24 June, 2010
Hue, Vietnam

We left Hoi An today, pushing on up the country towards Hue. I would have been happier to stay there longer; it was really nice, and it’s a shame I had to spend part of every single day there at a mechanic’s. My bike is working again, finally, to a given definition of the word “working;” it’s become impossible to start it without the choke, and difficult even then. Also the $50 US I paid for a new carburettor still smarts. Does anyone know if a new carburettor commonly makes a bike difficult to start for a while?

The most direct route between Hue and Hoi An is Highway 1A, the awful road that runs all the way from Saigon to Hanoi. We previously rode along the 1A while travelling from Nha Trang to Qhuy Non, and found it to be a vile and loathsome torrent of trucks and buses; a three-to-four hour near-death experience. Chris dubbed it the “bloodroad.” Unfortunately, Vietnam is so narrow at this point that there weren’t really any alternatives, and it was only about 110 k’s, so decided to grit our teeth and push through it.

And it’s a good thing we did, because that stretch of the highway leads over the Truong Son mountain range, which juts out into the South China sea just north of Da Nang. This results in an amazing road twisting and winding its way through the Hai Van Pass, with spectacular views of the ocean on both sides. (This is the road which, in the Top Gear Vietnam Special, Clarkson described as “one of the best coast roads… IN THE WORLD.”)

It just clings to the edge of the mountainside. Beautiful.

I heard Da Nang was an ugly city, but it looked quite nice from above. Lots of white stretches of beach, like Miami. of course my camera is rubbish so you can’t really make it out.

Max, Jess and I stopped at one point and got badgered by a woman to buy something. We took off further up the road and stopped again where Chris had, only to have the woman chase after us on a motorbike and try to sell Chris something. Ah, Vietnam! I don’t see how communism was ever expected to work with such relentlessly avaricious people.

At the highest point of the pass, where the road descends into another wide bay, we found the ruins of an old French fort.

Judging from the bullet holes (not visible here, GRRR NIKON), it also saw some service during the war.

I climbed up into the highest section of one of the buildings, by shuffling up some bamboo poles somebody had left there.

Bit dicey, but I made it, and got some nice views.

Actually, you can see some bullet scarring there, on the smaller building to the right.

Max made the climb later on, and got a lovely photo of me and Chris.

We took a bunch of group shots that I’ll upload later. During that I smashed my knee quite badly and opened up one of the cuts sustained during the crash. And my elbow is still ruined forever, goddamnit.

Pressing on, we descended the long and steep switchbacks on the other side of the pass, which was no less beautiful. It was something I didn’t expect from the 1A, which I used to hate unconditionally, and it was definitely one of the best roads we’ve been on in the entire trip. Certainly rivalled only by the Dalat-Nha Trang mountain road; maybe even surpassing it.

You haven’t lived until you’ve ridden a rickety Soviety motorcycle down this mountain road while listening to “Search & Destroy” by the Stooges.

Then, of course, the mountains levelled off and dumped us back onto the flatlands. On the 1A. With a thousand trucks and buses. Here’s Chris with some trucks:

It was a really gross ride from then on. That was the day, really: an awful ride on an awful road, an AMAZING RIDE ON AN AMAZING ROAD, and an evven more awful ride on another awful road. The second half was also extremely busy, which always sucks. The Vietnamese have absolutely no road sense whatsoever. They’re never happy unless they’re overtaking, pedestrians and bicycles constantly clog up the designated motorbike lanes, people pull out right in front of you… look, they’e Asian drivers. It’s an entire country full of Asian drivers. There, I said it.

To make matters worse, we were riding towards the setting sun, which is no more fun on a bike than in a car. Even with sunglasses we were constantly taking our left hands off the bars to shield our eyes. Chris said this afternoon was probably the most dangerous riding we’ve yet done, and I agree with him.

But we made it safely into Hue, and found a hotel, and had a mediocre dinner. It was a good day. My bike was running well and the awesome stretch of the 1A more than made up for the crappy stretches. Aha, and, I found out early in the morning that Australia suddenly and unexpectedly has its first female prime minister. That’s what Rudd gets for drifting so far to the right that he crossed the oncoming lane, mounted the curb and killed a pedestrian. I always liked Gillard more than Rudd, even with that unbearable accent, and now this election will at least be something other than a battle between two religious, conservative wankers. I vote Green anyway, but Labor is always the lesser of two inevitable evils.

Speaking of Australia, it’s tax return time soon, which means I’ll have a delicious $1000+ coming my way after filling out a return at the embassy in Hanoi. I need a group certificate from that supid newsagency as well as Coles, though. If they don’t mail it, Dad, you’ll have to go and confront them.