Day 13 – Khe Sahn to Phong Nga – 230KM

26 04 2012

The morning started like any other, just after night and just before the afternoon. It was becoming obvious that the constant onslaught of chilli was affecting my constitution somewhat. Therefore breakfast was a relatively safe fried noodle dish. Our route today was to be a tortuous one, with a projected healthy dollop of NBS (Numb Bum Syndrome). Now, Khe Sahn hadn’t impressed me so far. Therefore I looked upon the morning to provide redemption. How wrong I was…

After being served simply the worst coffee available to humanity, we took a ride to the opposite end of the town to fill up. Toan had told the pump attendant how much fuel to put into Rat Bike. The Attendant was so busy watching the pump that he failed to notice petrol pouring out of my full tank onto the hot engine. In fact it took me hitting him on the arm several times for him to realise. Notimpressed.com !

Toan and I had decided to the visit the former Lao Bao Jail which lay 20KM from Khe Sang. Glad to be seeing the back of this place, we made our way toward the Jail. Started by the French in the early 1900’s, it was used up until the Vietnam War. It was evident that there had been extensive bombing and fighting here during the Vietnam war. In all honesty there isn’t much left of the site. However it’s still worth a visit if you are in Khe Sahn. There was a monument to prisoners who had died their during their internment. Toan lit some incense sticks, said a short prayer and then moved on. It was a silent moment, and important for him as I know that he lost relatives during the war.

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Leaving Lao Bao we made the short journey to the Lao border. No other reason than I wanted to see it. Huge queues of trucks waited at the border, and it seemed fairly chaotic. Curiosity satisfied we resumed or journey toward Phong Nga. We rejoined the west bound Doung Ho Chi Minh, but this time it seemed different. It was exceptionally quiet, instead of the normal masses of trucks and bikes there was an occasional bike.

Now…this is simply one of the most dramatic and well kept roads that I have ever seen. Rising and failing with the mountain ravines, but well kept with block concrete the road took you past the hill tribes and into the clouds. It allowed us to get some good speed up, which was fortunate as we had a large distance to cover. We stopped to rest our weary buttocks in the tribal villages. I took the opportunity to snap some pictures of the children. The kids were really interactive. One of the toddlers was crying, perhaps the bells on his feet were annoying him ? I said “Oh Dear: to the toddler…then all of the kids were saying it. It was a lovely moment.

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Leaving the village, and donning our wet weather gear as the heavens had opened we continued on Ho Chi Minh’s road. We climbed further and further into the clouds, actually disappearing into them at one point. We stopped for an “ass revival” on the mountain side. The ravine was huge and I threw rocks into the ravine to see how deep it was. Toan warned me about waking tigers…he was serious. He told me that his great uncle was eaten by tigers in the 40’s. The rest provided an opportune moment for a cheesy photo shot.

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We continued down the mountain into another tribal area. Rest was again required so we stopped. The  father figure walked towards us, flanked by children. Speaking a mix of tribal dialect and Vietnamese he talked with Toan. He told him that he had three wives and twelve children in the area. He had reused parts of a Chinook aircraft to protect his tools ! The kids were actually a little fearful of me and wouldn’t come close. Eventually they came over and allow me to take some pictures. They were fascinated with looking at themselves. I actually think that I was the first white person in the flesh that they had met.

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Time was of the essence so we continued on towards Tang Ky. So, the stretch of the East Ho Chi Minh Road between Khe Sahn and Tang Ky is a bikers dream. Rat Bike was lapping up the kilometers, allowing me to really learn into the corners sufficient to scrape the foot pegs ! This was heaven on two wheels. Dear reader if you have ever fancied riding a motorbike…just don’t hesitate or dillydally simply learn. Such an immense feeling of satisfaction and freedom. Riding into the curves of the alternating bends, feeling the wind rush into my face. Simply amazing.

We stopped for lunch just outside Tang Ky, taking a simply noodle soup as sustenance and pushed on. During lunch we held a discussion on the best route to take towards Phong Nga. The choice was the mountain road at 130KM, so the main road at 90KM. My arse was crying in submission, so I chose the easy route. How wrong I was…

Around twenty minutes into the shorter route whilst rounding a gentle bend, I felt the back end of the bike slip and begin to thrash around at about 60KPH. I fought to keep control of the bike, but it really felt like a losing battle. I thought to myself “I am coming off here” and prepared myself for the forthcoming gravel rash. By a sheer mixture of determination and (mostly) Buddha smiling upon me…I stayed on. I jammed on the rear brake, brought in the clutch and managed to stop. The ‘flap flap flap” noise told me what was wrong.

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Rat Bike had nearly been Killed In Action. However it wasn’t prepared to go just yet. Toan returned about fifteen minutes later, noticing that I was missing. The man is a legend, he had the inner tube replaced and tyre repaired (roadside) within thirty minutes. We blasted off on the final stretch towards Phong Nha through the rubber tree plantations.

At slightly less than legal limits we soon arrived in the Phong Nha district. I was glad as I was really beginning to feel exhausted. The main road into Phone Nha provided some amazing cheesy photo opportunities.

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Phong Nha is a quiet little town, beset by a mixture of Vietnamese and Hok tribes with an occasional tourist thrown in. It is quite dramatic though, with the town being flanked by high cliffs and mountains. Toan had a number of high school friends here, so it provided us with the opportunity to meet with them whilst enjoying an excellent goat hotpot.

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Things I Have Seen Carried on A Motorbike today.

1. Refridgerator (across the bike)
2. Three guys, all waving and shouting “Hello” in unision.

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