Heading west out of Hue, I began the journey into the wilds. I was excited about my first stop – a small town called Khe Sanh. It may not ring a bell if you’re not Australian, but the song is one of our unofficial national anthems, along with Waltzing Matilda and the one about being from down under. We know more of its lyrics than of the real anthem, by which I mean about a verse and a half. Anyway, the legendary place awaited. I felt like I was on a pilgrimage.
I was excited about seeing the west of Vietnam, but daunted at the same time. In most of Vietnam, you are never far from a shop or a place to sleep. Where I was going, though, there just aren’t so many people. If something were to go wrong, it could be a difficult situation indeed. I took care to stock up on petrol. (Note about the picture below: sideways is not the best way to strap your petrol. I learned this not long after this photo was taken.)
I took my advice from Vietnam Coracle, which is an excellent resource for anyone planning or dreaming of a Vietnam road trip.
The trip was pleasant and quiet, and I arrived in Khe Sanh just as the light was leaving. It seemed like a dark place – gloom hung heavy over the town and the streetlights were little use against it.
Khe Sanh is the site of a large American base during the war. The the north-south wartime border was just north of it. You can visit it and tickets are cheap, but there isn’t much left. A plane, a couple of helicopters and some tank husks. There was a guy selling little badges and medals that he’d found in the area. I felt bad for him so I bought a couple.
I was on the road early, as I needed to be in Phong Nha by nightfall. There wasn’t any place to stay before that. I stopped only for photos, and once briefly to scarf down some chocolate.
The road itself is spectacular and easy to ride. The only obstacles on the road were some cow deposits. I saw two cars and half a dozen bikes the entire way.
In the mid afternoon the road got higher and I started driving through some thick clouds. The bike started to struggle a bit with all the humidity.
Around this time, I got waved to by some locals – two men. I stopped the bike, and in some broken English one of them said I should stay the night. It was probably about half past three in the afternoon. I like a real experience, but I was getting some red flags from these chaps. The experience they offered might be a little too real. One of them came to the other side of my bike and switched it off. Nut. No sticking around after that! I gave some polite no-thankyous in Vietnamese and was out of there. I kept on the throttle for a bit after that.
Also in this area, I passed an abandoned house.
In the end I made it to Phong Nha a good hour before sunset. I did have to ride around a bit before I found my hostel, so it wasn’t a smooth arrival.
This was probably the most dangerous part of my trip but it was also one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. I was glad to make it in, mindful of all the things that could have gone wrong. However I’d also happily take the trip again. It really is a gorgeous part of Vietnam.