My Motorbike Is Not For Sale…YET! (Part 7 – Hai Van Pass, Hue and Phong Nha)

My Motorbike Is Not For Sale…YET! (Part 7)

So after a week of having friends around I was on my own again.  I hit the open road and pointed my bike towards Hue.  The road is lonely when you’re by yourself and I kind of forgot what it was like.  But my mind was quickly distracted as I left Da Nang because in no time I was driving up the Hai Van Pass.  This drive was made famous by a television show called Top Gear when they drove through this part of Vietnam. I have to admit that I've never seen the show, but almost anyone you talk to in Vietnam will talk about this episode when you tell them you are riding a motorcycle through Vietnam.

The road was wide open as most traffic takes a tunnel through the mountain.  So even though the road is very steep with a lot of switchback turns it doesn't feel as dangerous if all the normal traffic were on the road.  The view going up the pass is something out of this world and seeing Da Nang get smaller and smaller with each switchback turn will leave you breathless... or maybe that was just the altitude affecting my oxygen levels.  I'll let you decide by looking at the photos.

Looking back on the entire city of Da Nang.  My apartment is somewhere on that coastline with the exact opposite view!

Looking back on the entire city of Da Nang.  My apartment is somewhere on that coastline with the exact opposite view!

At the very top there are a couple of restaurants and an old deteriorated lookout post used during the different wars.  Personally, I think the views were better one to two turns before the top so make sure you get your pictures beforehand. The way down to Hue is stunning as well and the drive just as exciting if not more if you like downhill.  At this point, I got really into my drive and didn't stop to take pictures as I was concentrated on zooming downhill and around the corners.  I kept thinking about how my mom would have yelled at me to slow down if she saw what I was doing, but sometimes I just like to grab the bull by the horns and take risks.  Sorry mom! 

The bottom of the Hue side of Hai Van Pass once I slowed down and took in a the view!

The bottom of the Hue side of Hai Van Pass once I slowed down and took in a the view!

When I got to Hue, I didn’t know what to expect.  I had not really talked to anyone about this city, but I knew it was the old capital of Vietnam.  What I was not expecting.  I must have been asked to purchase sunglasses and marijuana 100 times in two days. Looking back on Vietnam this was by far the worst city for pushy street salesmen.  So be prepared if you go here to get a barrage of offers to buy crap.

In order to avoid the pushy salespeople I went to visit The Imperial City.  This was the old citadel inside of Hue where the Vietnamese Emperors led the country for over 150 years.   It was much larger inside the compound than I could have imagined.  After walking around it for three hours in the sweltering heat and humidity I could not stop thinking about the poor souls who had to construct this magnificent place in this kind of weather.  I have mad respect for any person who had to endure the same heat and humidity I did to build this place during the early 1800's (photo gallery below, click to enlarge photos).

The next morning I was more than happy to get out of the city. But first I had to listen to a bunch of young Canadians converse about American travelers and how they have met so many who carry Canadian flags with them.  I let them finish and revel in their conversation before interjecting myself and politely telling them they were wrong. The looks on their faces were pricelesss when I told them Americans are proud of their country and that acting as a Canadian was not something that occurs except for a few cowardly citizens .  Oh Canada (#playonwords), I will not judge all of your country by these young traveling fools, but let's just say they are as bad as your bacon.

Besides The Imperial City and a couple of really good back alley meals in Hue the best thing I found was another traveler who told me to travel to Phong Nha for my next adventure.  There are two ways to get there and I made the mistake of taking the one day route.  Following the two day route from Hue to Phong Nha takes you through the windy-curvy Ho Chi Minh Trail highway.  Instead, I cut through the middle and took the less scenic route.

The less scenic route's photo of the day (Hue to Phong Nha)!

The less scenic route's photo of the day (Hue to Phong Nha)!

Phong Nha is a must stop city if you are traveling through the country for an extended period of time.  It is home to the world’s largest cave and several other massive caves.  You can schedule several day trekking trips through the mountains to explore some off the beaten path caves.  Or you can ride a loop around the area to see two caves and a botanical garden in one day if you are on a time crunch. I chose to do the one day loop and made a visit to the Botanical Garden and Paradise Cave.

Paradise Cave

Paradise Cave

A waterfall in the Botanical Gardens of Phong Nha

A waterfall in the Botanical Gardens of Phong Nha

Phong Nha is a small town, but it has some really good food options.  Definitely stop by Bamboo Café for the beef stew and Penis Banana desert.  That’s right, they have a desert called the Penis Banana and it is delicious.  My other recommendation would be to visit the Darts Zone to get the “Ultimate Bun Cha Ha Noi” dish. 

Sunset over Phong Nha

Sunset over Phong Nha

After three nights in Phong Nha it was on to Con Cuong.  This time I was able to drive the Ho Chi Minh Highway. The road was wide open and the views were spectacular.  I was on the road early and the air was cool.  I had over 300kms to cover to get to Con Cuong, but the roads were easy driving and the cool weather meant I could cover ground without having to stop and cool myself off.

Phong Nha's version of the Hollywood sign that welcomes you to town!

Phong Nha's version of the Hollywood sign that welcomes you to town!