My drive out of the highlands was very similar to my drive in. I actually had to leave Kon Tum on the same road I entered, as my destination was south. For the only time in my trip, I was aiming down instead of up.
Context: two very good friends of mine had ridden up Vietnam the year before, but on bicycles instead of motorbikes. One of these friends told me of this rad place that she never got to visit – ‘Life’s a Beach’ in Quy Nhơn. That’s where I was headed, because it would probably be the one thing I could say I’d done that they hadn’t.
Quy Nhơn is the capital of Bình Định province near the middle of Vietnam, about where the country’s bellybutton would be. It’s a beach city very similar to Nha Trang but without the tourists. In this province they grow a lot of rice, as you will see.
I arrived in the evening and only spent one night. Life’s a Beach is too expensive to be a hostel, and too small to be a resort. I’m not sure what you’d call it, but it was pretty fun. The staff there have lots of personality and the vibe is relaxed, though the owners emphasise the importance of respecting the locals. The place is inside a small town a little south of the city proper, and to get there you’ll have to go into the town and find your way through its alleys.
Overall, it was a fine time. This was an occasion when having friends along would have made the experience much better. The city of Quy Nhơn is worth visiting if you want to get away from the tourists, and Life’s a Beach would be an excellent place to stay for a few days while you explore.
In the morning I was off north again.
I chose a path that looked interesting on the map – a bridge that connected to a peninsula north of the city. It turns out this path was very quiet, as this area was still being developed.
The rest of the afternoon was travelling through a whole lot of rice farms. I stayed off the highway and tried to navigate through the little villages that line the coast – though not always successfully.
It was in this area that I had the only proper accident of the trip, and I wasn’t even riding when it occurred. I had stopped to get some photos of a farmer in her rice field, and was sitting in the saddle of my bike, checking my checking my camera. My bike was on the side of the road, as you can see in the photo below:
A bike approached from the opposite direction, on the far side of the road. I looked up to see it was coming my way. There was a moment when I was looking at the bike, waiting for it to change direction and avoid me. Suddenly I realised that it wasn’t going to turn! My eyes nearly popped out of my head, but I had the sense to jump clear with about a second to spare.
I jumped to the right, and as you can guess from the photo, that nearly sent me sliding clear off the shoulder. The other rider ran straight into the side of my bike and fell off a couple metres down the road. I got up, and was surprised to find the only damage was a bit of dirt on my trousers. I had managed to hold my camera up in one hand during the stunt, though it did receive a jolt.
The other party seemed to be OK – it was a fairly low-speed accident, after all. It turned out there were three people on the bike, and the pilot looked to be about sixteen years old. They helped me pull my bike up and said sorry many times.
My bike started after a few attempts. It had been struck right on the transmission block, which is probably the most solid part of the bike. I was lucky they hadn’t hit a wheel or something like that. The bike is still running a year later, and I can’t tell any damage apart from a bit of scraped paint.
The accident was a bit freaky and I’m still a little confused how you could hit someone on the opposite side of the road. I guess it was a combination of an inexperienced driver and the ‘triple stack’ load. If they hadn’t hit me they surely would have been in danger of careening off the road and into the rice field below. I gave the lad some stern hand signals.
I was mostly happy to escape with me and my stuff unharmed, but the shock of it left me jittery and irritable for the rest of the day. On the positive side, the farmer I’d been photographing left her field to come see what was going on, and I got a nice photo.
The rest of the trip to Quảng Ngãi was uneventful, except for a small discovery I made. I was testing the bike as I drove, to make sure it was working properly, and found that it could go faster than I thought. When you take the bike to about 50kph, the motor starts to sound strained and parts begin to rattle. If you push past that, however, it calms down and at 60kph feels very smooth and settled. I’d never really tested the bike that far, as I didn’t want to hurt it. But it makes sense that the maker would tune it to run at 60 (about 40mph). This was a minor revelation as I’d been doing about 45 (a normal speed in Vietnam) – at 60 I could save a fair bit of time.
So I arrived in Quảng Ngãi at 60 still with some adrenalin in my veins, looking forward to Hội An the next day.