Ride day 14: Phong Nha to Khe Sanh
4 June 2016
After five great days in Phong Nha, it’s time to hit the road and head south. We’ve opted to take the in land route to take us close to the Laos border for the day. A quick breakfast at our hotel, then on to the familiar road out of Phong Nha town and over the river for a short blast north to our turn off.
Fuel stop at the petrol station to get both bikes brim full, and then a short ride out of town for the turn off towards dark cave (retracing our ride from a few days earlier). We pass down the relatively busy country road past the Dark cave complex and the neighbouring Eco park, and continue down the road past the entrance to Paradise cave. We very quickly reach the cross roads that a few days earlier we’d taken the left hand turn back towards Phong Nha on the rough and ready back road. Heading straight over at the cross roads and across the bridge sees us on the way south again through Phong Nha Ke Ban.
The road is just a bit wider than a single track lane, and made of concrete with very noticeable joins (aka gaps) every four or five metres. As we wind our way up the hill the views across the thick forest and mountains are spectacular. There is next to no shade as we ride along and as I am about to pull to a stop under the smallest amount of shade near top of the first hill, a small wild cat runs across the road about 20 metres in front of me. Amazing sight!
As we continue along the road, we pass a small dirt track towards the top of a hill. A few motorbikes are parked up in a cage under the trees. The map shows a small village, but it is nowhere to be seen, so we continue on assuming it is somewhere down the track in the thick forest.
The first vehicle of the day to pass us on this very remote road is another westerner on a bright green super Moto. The first big bike we’ve seen in Vietnam, and he tears past with front wheel in the air. Gives a big thumbs up once he has past.
The road continues to wind through hills and valleys, often at 10% gradients with unbelievable views out to the Laos border region. There have been a number of relatively large stand alone houses with a few men in uniforms outside at the roadside guard posts. Thankfully all the road barriers have been up so we have been able to continue up the road. The water supplies we’ve brought with us are now exceptionally warm, and all the small villages shown on maps have failed to appear. We take a break under some trees to drink the can of 7up that had been in the cool bag. It’s also exceptionally hot, but the sugar hit is good. We’re both starting get hungry, so hoping to find a village soon with some shops or an eating place. After getting our heads down and riding another 30km or so, we reach a wide canyon at the top of a valley. The road appears to continue down to the right and in towards a small village, but – on the left hand side is a very precarious looking cable bridge across the canyon. We check it out, then decide to take a ride across. The view down through the mesh bridge is mind blowing, and a great experience to ride across.
As we descend to the foot of the valley, the village doesn’t appear to have any shops or restaurants. Some very friendly local kids waving and saying hello, and the start of a small petrol station being built.
We stop at the side of the road near a small waterfall and I climb down to the water to cool down the remaining water we have. Water finished, we go further in search of food. At a small cross roads, we stop outside a small shack with tables inside. After wandering in, we find out that they are closed for food, but the teenage boy there lets us have two cokes and ice. The refreshment was excellent. We check the maps and aim for Khe Sanh to the south, parallel with the Laos border. The road climbs up considerably at this point. Still the sectioned concrete road, but wider open with the best views of the day. We encounter two solo western riders heading north, and wonder where they are aiming for, as it is much to far to reach Phong Nha by nightfall. A few stops to take photos of the magnificent views, and then keeping on down the road. Out of nowhere, we roll in to a small village. It seems like a market town with lots of different shops selling industrial equipment and supplies out the front. We pull up outside a small shop and are greeted by a very friendly local man on a motorbike and the shop owner. Whilst picking out crisps and cold iced tea drinks to satisfy our hunger, the local man chats away to us in perfect English. He later offers us a place to stay at his house and asks to have his picture taken with us.
We opt to finish the ride in to Khe Sanh that afternoon and make a move down the road after finishing our crisps. The road continues to drop away in to the valley floor and the soil colour changes dramatically to a very deep red. As we drop in to the main junction at Khe Sanh, we’re relieved to see its a slightly larger town. We do a quick length of the town to check out what hotels there are, then settle on a guest house close to the centre. The owners are very friendly and proud to show us their new rooms, whilst a friend of theirs who teaches English in the local high school chats away to us. The room itself was large, clean, with air con, satellite TV and two double beds, all for $250,000VND. We check in and unload our bikes, parking them in the downstairs room of the guest house.
A quick shower up and a walk to the local shop for some supplies for the night. Food places had all pretty much closed up, so it was a night of snacks in hotel room watching TV.
All in all, a great days ride. Some of the most amazing scenery up near the Laos border. The first 180km we saw only 10 other vehicles on the road, no petrol (although a new station being built), next to no food or drink, the total distance we covered was 250km. So for anyone following this route, make sure your bike is mechanically sound, fuelled up, and have plenty of water and food on board.
Full days route here: