We have left Hue where we have been resting and have celebrated our third month on the road. We head to South East direction. Our route go along a coast to avoid the bad weather which rules inland. So we bike towards Hai Van Pass, the place very known from a episode of Top Gear series of British Television. Dasha has read that some parts of the climb are steep and hard. We will see.
On our way to the bottom of the saddle we meet another cyclist. It is Anne Hellen from Quebec. After a wee while we realise we have met already once. It was in Pongh Nha National Park by Paradise Cave. That time we have seen only her bicycle and I have left our sticker on her handebar. Dasha and Anne Helen keep their conversation pace while I pedal on my own to have enough of time to take pictures of girls how they go through switchbacks. Climb to the saddle doesn’t seem to be any difficult for us compare to what we have experienced in Thailand. It is true that the Southern side of the saddle where we descend seem to be steeper at some places and also longer.
We arrive to Da Nang, the city build for money, as I say. The city center is the same as in every big city. Busy traffic, where I sometimes feel completely lost among hordes of motorbikes, is nothing for us. We finally make it out of the city center and reach a beaches area. We are in shock. Many luxury hotels have been built in here and many are under construciton yet. We feel that it is not our place. Not even locals don’t pay attention to us when we walk through streets after our dinner. They do wait for different type of tourists than stinky cyclists. They do wait for rich Asians from South Korea and China. I am happy we stay only one night. In the morning following day we head South to Hoi An where we stay at warmshower host French girl Chloé.
By the way we stop to visit Marble Mountains, a turistic attraction. Each of the marble rock tower represent one element of the life. There is a buddhist temple nested on a top but with amount of tourists it lost its charm. Sun is shining and our ride to Hoi An goes quick. Chloé welcomes us with open arms and organises a small gathering for the first night of our stay. She invites a cycling couple Rolling East and few her friends including Alex, a French guy who we have met in Wanaka in New Zealand.
Hoi An is another stop where we regenerate. We have been on the way third month, we have biked 4000km and our bodies ask for attention. Anyway we take our bikes and go for a ride around the town. The weather is great so we want to enjoy it until we can. I don’t want to repeat ourselves but we eat a lot. No wonder, the vietnamese cuisine is soo good. We bike through a vege-island in the middle of a river flowing to the sea then on a beach and then we take a detour back to our temporary home.
The weather get a little worse but we don’t mind at least it is not so hot on a sea level. Next stop on our way back to Ho Chi Minh highway is a village My Son. My Son is in UNESCO heritage list for its historic site built by Hinduist between 7th and 13th century. Temples were built from bricks without using mortar. Unfortunately the time and the war left them in bad conditions. But we are happy to stop and see this site.
Sky is covered by low clouds and we bike among juicy green rice fields, then we go up a hill to descent into a town where I have picked some accommodation. We are not lucky today. The hotel where we want to stay tonight is fully booked even if there is nobody around. A lady who owns a business and looks like 100 years old tells us with her broken English that she organises a wedding party in her hotel the next day and therefore she can’t help us. We thank her and go to see if there is anything else. Fourth time lucky. A guesthouse which is listed in Google Maps but physically doesn’t exist. We stay in front of the house where the accomodation should be but there is no visible sign. And then a lady runs out form a not very nice looking café next door and gestures if we look for a room. „Yes! We are looking for a room, how much is it?“ I respond to the lady in hope she can understand. She pulls out a cellphone from her pocket and type number 80000. I eye check Dasha and we agree on price of 80000VND for a night. Very very cheap. Suddenly the lady push us into a dark corridor where there are doors into rooms. We park our bikes in the back of the house used as a laundry. Then we go to check our room. The bed looks clean, there is no window and in a bathroom there is only a cold shower. When we settle down in the room we realise that walls and even pillows and a bed cover are covered by mold. This is how our one-hundered day of our journey looks like. But we are no worry, we know that sun will rise up and we will be further down the road tomorrow.
The first of next three days leads us along system of water dams. Suddenly I feel like I am a child again, when my father showed me inside of a dam in our Beskydy mountains. Maybe since then I like all dams and water kind projects. I feel melancholic and happy at the same time all caused by childhood memories and beautiful enviroment we bike in. The second day we start with double portion of Bahn Mi Op La, a baguette with fried egg, to have energy for a big climb which is awaiting for us. After breakfast we are ready to climb to saddle 1108 meters above sea level. It is also the highest point of our travels in Vietnam. The saddle is a divide between two provinces and also climates. Once we cross to the South and start our descent the weather turns to good. We have a tailwind, sun is shining and even the landscape changes.
The third day of this push is probably the worst in the whole Vietnam for us. We bike about hundred kilometers to Kon Tum city. The distance and profile of today’s leg is fine. What is not fine is the traffic which on this part of Ho Chi Minh highway get busy. Every single driver who passes us and it doesn’t matter in which direction, toots. Vietnamese are mad about tooting! I would understand if they toot once in meaning – Hey, I am behind you and want to overtake you. But they toot all the time, when they go into a curve, when they are in the curve and when the go out of it. I wonder if tooting give Vietnamese a feeling of imortality especially to bus drivers. Probaby I will never understand how the busdriver with a bus full of people can overtake a truck in a curve. Instead of slow down, toot! That’s the rule. Many times we are forced to stop in a ditch to avoid to be hit by a truck or a bus overtaking other big vehicle in the opposite direction. We reach Kon Tum just before the sun set. We are exhausted and happy for a luxury accomodation of Hnam Chang Ngeh Hotel.
Kon Tum become our relaxation zone quickly. In the hotel I fell like at home. The city has relaxed atmosphere and when we stay on a street and look hopeless someone try to help us all the time. I can say we fall in love into this city and if we ever get back to Vietnam we will visit it again.
When we feel rested enough we leave for our last leg and head towards to a border with Laos. Wait, border with Laos? Didn’t we meant to go to Cambodia? Yes we meant, but with our visas conditions we are not allowed to cross a border from Pleiku and nearest border crossing with Cambodia where we can cross is about 400km far away North of Ho Chi Minh City. Therefore we decide to go back to Laos and from there to enter Cambodia from North. This decision gives us a chance to explore areas of Laos we would miss.
We leave Kon Tum in North-West direction and we go through rural villages where we finally see an authentic life and culture of a local ethinc minority. Christianity and traditional architecture clashed here and created something I don’t expect. I am amazed of a local church, its front wall reminds a typical Rong house. Next we uncover secret of trucks loaded with some roots. The roots which are moved here and there and which you can see drying out on gardens are the roots of Tapioca. Tapioca is important part of vietnamese and laotian agricalture. They make deserts, jelly and whatever from Tapioca in Vietnam. Also we pass suggar cane fields which are in harvest now. And in the end when we are far away from main road we bike along continuously spreading coffee plantages. I really feel like a small kid discovering a new world and tell myself: „Ahh, that’s how a coffee plant looks like. And look that’s suggar cane!“ Full of happines from gained knowledge I enjoy the ride on a very rough dirt road near Chu Mom Ray National Park. Unfortunatelly I can’t say the same about Dasha who has lost all the excitement and got a stomachache. Beautiful and hot afternoon is cooled down by a rain which comes down from black clouds above us. The rain come just in time when we hit a paved road again. „Hooray! We will not look like pigs!“
The whole atmosphere of rain and late afternoon sunlight is magical but I can’t enjoy it in full. My mind is disturbed, my body is tired and I have a mood swings last few days. After three and half months I am exhausted. Most of the time I have biked too fast, have pushed uphills too hard and have stressed what and when to put a post on Instagram and what we want to see in our restdays without actually to have a proper stop and rest. All of this also causes my overreaction on Dasha without a reason. Now we know that it is the highest time to change our approach. I do start with this: let Dasha go first to set our pace on our way to Laos.