Back of a bike through Vietnam: Hoi an to Kham Duc

I wasn’t quite as bright as I’d wanted to be leaving Hoi An, in the grip of a somewhat vigorous hangover… then into an complete “Computer says no” situation about whether breakfast was included with the room or not. 99% of the time I love staying in Asia, but there are the rare times when you just cannot deal with the black and white approach to rules and bland indifference when you’ve been told the wrong thing. This was one of those times!

So, out of Hoi An, via the tailor’s shop to pick up my really nice new shirt- Win! First stop of the day was a local community collective which produces earthenware pots. I did like how artisans tended to cluster together, it seems to be effective as they have a thriving internal/export market from the small community. I had a go…

Like that scene from Ghost… But less appealing

And then, back out onto the open road. It was a relief to be off the highways and into rural areas however the crazy truck drivers were still present. Going head on with an artic is less preferable than hopping onto the verge but still not the calmest experience in the world. In any case, we were soon at the next stop, a well-preserved Hindu pagoda. Bang An tower was built in the 11th Century and looked very different to almost every other religious building you’ll see in Asia. Iced coffee at the attached shack and a play with the resident puppy and we’re good to go…

Back on the road and through more rural communities. Rice is a big part of life here, with paddies everywhere you look. Many of these around the Bang An area had not been planted yet because of the still present risk of flooding on the low plains. Even the shack cafe at the pagoda was equipped with a canoe for such eventualities!

Rice paper is made by crushing rice into a paste, rolling through a machine and then drying the sheets on these bamboo frames, from when it can then be used for spring rolls…

Quang proving his worth as a guide by carefully indicating the rice paper

And then upwards into the hills. Lush, green hills with all sorts of crops including pineapples and coffee. We stopped for a quick refresh at a local pineapple plantation- Perfect, sweet little fruit! The thing that makes these rest stops all the more awesome is that most of the roadside cafes have hammocks to take the weight off… After a few hours on the back of a motorbike it’s certainly welcome for decompression of the, erm, lumbar region!

Pineapple shack pit stop

Shortly after we hit a major junction of the Ho Chi Minh trail and stopped for lunch at a particularly random little roadside place. Tourists in these parts are somewhat rare and so it was back to “stare at the Westerner” mode, for some locals which I’d really missed since China. Not! Joining us for lunch was a man with his ‘pet’ bird- A sad looking little sparrow wrapped up in a paper sling 😦

Still, lunch was predictably good and very cheap, as it was throughout the tour. Tofu features quite a lot, so with the appropriate language skills veggies would be safe… Apart from that there were deliciously fresh beans, tuna steak, marinated pork… all good!

A short hop up the road took us to a crossing of a somewhat un-nerving suspension bridge. I definitely wouldn’t want to do it in the wet! We then reached a local Catu village. The Catu culture is interesting as the women are in charge! I couldn’t possibly comment, so here is a picture of a local friendly pig. The other interesting thing was that they previously were nomadic but have now effectively been funded by the Government to stay in one place, to stop their wandering hunts presumably.

Traditional-ish houses 

Seriously though, this was interesting, to say the least, on the back of a bike. Slightly dimmed by all of the grannies subsequently scooting past though. Man UP, Sam! Clatterclatterclatter

We then rode a short section of the original Ho Chi Minh trail, on a gravel track. This was used by the Viet Cong soldiers during the war to transfer supplies and troops towards the south. Thousands of miles through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and still regarded as a massive military achievement. By the mid-1970s the trail was entirely covered by trees/camouflage, the only time vehicles would become visible is during river crossings. Sadly the trail is no longer passable as sections have returned to nature. Our short section ended at a river, where the crossing is no longer there.

There are several old vehicles parked there, Russian-made and actually some are still in use by the Vietnamese Army. There’s also a reconstructed building… Hundreds of these along the trail allowed the covert parking of vehicles during the day and for the soldiers to rest before continuing overnight.

The next highlight of the day came during a visit to a local carving company, in the form of a strong anthropological observation from Quang regarding a carved frog… “It has no arse!” he exclaimed. “Three feet, but no arse!” I think I caused slight offence by laughing in his face immediately and calling bullshit, however he persevered and explained that the frogs adorn many homes- It symbolises wealth coming into the home (via the frog’s mouth) but not leaving because, obviously the frog has no arse with which to excrete the money. Casual Internet research revealed this to be true. The more you know…

Artisan at work
Frog with no arse.

And so onwards, through great scenery until we arrived at the small town of Kham Duc. There is really only one hotel here, the Be Chau Giang, and it’s a strange place. Somewhat incongruous in the rural setting with a large lobby, nice grounds and acres of marble, it was apparently put there to service the needs of local mining concerns. And there is a prominent ‘massage’ service to, er, service the needs of local mining concerns. This business has now diminished, which gives the hotel a strange, slightly deserted air, after they have clearly spent a lot of money on the new rooms including very expensive (But hilariously badly fitted) showers. Odd.

Grand entrance.

Nice enough room…

Hot pot for dinner, expertly cooked by Quang, although I’ve never really seen the point of restaurants where you have to cook your own food. Am I being grumpy? I just don’t get it. A good night’s sleep led into a surprisingly ace breakfast. Sizzling plate fry up, freshly baked crusty bread and coffee so thick it barely made it through the filter. This type of coffee has condensed milk at the bottom. Sweet, but great. Less than £2 for both of us. Ideal… 

Next episode: Kham Duc to Kontum. 

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