Saturday 12th March and Sunday 13th MarchDay 16: 85 km and 500m climb.
Day 17: 130 km, our new longest day.
A distinct change in weather brought low cloud and temperatures down to 20 degrees. Positive news for cyclists weary of the heat. Bad news for taking in the landscape. On Saturday we tackled the mountain pass from Phong Nha to Dong Le. For 2km the road ran over an old runway, presumably built for the war. Later, wooden huts and fields filled the narrow ledges between dry river bed and mountain until the road turned uphill. Then only the sounds of birds and insects hidden by the jungle. The odd scooter or truck passed noisily. Otherwise, just the quiet hum of pedals turning.
We climbed for 15 km, winding around ancient slabs of limestone. The clouds gradually came up towards us until everything beyond the road disappeared. The summit kept its vista secret so we zipped up our jackets and headed down into the next valley. Despite the gloom, this was a film set in waiting. Rice paddies, conical hats and smokey fires walled by a grimace of toothy rock.
Two final bumps in the road and down to Dong Lê for the night. No train would take bicycles until the next morning, so we decided to cycle the distance the following day instead (of course!).
On Sunday a pleasant rolling start following the railway. Adults and children with smiles shouting “Hallo” meant we were still off the beaten track. A short but pressing climb took us out of the mountains and into the foothills. Two separate Banh Mi stalls produced warm crispy bread filled with pork, coriander and a hint of spice. Both were excellent fuel and we needed it. Back to the Ho Chi Minh Highway for a spell, then on to local flatland side roads. The clouds dropped lower as we pushed through a persistent headwind to Vinh.
Vinh is an easily forgettable place, particularly in the wind-driven drizzle thrown. The final 20 km a grim A-road lined with quarries and sawmills. We entered the city by a long trussed bridge over a slow, languid river. The fuggy grey view was irrelevant because it took our full concentration to balance between motorbikes and the waist-high handrail on the bridge. Heavy traffic tested our tired slegs and heads as we zigzagged towards the station (emergency Haribo helped!). Seven and a half hours on the bike and we’d made 130km. Good job! Vinh inspired us to leave so we booked a night train to Hanoi. Dinner was doubled after our ride, rice with pork and then later, rice soup with eels (street food lottery strikes again). We took a room for a few hours for a shower and went in search of a beers.