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, Khe Sanh awaited. I felt like I was on a pilgrimage.
Two of the best reasons to visit Huế are 1. to eat the food, and 2. to explore the old Nguyễn dynasty citadel. This is located around about the middle of the present-day city and walking distance from my hotel. It’s a big place and it has plenty to see, including remnants not only of the old kings, but also of the Vietnam war and the famous Tết offensive. The thing I most wanted to find, though, was the gate that appeared on Top Gear.
During my stay in Da Nang I met an Englishman and we got to talking about the best sights we’d ever sightseen. His greatest view was in Bạch Mã where there is a great big waterfall. Just one of the most jaw-dropping things, apparently. So after I got to Huế, I headed out once again to follow a recommendation.
The road from Da Nang to Huế isn’t long but it’s well-known around the world. I knew it from the Top Gear special all those years ago, and I was looking forward to driving one of the greatest coastal roads – in the world.
The sun was beating down heavily once again and the road was literally melting beneath me – something I’d only seen before in Australia.
It was the 11th of April, and today my journey was very short – less than an hour away. I took a wander through Hội An’s old town once more before saying goodbye to the folks at Magnolia, getting lunch and dragging myself out of town. The weather was still very hot (40+ degrees, or more than 100 fahrenheit) but the roads were smooth and unbusy.
If you enter Vietnam through Ho Chi Minh city, you may be taken aback by all the concrete and highways, and think as I did – ‘where are all the rice fields and stuff?’ Well, there are plenty in Bình Định province. I’d spent most of the previous day driving past rice fields. I woke up in Quảng Ngãi on Saturday the 9th of April, and was still to pass quite a few fields before I arrived in Hội An.
Quảng Ngãi town wasn’t great for me – it seemed like part of the highway and not like the idyllic villages I’d been passing through. I wasn’t there long though.
Not long after arriving in Vietnam, I met a very intrepid American lady. She had an incredible talent for travel – charming locals with ease, wandering off into the unknown and returning with all sorts of discoveries. While many expats were living in hotels or newly-built apartments, she was in a simple Vietnamese house out in the jungle, with no running water and a sub-$50 monthly rent.
The farthest she got into Vietnam was Kon Tum, in the highlands of central Vietnam, and she told me it was the highlight of her trip. She had been travelling up the country for two or three weeks before she got there, which in my eyes was an awesome feat of perseverance and boldness. I doubted that I could ever do it myself.