Hai Van Pass & Hue
Arrived: Fri 21st July 2017 [Day10]
Departed: Sat 22nd July 2017 [Day11]
Hostel: Why Not Hostel
I can’t quite believe I’m writing this while sat in Christmas pyjama bottoms with Christmas music blasting out my laptop while I wait for Molly to arrive so we can put up my Christmas tree. How it’s got to be December I really do not know… It feels wrong to be reading through my travel journal and looking at my pictures from the summer while I have panda’s in Santa hats on my socks and Mariah Carey tells me what she wants for Christmas… It just shows how damn far behind I’ve fallen with these blog posts. I still have over 2 weeks of travel to write up about, ideally before I start out on my next adventures (which will commence in EXACTLY 2months… shit.)
I guess we best get down to it then ey’?
On the morning of the 21st we were up super early, packed and ready for a day we’d been both excited and nervous about since we decided Vietnam was our destination. We were down at reception by 6.55am and we waited for half an hour before deciding we would make the most of our last free breakfast at Tribee Cotu, Hoi An. At around 7.45/8am (pretty much an hour late) a worker from the Top Gear Tour company arrived to talk us through the basics of what we’d need to know before we would RIDE ON BIKES ALONG THE HAI VAN PASS. Neither of us were that familiar with how to drive a petrol bike… I’d had a few “lessons” in the compound that I live in here in China, but, that was all our experience combined. Neither of us had told our parents or many other family members that we were about to embark on this trip, because, let’s face it, they’d only freak out and worry for the whole day until they heard off us. So, better to ask forgiveness than permission right?! How could we travel Vietnam and NOT spend at least a day on a bike… that would be categorically unacceptable in the travel world we both live in.
The lady gave us a really rough map of how to navigate out of Hoi An, along the coast, onto the Hai Van Pass, and then into Hue. She pointed out the stops we’d need to take to fill up with gas, and then showed us to our bikes (and helmets).
The reasons we’d chosen this company to work with for the ride up were:
- their leaflet was at the hostel, so it was the easiest choice
- you had the option to be driven or drive yourself
- they took your larger bags and dropped them off at your hostel in Hue
- they would pick up the bikes from your hostel when you arrive in Hue
It seemed ideal, and from what I can remember, it wasn’t expensive, and neither was gas, so we were all for it! Helmets on, day-bags on our back, (with a packet of crackers and a bag – yes a bag – of milk each from the hostel receptionist) we made our way out of town and stopped to fill up as the lady had requested. She told us to put in 80,000VND (roughly £2.62), but each of our bikes only took around 65,000VND, so we carried on towards AnBang Beach (where we had spent the previous day) and took a left, aiming us north!
Now, I’m not going to lie, it felt AMAZING to be on the bike… not only because it was a boiling day, but because the only time I’ve driven a vehicle for more than 2 minutes in the past few years, was for less than an hour in New Zealand during Christmas 2015. It felt soooooo good to be behind the (metaphorical) wheel again. We carried on going, making a few stops now and then to check the map, and to stop for gas again at the designated re-fill stop (we were told to put in 40,000VND, but again, it was more like 20,000VND). Something that became a reoccurring theme for this trip, my bike had a few minor issues. This time, my speedometer didn’t work, which wasn’t too much of an issue, I just stayed with the general flow of the traffic and kept at a comfortable speed.
After a few bridges and a stop for pictures, and a large (slightly confusing) left turn, the time had come for the one… the only… the epic HAI VAN PASS.
The next paragraph is a direct quote from my journal, so apologies for the less than perfect writing. I just know that if I were to type away about this part of the trip (that actually only lasted a few hours) I would never get this blog post finished! So, here is my speedy description of the pass…
From the very start it was insane, beautiful & so fucking awesome. The mountains were so lush, green & huge, the sea so blue, the beach we saw was legit probably the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. The road was windey (I know this is not actually a word, but stick with me here), and it felt cool to be riding it ourselves (even if I do suck @ overtaking). At (what we found out later was) the top point of the pass, we stopped (because everyone else had) & walked up to see the view, again, obviously epic.
Alice’s helmet had (very handily) come with a GoPro attachment, so she managed to record a lot of this part of the trip showing the roads, the views, the landscape, and everything else going on.
After hitting the top of the pass we swapped helmets (which, if you know me and Alice, is a laugh in itself as I am known for my pea-head, and her, quite the opposite), in order for me to get some footage of her on the pass rather than just me being in the video!
We headed down the other side of the pass, getting lucky with the lack of traffic, and the dark clouds that were gathering seemed to be staying away. The view on that side was equally as amazing, but we were sad and confused to be off the Hai Van Pass and back onto normal road… I mean, it was only 11am! We stopped to check out the map again to make sure we’d not messed up anywhere, which is when we realised, to out shock and surprise that we still had another 70km to go before we even got near to Hue! The pass itself is actually a really short part of the journey! So we carried on on our bikes, following the one long endless road for another hour or two. We stopped off for a snack (Pringles), a break, to enjoy the view, and to clean ourselves up… We’d just gone through two (terrifying) tunnels, and I felt like I was covered in so much road and vehicle filth. I got out a wet-wipe and wiped it across my face, neck, chest and arms… and, I’m not joking here, it came away black. It was disgusting how dirty my skin had got from the pass! My friend had warned me about this very fact (“I had so much shit in my beard after that journey, 2 washes to get it all out!”), but we were still disgusted by it! Alice set up her helmet and GoPro on a post while we were cleaning ourselves and eating Pringles, I’m sure it makes for a thrilling watch! (If she ever manages to get the thing off her GoPro!)
We eventually got into Hue (somewhere we had no idea how to pronounce. We were saying it as in the Welsh name Huw, but apparently it’s said more like way with a H infront) and we found our hostel for the night, Why Not? Hostel and Bar. It was very different from the places we’d been staying; it was mainly a bar/restaurant, with about 5 floors of rooms above. No hostel communal area or reception, it was just the bar and the rooms. Also, it was cowboy/western themed… throughout.
We got some food at the bar (the smallest plate of potato skins you’ve ever seen in your life) and contemplated what to do with our lives… Alice’s bike still had half a tank of gas left, mine, should have been the same, but my fuel gage had also stopped working, so we decided to use up Alice’s fuel and get some exploring in while we still had the bikes!
The only thing we’d really heard to do in Hue (apart from the city sightseeing) was the abandoned water park just outside of town. We were both pretty excited about this, me probably more so, so with Alice driving, and me on the back, we drove the 15/20 minutes towards Ho Thuy Tien Water Park. (Can I just say that Alice is one of the best most confident drivers I’ve ever seen. I’ve always thought this regarding driving cars in the UK, but, luckily for me, it continued onto the 2 wheels of her bike. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to drive a 2nd person around an abandoned park on my first day driving a bike!)
After driving down a bumpy dirt road (me checking the maps), and then through a field, we finally came into the park where we were forced (by a small child) to pay 5,000VND to park our bikes (this was total bullshit, and just set up by some locals who sit around all day playing cards and taking money off travellers with absolutely no backing). We seriously didn’t need to pay for the parking because we ended up driving down past them into the forest and further down the path always… but, it was only about 16p, so it didn’t exactly put us over budget.
This park was opened in 2004 and cost roughly 3 million USD to build. Let that sink in. 3 million USD is an insane amount of money, let alone in Vietnam!! Sadly, after only a few years, the park closed down and was left abandoned.
We started our exploration at the main building, which, was huge, and made to look like a dragon was wrapped around it and perched on top, it was super cool! My inner nerd was quickly going into overdrive… (for a very long time, I’ve loved all things abandoned and “left”, so much so, I even created a photography book from all my photographs of such objects, so this was especially awesome for me). After walking along the bridge to get to the building, we went inside, and the inside was designed to look like the internal skeleton of the dragon, the archway you walk under was the dragon’s claw, and the stairs you go up were his tail and body. There was graffiti everywhere, some good, some standard crappy tags.
We found a room that was filled with smashed out aquariums (and after doing some research, I found out that for years after the closure of the place, there were still crocodiles in them until an animal rescue team came to save them).
Next we walked up inside the dragon’s tail, body and neck until we reached the top and came to his head/mouth which you could climb into and look out over the park from behind the dragon’s teeth… We stopped to take a few pictures, and we spotted what looked to be an old abandoned car not far into the woods, so we made our way back down, popping into a few different rooms, and headed for the car.
Much to my disappointment, it wasn’t a real car… so back on the bike we drove around for a bit seeing what else we could find.
There were a few other travellers doing the exact same thing, but it was still pretty dead which was nice. We eventually found a building/pool area that had 3 different slides from the top of the building going down into a (still filled, but gross and green) pool at the bottom. We climbed the stairs to the top of the building (more graffiti) and took in the view/crazy concept that we were stood at the top of abandoned waterslides in Vietnam… I love the weird and wonderful places you find yourself when travelling!
After a bit of confusion (a group of travellers, and ourselves) all thought we were stuck down some path, but we just had to go back on ourselves a little and take a dirt track instead (Alice handled this very well, despite my apprehension), and we finally decided it was time to head back to town and call the company to pick up the bikes/drop off our bags, oh, and check into the hostel!
The reception staff were super lovely, and after they showed us to our room (on the 5th floor – no lift – ugh), they rang the bike company to let them know we’d arrived… We were then told that our bags would not be dropped off until around 5.30/6pm, which was over 3 hours away!! We’d been driving all day, in the boiling head, exploring abandoned places, and we had nothing to shower with or change into… we were pissed. We bought ourselves some snacks and some shower gel and did the only thing we could. Showered and chilled on the most amazing beds ever while we waited… The beds in the dorms were so good. We’d read a review saying as such, but we weren’t quite ready for the reality! All beds were given privacy with curtains and wooden partitions, as well as having super comfy mattresses. Mine and Alice’s were 2 top-bunks that were only attached to each other’s. It was perfect for an afternoon of relaxing and chilling in our towels until our bags arrived!!
At around 6.30pm (late again) our bags were dropped off, and bikes picked up. We quickly got ourselves changed and sorted and headed to a cute little restaurant we’d found on TripAdvisor called Nook after claiming our free beer at the hostel bar (more free stuff, yay!). The town itself seemed pretty strange, it just seemed like there was nothing there and it wasn’t sure what it wanted to be… But the restaurant was really nice, and we both had great food and some beers while chatting about our trip so far, and plan for the next couple of days! After a rubbish game of pool back at Why Not? we were retiring to our beautiful beds by 10pm ready for an early chilled night.
The next morning after an amazing sleep, we went down to the bar/restaurant/hostel and had our free breakfast (if you’ve read my previous Vietnam blogs, I don’t feel like I need to tell you what was on the menu… but for those of you new to this, it was eggs and bread. Standard.) We sat down, pen, paper, websites, apps, maps and calendars out and tried to plan the last few destinations of our trip, and most importantly, where we’d be for my birthday!! Alice was more concerned with this than I was bless her, I think she felt a lot of pressure to make my birthday a good one, seen as she was the only person with me to celebrate!
While we were making a rough plan, we got (Alice got – as was always the way) chatting to a girl called Gabby form London (studying in Manchester) who had pretty much been ditched by her friend who was off having a bike “lesson” by some guy she’d just met… First of all; bitch for leaving her friend for a guy, and second of all; idiot for going off with some random dude… Anyways, when it became apparent her friend was not coming back she tagged along with us while we rented bicycles and made our way across town to the citadel. (her friend did join us in the end, with her guy in tow). After a short ride, (it was nice to see Gabby was even worse on 2 wheels than myself), we parked up, accidently at an exit, so we walked round the walls until we came to the ticket office. We paid entry and went inside. It wasn’t what I expected at all, I mean, I don’t think I’ve been to a citadel before, or at least not one of this scale, but it was huge, seemed very Chinese and had lots of buildings and gardens.
There was apparently a “proper” way you’re supposed to walk around it (according to LonleyPlanet), but we just sort of wandered around in the heat and didn’t actually find Gabby’s friend and the fella at all. (Noah & Dan). We eventually got a message from them saying they were in the Royal Theatre, so there we went there, but… no sign of them… Anyways, we wandered around some more and came into this giant garden area with the most amazing and magical tree growing on the top of a small mound with stairs. It honestly looked like something right out of a fantasy adventure story. We chilled by the tree for a bit, and then headed out to find a cold drink and some shade at a coffee shop which is when Noah & Dan finally caught us up and met up with Gabby again.
We got back to the hostel, packed up our things and chilled out till around 4.40pm when a minibus came to take us to the bigger bus we would be taking up to our next stop Phong Nah. On this sleeper/non-sleeper bus, we actually got to select our own beds/seats, which was unheard of! We chose 2 bottom singles close to the front and got ready for the 4/5 hour journey ahead. I was freezing, but amazingly, I was able to read my book, despite being on a coach on twisty roads! At around 10pm the bus stopped and we all got off on the main (the only) road in Phong Nah town… All the hostels/hotels were on this one street, so were all the restaurants and inhabitants… Most people were staying at Easy Tigers, which we’d been suggested time and time again as the only place to stay in Phong Nah, but, it was actually quite expensive, and you could only book with them through their website, so we were staying, technically, at a hotel called Heritage By Night, but in one of their super super basic dorm rooms, room 212… There was an American lady already staying in the room called Fawn (?), so we were chatting to her for a good while before heading to bed (and trying to keep the killer moth out of the room).