I find myself in Vietnam instead of India but seems in life things happen for a reason and thus by chance I have stumbled onto some of the best riding I have yet experienced in Asia.
Lets wind things back briefly. 12 months ago I decided to join a group I had formerly ridden with on a ride out of Chennai. I even had flights for this but as things got closer it became clear there was a reasonable sized gap between the price being asked (and what had been advertised) to what was actually going to be served up so I exited the ride, and the group.
So what to do now? I already have travel booked either side. I noted you could fly from Chiang Mai to Da Nang direct with same airline, which by chance I was able to get a credit with so I threw together a quick plan to come here.
Da Nang is lovely. Not big or busy, clean tree lined streets with many nice cafes, tidy gardens. Not what I expected and nothing like the big cities of Vietnam.
I have a booking for a Honda XR150, same model bike I road on the Ha Giang loop from Tigit motorcycles and a plan to ride a route similar to that suggested by the Vietnam Coracle. After enjoying few days in the city I took a Grab car over to the bike shop. I was getting ready to leave when I met James from Alberta, Canada also renting a XR150 and going same direction we agree to ride out of town together.
Easy exit from Da Nang, not too busy, roads are modern. First up the Hai Van pass. This is a road made famous by the three stooges in Top Gear. There is a nice view point half way up where we stopped for fresh coconut juice drinks. It is quite a view!
Clarkson called it one of the best passes in Asia, obviously he’s never traveled anywhere in Asia because frankly this is really just low hill with few switchbacks then its all over. But another item ticked off my list so it’s all good.
My route is the minor roads along coast to Hue but this turns out to be a slow bumpy ride which took all afternoon. The bike lost it’s electric start, indicators and brake lights at one point. A fuse perhaps but this model is not sold by Honda dealers here (built in China by another company) and spare parts are non existent. Well half the bikes on road here don’t have brake lights and nobody uses indicators so I won’t be needing those items. Kick start works. I decide just to continue.
Hue was another surprise, much nicer than the travel guides I have read and arriving late I had very little time to see much. But this trip is just an initial look. I am still only taking small trips somewhere to see if it is a place I want to return and travel more. In the coming years am going to transition to retirement and be able to do much longer travel at various places I liked.
Had a nice time chatting with James. He has traveled to many places in the far north, central and south of the Americas.
I don’t have any good photos of the route from Hue to Khe Sahn but it’s a nice road all the way.
“I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh.
And the soul was sold with my cigarettes to the black market man”
Probably most Australians recognise these lyrics. The song Khe Sanh by Cold Chisel is an enduring hit in the country. I visited the museum at the former air base.
Not much to the town, ended up at a place that makes poor quality mojito’s and pizzas with the few other foreigners in further discussion with James. Tonight’s subject was riding Mexico and the arctic circle.
I woke up at 5 with the roosters next door after a late night and was not ‘with it’ riding to gas station. My foot slipped on some diesel and I fell bringing the bike down on top of myself. Nothing bruised except my ego but front brake lever snapped in half. Tried the Honda shop but no parts – oh well I can manage so we set off.
Feeling stupid soon faded because the Ho Chi Minh road from Khe Sanh is absolutely fantastic ride. It’s mostly constant change of direction, very well surveyed and climbs over two mountain ranges. You can daisy chain each corner together in a joyful flow just sitting steady at about 70kph. No traffic whatsover. Ok there was one car in 150km. Did I mention the scenery is beautiful.
I had no idea this road would be so good. It’s hugely underrated. Northern Thailand might be the road rider paradise but this region and this road struck a cord with me and has instantly gained a place as one of my favorites in SE Asia.
James and I say farewell at a junction where I ride to the beach while he continues north on the HCM road. I really want to see more of this road but it will have to wait as not knowing what to expect my plans were set otherwise.
What a fantastic day.
I have a nice pub dinner and few beers on other side of the river. People are super friendly here. Why have I not discovered this region before now? Glad to have done so now.
This small seaside town is going to be changing very soon. From here south I ride what is left of the old coast road. There are literally 100’s of huge resorts under construction and sections of new 4 lane roads under being built to service them. Everything has been bought up and gated off by names like Four Seasons and other corporations. I try ride but am blocked at various points.
Eventually I find some of the original road, soon to disappear I presume.
I enjoy some real back roads riding this morning. In the small villages people stop and stare and children yell out hello and wave like mad. Wasn’t expecting anything except a few beach views but turned out to be highly enjoyable morning.
After so many deserted beaches I came upon a boat graveyard. Actually the land opposite side of road along much of the beach is also a huge public graveyard. I rode past graves all morning.
Many of the graves are very elaborate. This afternoon I visit the Vinh Moc war tunnels. Somewhat interesting and of course sad but like the Khe Sahn museum I did not find the information was at all well presented.
Tonight I am staying across from the beach. The sum total guests are one noisy family, one couple and one biker. Huge hotel with sprawling grounds, must be ten staff to every guest but I scored a free room upgrade so happy days!
Just what I needed a relaxing afternoon off the bike.
In the morning I do some more exploring of minor coast roads. Again people are excited to see a foreigner, everyone waves and yells out hello. Lots of beaches you can ride straight onto nobody around. Get over here sooner rather than later.
I stop for a coffee as I ride back south. Love how everyone parks orderly on the footpath to not block walking. The coffee in Vietnam is locally grown and superb quality.
There is a new highway running inland from Hue to Da Nang not open yet but I read bikes can ride around barricades to access it (and they will be banned once it is finished). But last update was 8 months ago so no idea if finished or they have clamped down on riding it. Anyway only one way to find out – I am in luck.
It is a beautiful road with many gentle sweeping corners and would be an awesome ride on a big bike gliding along at about 140kph. I totally enjoyed the surreal experience of riding this 65km long deserted road.
Easy ride then to bike shop. No hassle return of bike despite lever break and electrical, all covered. Rental was $20 a day, insurance $6 a day. I’ll rent with Tigit again.
Enjoyed a few more days in Da Nang, easy town to hang out in, plenty of cheap food and great coffee. Affordable quality hotels, even Aussie cheese and Chilean wine. I might just move here.
Below are my routes but I would not suggest following them. Now that I have been here I would in future go south to Hoi An then ride inland and north to Phong Nha which James said is great then maybe loop north to the coast from there and have days off the bike along the way in interesting towns. About 10-11 days tour, that’s my plan for next time.
At the start of this post I mentioned things seem to happen for a reason. Missing the India ride felt a big deal initially but turned out that let me discover this region, the superb HCM road and ride that amazing empty highway before it is closed to bikes. Also what an amazing coincidence to meet fellow rider James who was pleasure to ride with and from whom I gleaned considerable information for future possible rides.
You really need to put central Vietnam on your list. I like it much more than the south or the north.