Distance: 509 km
Time taken: Roughly 12 hours (split over two days)
Route rating: 7/10
From Phong Nha most itineraries head straight north along highway 1 stopping in Vinh and Ninh Binh before arriving in the capital. Ninh Binh is well worth a visit but Katherine and I had already made the trip there. Also we were not terribly excited about checking out a place nicknamed grim Vinh, so opted to instead elongate our trip even further by heading north west to Mai Chau instead of directly north to Hanoi.
A few minutes checking out the route on Google maps told us that it was 500km and we figured that we could then do the trip in a couple of days stopping overnight in a random town. Needing to do a mere 250km a day to get to Mai Chau on time what could possibly go wrong…
As we left Phong Nha we picked up an incredible road which wound through the national park taking us out and away from the karst peaks. As we rounded one corner the road opened up to reveal a straight freshly tarmacked monster of a road with views on either side.
I spontaneously started whoooping and laughing and for the first time of the trip pushed Brucey to his max speed. As the old boys speedometer never worked I have no idea how exhilaratingly fast (or embarrassingly slow) I was going, but it made no difference I was having the time of my life speeding along with Katherine screaming for me to slow down..
About 150km into the ride disaster struck as Brucey’s rear end started to wobble. I pulled over and sure enough I had a flat tyre. Luckily this bike seems to know when is a good place to break down and I was able to push him to a friendly mechanic who was just 100 metres down the road. Feeling relaxed as we knew a flat tyre would only take a few minutes to fix I was horrified to see him take the back wheel off to see that the back wheels bearings were nearly all missing and a large part of the bit which attaches it to the bike had worn away (apologies for the awful descriptions of the bike parts). The mechanic tried to sell me a questionable looking second hand wheel for 500,000 VND but I thought that would likely do more harm than good. Eventually he agreed to fix my bike and somehow repaired the broken wheel with a beer can. Surely this was the mother of all botch jobs!
Two hours after stopping to get a puncture fixed we were back on the road but woefully short of our days target milage. We continued on for another hour taking our total miles for the day up to a semi-respectable 200km and then pulled into a Nha Nghi (Vietnamese hotel) in a random town whose name I never knew.
The next morning we were up at 6 a.m. for a long days drive to get us to Mai Chau. After a strong ca phe sua da (Vietnamese milk coffee) and with a few classic driving playlists downloaded we hit the road. Needing to cover so many miles in a single day definitely gave the ride a different focus which all of the previous journeys lacked. We sped past numerous viewpoints which would have sidetracked us on the first days of the trip as we were ferocious ly eating up tarmac racing towards our final destination. The only stops were the scheduled ones every hour to rehydrate and move and massage our suffering posteriors.
The road picked up dramatically as we nearer Mai Chau both figuratively and literally as we ascended into the mountains to be treated to yet more incredible views.
Having been on the bikes for 5 hours we were both beginning to tire, but once again the Vietnamese countryside wowed us keeping our spirits high as we finally entered into Mai Chau our last stop before Hanoi.