So, after the Best Breakfast Ever (TM) at the knocking shop in the hills, it was onwards and upwards. Back out onto the country roads for another big day on the bike.
Not long after we set off we arrived at the first destination, the dragon pool. Tucked away just behind another ethnic minority village, this is a fantastic and unspoilt natural pool and attached, somewhat small, hot spring. I’d have really, really liked this about halfway through the hot day, however it was welcome refreshment anyway…
Thankfully Steve McQueen didn’t fancy riding this one.
A slight fly in the ointment (Or indeed ant) was the presence of numerous red ants. Bloody big ones, too, around the changing area… Required some careful manoeuvring however still resulted in a decidedly itchy feeling for the rest of the day.
Back on the road, and into some of the best scenery so far, winding through the hills. Because of our stops, we passed this monster truck on a number of occasions, transporting hydroelectric equipment from Danang’s deepwater port to somewhere near the Laos border. It’s really good to see Vietnam’s wholesale adoption of hydropower, forward thinking and another big part of the country’s independence from its neighbours.
At one point, Quang braked quite sharply to avoid what looked like a bit of tyre… Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a very long cobra nonchalantly crossing the road! I remarked on the dangers of flicking a snake up from the ground but Quang, the animal lover, explained that he just didn’t want to kill it! Mr. Cobra exited stage left, unharmed. I did get a photo but managed to delete it. D’Oh! In my defence it was a crap photo and you could barely see it anyway.
En route we stopped for more roadside refreshment in the form of a coconut stand. Again with the hammocks…Ideal.
We’d crossed paths since Kham Duc with another Easy Rider and his passenger. When we stopped at a tapioca plantation they also stopped, and conversation turned to the rickety suspension bridge over the river, and a bit of friendly rivalry about who fancied crossing it on a motorbike. I expressed pretty strongly how bonkers it would be crossing it pillion, which the other rider and Quang took as encouragement to give it a go…
Quang sensibly bailed out as it started to get to the wobbly bit. I was impressed that the other rider got his heavy bike across though. Eeek!
I think that keeping moving is the main technique. Didn’t fancy it myself though. We pushed on and had lunch in a small town close to the Laos border. Good value again for about £3 for both of us, however then disaster struck as Quang broke one of his teeth on a spare rib. The Vietnamese are brilliant at doing the stiff upper lip thing, however he did accept a paracetamol and pledged to get it sorted in the town we were stopping overnight in.
We pressed on, visiting the site of Phoenix Airport, a major strategic point during the war here, and near to one of the major battles. Only the runway remains, now somewhat broken up since the military no longer use it.
We continued to a small town nearby which retains tanks as a memorial, as well as a traditional house. By now we were really in the middle of nowhere in Vietnamese terms, in places where foreigners rarely visit, therefore I was a source of great interest for the local kids who wanted to practice their English.
I’d realised that Quang wasn’t on top form because of his aching tooth, so I tried not to make him talk and we carried on to the night’s stop at Kontum, another small town however within an ethnic minority area. This really did feel like being in the countryside, we stayed at hotel Konkhlor on the outskirts of town next to a suspension bridge, in a very rustic setting where I really was a bit of a curiosity to most of the population. And indeed vice versa…
The hotel was, again, really decent with a nice room in what felt like a bamboo jungle lodge. And no ‘massage’ facilities either. Ideal.
Later in the evening I headed out to the local bridge to take some sunset shots. Very peaceful place apart from the constant stream of mopeds trying to run you over as you crossed!
Later in the evening Quang suggested heading into town, as the only food the hotel served was instant noodles! I seconded that motion immediately. A local tip from a friend of his led us to my food highlight of the trip- Incredible beef/veg pancakes, which we then dipped in sauce and rolled again in rice paper. Beautfully cooked so the pancakes were crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Perfectly cooked thin slivers of beef with sesame. Un-be-lievable. And extremely cheap too, I think the meal for both of us was about £1.50. A real food win.
I didn’t have high hopes after then really, I mean, we were in a small town in the hills and nothing much goes on… However Quang and his local recommendations again came up trumps, finding an entirely incongruous but very cool bar with banging music (Slightly too banging) and all sorts of other enticements. I mean, when you walk in and Haddaway is blasting out of the speakers you know you’re in for a good one.
The above pretty much sums up the night. Flaming shot after flaming shot, B52s and B54s (feck knows the difference) with a side order of shisha. And a worryingly polished informal karaoke duet to “Barbie Girl”. Perfect, apart from me trying to set fire to my face whilst consuming said beverages. I think there was a slight element of self-medication for Quang too, as he hadn’t managed to get his broken tooth sorted and was still feeling it a bit.
Sadly (Or probably, luckily) the bar closed around 9 so our fun was curtailed. Not before we’d thrown an ice cream sundae into the mix, mind. The evening ended up being almost ridiculously cheap at the Dong equivalent of about a fiver each for everything. I’ll come back here…
The social secretary and I made our way back to the hotel in a taxi, ready for another long day on the road. Him with slightly less toothache than before, me with slightly more admiration for his “night out from nothing” skills…