The Ultimate Vietnam Road Trip: Part Eleven – Phong Nha to Thanh Hoa

To read about the rest of our road trip, click here.

Phong Nha

After the stunning yet slightly disastrous drive from Khe Sanh to Phong Nha, we decided we could do with a day off the bikes so opted for two nights here.

The only hostel in town – Easy Tiger – is where most tourists head for, but we’d been told that a private room in the hotel across the road actually worked out cheaper than a bed in an Easy Tiger dorm so we went there. We ended up paying under £3 each (100,000 dong) for the room which smelt ever so slightly of turps and was right next to a construction site which seemed to be operative at all hours, but you get what you pay for.

We’d heard a lot about the surrounding caves so figured we’d spend the day in between drives exploring these – however this idea was swiftly put to bed for a number of reasons. Firstly, we saw that you could do a tour with Easy Tiger which cost something ridiculous like £70, so we decided we’d drive it on the bikes (or more like I’d drive James’ bike with him on the back!).

The next day rolled around and it was absolutely chucking it down. We decided to wait until early afternoon to see if it eased off, but when it didn’t we put it down as a bad idea and instead performed some bike maintenance. That actually makes us sound more clued up than we are. By maintenance I do, of course, mean putting some petrol in and changing the oil.

It wasn’t all bad though, as we spent the day drinking rafts of coffee and we discovered probably the best spit roast pork and noodles shop in the world…apparently.

Their words, not ours.

Their words, not ours.

The journey

This drive marked the start of the final leg of our trip and, although we’d had the time of our lives up to this point, we were glad that the finishing line was almost in sight. The weather had been getting worse as we headed up north, and the deteriorating condition of my bike was causing us quite a lot of concern.

The aim of the game now was to just hammer it in the direction of Hanoi and make as big a dent in to the journey as possible by the end of the day. Ideally, the plan was to drive from early morning until around 5pm, crash (sleep, not literally crash…obviously) in a random town and complete the journey with what we hoped would be a relatively short drive the next day.

We left around 7.30am in the pouring rain and the day ahead really wasn’t all that appealing. By this point, the sooner we got to Hanoi the better.

Just getting to Hanoi seemed like it would be an even taller ask than ever, as about an hour into the journey my speedometer decided enough was enough and that it didn’t fancy working anymore. This coincided with my engine losing quite a lot of power and making an even more strained noise than ever before. I fully expected it to just pack in at any point.

Far from convenient.

Far from convenient.

Thankfully, I resorted to singing a Lou Bega medley to take my mind off things. I’m assuming at this point there are two questions on your mind:

A) Lou Bega has more than one song?
B) You know more than one Lou Bega song?!

The answer to both questions is yes, and I’ll prove it in the video below.

It was at this point that we had a change in the order of the convoy as I was fully unaware of the speed I was doing, often leaving James trailing in the distance purely because I was daydreaming and had no way of knowing that I was going far too fast.

Now, I was exceptionally proud of my navigational skills throughout the entire trip, but here I thought I deserved an extra pat on the back for navigating from the back of the convoy. It’s pretty much impossible to get someone’s attention in front on the fast country roads, so to signal a turn off from behind without taking too many wrong turns was a tough task, but one I think I did ok in. You can save your congratulations for later.

With a rapidly deteriorating engine, it probably wasn’t wise to knock out a good 400 kilometres in one day, but that’s exactly what we’d done by the time we pulled in to Thanh Hoa, which was to be our stop for the night. If it was to blow, then it was better to break down closer to Hanoi than further, right?

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