Saturday, Jan. 30th (Khe Sanh to Phong Nha)

  • Woke up to another 6:30am alarm for the second leg of our two-day push to Phong Nha.
  • Packed up, gassed up, stopped by a mechanic shop to have our tires pumped, then hit the Ho Chi Minh Highway heading North.
  • The first 15 minutes of driving was through a thick, misty cloud with severely restricted visibility, but before long, the sun poked through and we had a good hour of highway cruising in the sunshine.
  • Unfortunately the sunshine was not to hold all day.  As our elevation increased in the mountains, we entered a permanent wet fog with fine water droplets that felt like nothing when we were standing still, but soaked us thoroughly on the bikes.
  • An hour later we came across a major road block, literally.  Part of the mountain had given way earlier that morning and a huge pile of boulders and rubble was strewn across the highway and smashed against the guard rail.
  • After several minutes of contemplation, we decided that it was worth it to find a way around the rubble rather than driving 2 hours back to Khe Sanh to take a different highway.
  • We stacked several rock shards into two makeshift ramps leading up to the height of the guardrail on both sides.
  • Once we had carefully pushed the motorbike to the top of the ramp, we were able to put the front wheel onto a high rock on the other side of the guardrail and lift the back of the bike to the ground.
  • This was only the first stage of our trials however.  
  • Next was a walk along a precipice on the outside of the guardrail; a narrow and eroding path that fell sharply towards the river valley below.  It wouldn’t have been the end of us if we fell, but it certainly would have been the end of our bikes.
  • We managed to walk both bikes along the pathway using a strategically placed log with some rock stepping stones balanced against the cliff side.  Cory’s bike nearly slipped but we managed to keep it upright with some huffing and puffing.
  • On the far side of the rockslide we were faced with stage 3 of our trials: getting the bikes back over the guardrail.
  • Luckily, a bulldozer had been dispatched and a driver showed up just in time.  He put the shovel of the bulldozer on the ground, outside the guardrail, and we wheeled our motorbikes onto the base.
  • We thought we were about to watch our bikes get smashed or dropped over the cliff edge, but that fear proved to be founded on a lack of experience with heavy machinery.
  • The driver slowly picked the shovel up with the bike inside while we held it steady with our hands.  A few seconds later the bike was safely over the guardrail and back on the highway.  Hydraulics are amazing.
  • We went back and retrieved our packs, said a warm thank you, then strapped everything back together and continued on our way.
  • The rest of the drive was soaking wet but this was more than compensated by the incredible scenery and deserted, well-paved road.
  • The highway took us winding, climbing, and descending through the heart of the jungle.  We’ve never been surrounded by such untamed wilderness in all of our lives.  At some of the peaks, we were above the clouds and had stunning views of jungle mountain peaks peeping through the sea of white fluff.
  • Several hours later we arrived at Easy Tiger hostel in Son Trach village on the edge of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
  • We checked in for 3 nights and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and meeting new people.  
  • The hostel has a special atmosphere, fitting for a very special place in Vietnam, both geographically and historically.
  • The area was only just opened up to foreigners in the past few years, and it is clear that the tourism establishment here is in its infancy.
  • We had a delicious beef stew dinner at Bamboo Cafe with some new friends, then returned to Easy Tiger for a big mug of Larue beer by the firepit before heading to bed.

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