waiting for development along the beach, but I imagine in the next 5-10 years it will be fully developed. The skyline already looks awesome and will only continue to look more beautiful. We tried going to the local skybar one night, but unfortunately we didn’t meet the dress code, which in the end was probably a blessing in disguise since the cheapest drink was $7! For readers at home that may seem average, but that is 7-9 beers here!
The next leg of our road trip was in my opinion the most beautiful stretch of road we took the entire ride: The Hai Van Pass connecting Da Nang to Hue. It was made famous by Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the Top Gear crew when they motorbiked from Saigon to Ha Long Bay in an episode. Check it out if you have never seen it it’s a really great episode and will show you some of the many sights we’ve had the opportunity to see along the way.
The Hai Van Pass is only about 25km long so it’s a short stretch of road, but the scenery you pass just makes you want to stop every 5 minutes to take pictures and enjoy the view. They recently built a tunnel through the mountain pass which allows cars and trucks to pass underneath the mountain. leaving the Hai Van Pass to motorbikes, oil tankers, and the occasionally car full of tourists. All in all it’s a pretty empty road which makes it great to go at your own leisurely pace.
The Pass came and went way too fast. It was as if you blinked and it was gone. No worries though since we fully expect to be living in Vietnam for an extended period of time I think we’ll have more opportunities to visit 🙂 The rest of the ride to Hue was average Vietnamese roads with nothing to write home about. We did stop at a little roadside stand for Cafe Sua Da, aka Vietnamese iced coffee. Thanks to George and Cathy, I’m absolutely obsessed and have at least one a day now. I was doing so well too avoiding coffee until I met them!! It’s too good not to drink though, and for just $.50 – 1.50 a cup its good on the budget.
Hue was a decent city, but after being in Hoi An so long every city for the next week or 2 after was going to be a little disappointing. Hue did have one of the coolest attractions we’ve seen in all of Vietnam though : Ho Thuy Tien aka the abandoned water park.
The park closed in 2004 and since then has been left untouched and nature has taken its course. It’s about 10km outside of the city and only cost 10,000 ($.50 ) to get in. We’re still not sure if the guy working the entrance actually worked there or if he was just a local taking money from people, but we’re guessing the latter. Either way, for $.50 it’s a great way to spend the day and the best part is you can explore the entire park on your motorbike!
Whatever could have been taken and sold had been shipped out before they officially shut it down, but there was still a decent bit of stuff to ride around and see. There was an amphitheater still equipped with the machinery for a water show, a flight simulator, a set of slides, and my favorite part of the park : a massive dragon centerpiece in the middle of what used to be a body of water. The best part of the dragon was you could climb up into it and hang out in its mouth, which had by far the best views of the park.
The park definetely had a creepyness to it, which to me made it all the more fun. Even though it’s been less than 15 years nature has done a lot of work in that time and it feels as if it’s been empty for decades. If you make it to Hue I’d highly recommend coming here before someone decides to shut it down for good and not allow tourists in like they did with the Ghost Tower in Bangkok.
Another highlight from our time in Hue was visiting the famous (amongst backpackers) Kim Thien, who is widely regarded online as the best mechanic for backpackers to go to in all of Vietnam. The couple we bought our bikes from had purchased them from him, which made us feel better about purchasing them considering his reputation. Luckily he was nearby our hotel so we decided to pay him a visit and have him look over both bikes for tune ups. When we pulled up he immediately recognized the bikes as his. His English was perfect, which is a huge help, especially after dealing with the mechanic in Motorbiking Part 5. We each had a couple minor things that needed fixing and he said he would look over everything on the bike for us. When we came back the next day he had the bikes running tip top as if they were brand new. The gears were so smooth and we paid a fraction of what we had to give the guy who ripped us off on our way to Hoi An. If you’re motorbiking through Vietnam and make it to Hue I highly suggest taking your bike to Mr. Kim.
Unfortunately this is where Breada and I had to part ways with George and Cathy. They had trouble securing extensions on their visas so they had to rush up to Hanoi and sell their bike before moving on with their travels. As sad as we were for them to leave I have a feeling we’ll be paying them and their Pimms Cart a visit sometime in England.
While they were off to Hanoi we continued our adventure to Phong Nha, home to the largest cave in the world. Stay tuned for the next post where I talk about our ride to Phong Nha and our trip through the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park!