Yesterday The Fella and I hired mopeds from Mr Duc in Hoi An, central Vietnam. We left him with our hefty rucksacks and strapped a couple of small day bags to the back of our 125 cc beasts. The plan for our 2 night trip; ride the 3 hours to Hue, visit the Imperial Citadel, have a day on the beach and explore My Son on the way back to Hoi An. Simples!
A beautifully sunny day, a plan, the open road. Perfect. The journey started by winding our way out of Hoi An town, successfully navigating past cows, bicycles, mopeds and children. We joined the busy main road between Hoi An and Da Nang and cruised along gathering dust in the dirty afternoon heat. The road was wide and flowed steadily, the traffic not at all intimidating, and an hour later we arrived in Da Nang, after passing the Marble Mountains and the giant Buddha carvings on display. Briefly pausing to consult the map we headed inland and crossed the impressive Dragon bridge over the Han river, then set off north along the riverbank.
After a few wrong turns and detours in the city we found ourselves on the correct road out of town, only being slowed momentarily to allow a freight train to trundle past.
We started the ascent, still in dazzling sunshine and the wind like a warm hairdryer on our faces. The turns and twists gradually became steeper and tighter and we quickly gained height. I soon stopped my friendly waves at the moped riders coming downhill to concentrate on the semi technical ascent.
Coming across a herd of goats relaxing on the tarmac was an excuse to stop to take some pictures, including the view of Da Nang, a white strip of high rises and hotels, looking like a metropolis in the distance. A blast from the horn of an articulated lorry coming round the bend made us realise how precariously perched we were on the side of the road, the goats too, so we all decided to get on our way.
The traffic was mainly made up of mopeds and lorries…full of pigs! If there was a safe place to pass then we did, as being down wind wasn’t particularly pleasant. Reaching the top there was a small selection of coffee shops and souvenir stalls, alongside some American war battlements that were swarmed with tourists and peculiarly a bride having her wedding pictures taken. We decided to press on and perhaps visit for longer on our way back.
The trip up into the mountains had become chilly, I had goose bumps on my bare arms and the cold air was making me chilly. The descent was more tricky than the climb; the road seemed to fall away from the bike, I was tense from cold and the tarmac had patchy holes and gravel making me nervous. The weather ahead of us looked grim; thick black clouds and the tops of the mountains hidden behind a blanket of mist.
After passing a pig shower station (lay-bys with hoses aiming cold water into parked up pig wagons) we pulled over in Lang Co town looking for somewhere for a quick bite and a chance to pull on our waterproof jackets. The elderly gentleman at the stall where we stopped spoke excellent English and said he’d take us to his daughters place and she’d cook us something. He hopped on his moped and we followed him up the wrong side of the carriage way and then over the road to his daughters. He then sat with us and asked if he could practise his English, telling us he was 74 and an interpreter during the American war.
After our meal, dressed for rain (or so we thought) we pressed on towards Hue. The rain came suddenly, stinging our faces, and just as suddenly we regretted not having visors on our helmets. Our sunglasses became useless as the sky darknend and we had to pocket them, blinking and squinting against the vicious droplets. The highway was now very busy and we were forced to ride in the hard shoulder to avoid the passing horn blaring trucks, except this hard shoulder was full of shops, banks of mud, people, bicycles and parked mopeds. And mopeds driving towards us, of course.
Forced to ride at 30 kph to reduce the impact of the rain and improve visibility we made very slow progress. We were now soaked through, shivering, it was completely dark and still 50 km to go. My rear light was out so The Fella insisted on tailgating me so vehicles approaching from behind could see us. Looking in my wing mirrors his headlight was lost in amongst a hundred others. So when he stopped to check the map I had no idea. All I could see was that no one was tailgating me, so I stopped. Looking back I couldn’t see anything that looked Fella shaped. Had he gone past and not seen me ?
I waited. Still no Fella. I decided to go and find him, so I turned my bike around and rode up the hard shoulder of a dual carriage way, what was I thinking?! But there he was, perched outside a shop, buying ponchos. Yeay. I donned my green plastic cape with white polka dots and instantly felt warmer. We jumped back on the bikes and headed towards Hue town, my general theory being to concentrate on staying alive, keeping off the paint, oil and gravel, not to brake too hard and assume everyone else would avoid me at junctions. The lights of the town finally emerged after what felt like an interminable amount of time.
Another few map checks and we finally arrived at our hotel. The doorman took one look at us and sent us down to park the bikes with security. We then squished our way back to the lobby and handed over very soggy passports in exchange for our room key. The trip had taken 6 hours. We were like wrinkly prunes and all we wanted was a shower and a cuppa. But we were happy and I think I’ll remember that trip forever.