Day 14: 45 kmTotal distance travelled: 1,010 km!!
As we perused the local market this morning we suddenly heard whooping and singing above the general hullabaloo. When we stopped to look I was dragged into the mêlée by some market women and a beer was pressed into my hand! We joined-in with the dancing and shouting of “Vietnam! Vietnam!” Another women dragged Alex off and started pushing plates of food on him. I tried to join him but they wouldn’t let me stop dancing! Roses were exchanged. We were very confused, unsure if it was a special day for Vietnam or somebody’s birthday, but it was good fun!
We escaped to our friendly cafe and asked them what it was all about. It was International women’s day of course and a national holiday in Vietnam! That explained why we had seen extra flowers (especially single roses) for sale along the roadside during the past few days. The hotel gave all female guests a rose and restaurants gave women a discount. It was a great celebration and perhaps more inclusive than Mothers’s Day in the UK.
Day 15: 70 km
It’s getting hot again so we were up at 6.00 AM for a huge omelette baguette. We’d planned a 50 km loop through the Phong Nha Ke Bang national park taking-in a part of the original western branch of the Ho Chi Minh Highway. As we rode up the valley, vertical limestone karsk mountains loomed out of the morning mist. Their deep green forests contrasted with the pan-flat paddy fields in the foreground.
The reality of the crazed Vietnamese traffic became clear as we came across an accident between a truck and a scooter at a fork in the road. The motorbike was sticking out from the side of the truck. The locals who gathered didn’t take much action at first. We put the scooter driver in the recovery position as best we could until he re-gained consciousness and was taken to a local hospital in the back of a truck. Hopefully he’ll be OK. We will continue to be cautious in the traffic.
As we made progress the road narrowed to a single string of concrete slabs. It felt as though the jungle was creeping in on all sides, an impenetrable mass of shrubs, trees and creepers inhabited by butterflies, hornets and goodness knows what else. An occasional bridge lifted us high enough to see the jungle canopy and into the river valley below. It was amazing to see all of this from a road with hardly any traffic. The route jolted up just as the surface deteriorated; a vertical wall of rock enclosed one side of the valley. We hauled ourselves up the steepest climbs we’ve ridden all trip. Then finally the downhill back to civilisation!
Lunch at “Pub with Cold Beer” after a glorious dip in the river to cool our over-heated bodies. The pub was more an open-air shed with hammocks and a pool table (with pockets this time). Luxury by our standards and a great spot. Chicken was on the menu, if you had the heart to pick one from the coop and kill it. We enjoyed it roasted with rice and home-grown peanut sauce. Yum!
We’re off on a two-day guided cave trek tomorrow.