My Motorbike Is Not For Sale…YET! (Part 8 - Con Cuong, Ninh Binh and Nghia Lo)

My Motorbike Is Not For Sale…YET! (Part 8)

I was recommended to visit a waterfall in Con Cuong by a South Korean gentleman I met while getting my oil changed in Phong Nha.  It was a bit out of my planned route.  And by a bit I mean 320 miles (500km). It was somewhere I never heard of, but what kind of adventure is it if I don’t go chasing waterfalls?  I can’t just stick to the rivers and lakes that I’m used to (TLC reference!).  So I took off along the northern Ho Chi Minh Trail road.

The endless jungle and mountain views on the Ho Chi Minh Trail north of Phong Nha.

The endless jungle and mountain views on the Ho Chi Minh Trail north of Phong Nha.

A local farmer biking with the corn she picked. The corn is picked by hand w/o machine assistance in Vietnam.

A local farmer biking with the corn she picked. The corn is picked by hand w/o machine assistance in Vietnam.

I arrived in town around 3pm and found a room at one of two hotels in Con Cuong before heading to the waterfall. It was 30km away, but it was the worst road in Vietnam I had to drive on yet.  It paid off though because everyone was gone when I got there and the waterfall was all mine!

Khe Kem Waterfall.  One group packing up to leave when I arrived.

Khe Kem Waterfall.  One group packing up to leave when I arrived.

My personal meditation time with the waterfall after the last group left just after I arrived.

My personal meditation time with the waterfall after the last group left just after I arrived.

Con Cuong was the strangest town I’ve visited in Vietnam.  The streets were dead shortly after dark and the stares I received while walking around town felt really awkward. I found a duck pho restaurant to eat at that was one of the last places open in town. The duck pho restaurant owner and I got to attempting to talk in some version of point and tell.  Next thing I know she is pointing to her daughter saying (I believe) to "marry her" in Vietnamese because the daughter turned bright red and gave her mom the "stop embarrassing me" growl.  The pho was really delicious. I thought over her proposal. Ultimately, I politely declined and let her know my heart belonged somewhere else.

In the morning, I got an early start towards Ninh Binh and was hoping to make it there for a late lunch, but in my quest to discover unique coffee spots I came across Cà Phê suối Đá.  The owner (Tuan Nguyen) saw my interest in his propane operated coffee roaster and took the next 90 minutes talking coffee with me via Google Translate and let me roast a batch of beans with him.  This will go down as one of my favorite experiences in Vietnam.  I bought a couple bags of beans and was back on the road after drinking four different types of coffee with Tuan. 

My heart was beating 100mph when I got back on my bike and the six hours of driving I had ahead of me were a thought of the past.  It was hard to keep the bike throttle backed down after all that coffee. I was having the time of my life driving the roads this day. The smile on my face was reaching from ear to ear. This moment was how life is meant to be lived for a guy like me. I couldn’t stop laughing to myself about what an incredible adventure life can be if you just follow your dreams.

Bromance paddle boat ride around the "Freshwater Halong Bay" in Ninh Binh.

Bromance paddle boat ride around the "Freshwater Halong Bay" in Ninh Binh.

When I arrived to Ninh Binh I was greeted by my buddy Henry who I met at AVSE. Ninh Binh is another great city that surprised me in Vietnam.  Everyone talks about Halong Bay, but this place is up there in terms of beauty and magnitude. I’m nicknaming it the “freshwater Halong Bay” because the views reminded me so much of HB. You can take a private paddle boat tour around the waterways surrounded by the majestic mountains and your guide will paddle you through the caves underneath the mountains. This would be a very romantic experience for a couple.  So, Henry and I had a bromance kind of day and went for a ride through the caves and saw where they filmed the most recent King Kong movie.

King Kong Island in Ninh Binh.  This is where they filmed the most recent King Kong Movie.

King Kong Island in Ninh Binh.  This is where they filmed the most recent King Kong Movie.

The following day I went to visit the Hang Mua cave and found out that it was not much of a cave.  Instead, I climbed to the top of one of the mountains that look so majestic from the boat. They aren’t so majestic when you’re walking up them in 90 degree Fahrenheit heat with 90% humidity.  The view is worth it when you get to the top and at least you can buy a nice refreshing coconut water when you get back to the bottom to rehydrate yourself.

After a few days resting my butt from over 450 miles in two days it was time to get back on the road and head towards one of my bucket list cities. Before I could get to Sa Pa though I had 225 miles to cover. Now in a Western country that would be a half day drive, but driving a motorcycle on Vietnamese roads meant a minimum of two days.

The sunset on my last night in Ninh Binh by my homestay

The sunset on my last night in Ninh Binh by my homestay

The city of Nghia Lo was about the mid-way point to Sa Pa so I pointed my bike in that direction.  I made it to town in about 8 hours after a few stops for photos, coffee and lunch.  I found Homestay Binh Nga on Google Maps ($10/night including breakfast).  I checked in and thought I was going to be the only guest because the town was empty.  Much to my surprise a couple living in London showed up later that night who were headed towards Sa Pa. 

Just missed the rain on my way to Nghia Lo.  My luck wouldn't last.

Just missed the rain on my way to Nghia Lo.  My luck wouldn't last.

I woke up to pouring rain in the morning and thought this would be a rest day, but my new friends were on a time restricted trip so they were hitting the road in the rain.  I decided to join them because the forecast didn’t look any better for the upcoming days.  The next 9 hours of driving were my first in rain, but they were also some of the most scenic of my trip to this point.  All my photos had to be taken from my old iPhone 5 because I didn’t dare risk the Sony A7ii’s life. 

That's me looking like Batman with all of my rain jacket on!

That's me looking like Batman with all of my rain jacket on!

The elevation gains and heavy rains were causing large drops in the temperature. We stopped in a small mountain village where I picked up some galoshes and a rain suit for 280,000 dong or $12.33 that saved me from shivering to death on my bike. The rains were pretty heavy and consistent for most of the day so we took the slow and steady pace that turned a 5 hour drive into 9 hours.  It was a great feeling when we arrived to the Stunning View 2 Hotel. 

The view from my room at the Stunning View 2 Hotel in Sa Pa.  $9 including breakfast!

The view from my room at the Stunning View 2 Hotel in Sa Pa.  $9 including breakfast!