Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yen Cat to Huong Khe

Day 15 - Tuesday, November 19
Distance - 240 kms = total for day ~ 6-7 hrs
Trip Odometer =  1701 kms
Route - Yen Cat - Huong Khe.  South from Yen Cat on HCMT (Ho Chi Minh Trail) Hwy #15 to Huong Khe.
Hotel - Khach San Son Ha (250,000d = $12.50)
Weather -  Started out dry and cloudy and then got dark, darker and then wet, wet, wet, 'soggy-bottom-boys-wet', and then a bit more wet, some very cold, and finally soaked.

Undoubtedly, unequivocally, and fully-completely our wettest day yet.  Our theme song for the day was 'Soaked to the Bone', which had absolutely no harmony, lyrics, and character like that of 'Bad to the Bone'.  Now, it didn't rain all day long, but when it did, it ramped right up and it became that cold-wet as well which makes riding a motorbike quite the challenge both physically and mentally.

On a positive note, we woke up in the morning from our Twilight Zone Hotel and we were in the same reality, still in Vietnam, both alive, and both very happy to get back on the road.  Sorry Yen Cat, but you didn't make the cut on our Top-20-in-'Nam experiences, better luck next time.

In the morning not too far south of Yen Cat, we came across this overturned rock truck.  It was hard to say how long it had been there, but we didn't see any ambulance or police, just a few people milling about.  It took up most of the road, but when theres a will, theres a way,... all traffic just seem to work their way around it and that was that, traffic was still flowing on the #15.  

The rain started shortly after the overturned truck and continued for a good hour or so of riding.  When pulling into the town of Pho Chau for our later afternoon lunch break, we were both quite cold.  We were anticipating a typical large bowl of Pho for lunch, but instead, they were serving something different at the family run restaurant we stopped at.  We had a really tasty alternative which was a combination of rice with pork, fried cucumbers and assorted veggies.  It was a delicious meal and the family was great, really interactive with us.  I'm guessing this was their daughter below and their grand daughter who was the entertainment at the lunch party.

I ordered a hot coffee and proceeded to ask for some extra hot water to top it up, mainly an attempt to warm my core temperature and also to dilute the extremely strong, syrupy-like consistency of the normal Vietnamese coffee served with sweetened condensed milk.  The extra hot water came, but the owner and his wife were also pointing at the coffee poster on the wall motioning that the coffee is often served on ice.  

Not before too long, I was double-fisting my hot coffee with an iced coffee as well, they were really interested in showing me all the types of ways coffee is served in Vietnam, and they wanted me to try all of them.  Seeing that Amanda doesn't drink coffee, I had to step up to the plate and try them all.

After a great deal of 'cảm ơn bạn' (thank-you), we paid up and then put all of our layers back on for the cold road south.  I had a very generous caffeine buzz flowing through my veins before getting back on the road.  

We arrived to Huong Khe in mid afternoon with time to hunt around for a hotel.  Huong Khe was a much larger town than that of Yen Cat, so we stopped at a bank machine as our supply of 'dong' was running low.  We then toured around town looking for a hotel.  Huong Khe has a man-made lake right in the middle of town which makes it much more appealing and picturesque.  We toured around the lake and found a few hotel options.

We stopped at the first hotel which had a 'palace' type feel and inquired at the front desk to look at a room.  They immediately asked for our passports and I motioned that we only wanted to 'look' at a room.  Amanda even had this phrase on her iPhone from the day before and she showed the translated phrase to the man and woman at the front desk.  It was painstakingly difficult to communicate that we only wanted to look at a room.  We ended up checking out a few different rooms, and in all cases, we came across puddles on the floors and black mould on some of the walls.  We thanked them and told them we would go and look at another hotel before making our decision.  As we were getting back on our bikes, the manager came out and asked us what the problem was.  We gestured that all was good and that we were going to look at rooms in another hotel before making our decision.

The same thing happened at another location.  The front desk staff were great, they got the message that we just wanted to 'look', there seemed to be good communication at this one, but the manager had an offended look on his face when we decided to push on.  I was fine with moving on from this place as the manager seemed like a jack-ass from the beginning anyway.

Our take is that we had time to look, there were a few options in town, so why not be like Goldilocks and find the right situation for us.

Our third option was going to be the best it was going to get in the town of Huong Khe, it was the Son Ha Hotel.  Unfortunately, the room was somewhat dank and that was even before we threw all of our sopping wet gear throughout.  Again, it was the best option we found, so we decided to go with it as it was a place to crash for the night.  

Huong Khe was quite nice situated with a fairly large lake right in the centre of town.  It reminded me of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.  We decided to stop at a restaurant to eat which was alongside the lake and as we proceeded to sit down, a young man came out and gestured to us that we were not welcome to sit down.  This wasn't in a negative manner, I was assuming that they were technically closed or something of the sort.

We headed two doors down and sat at another establishment.  We had a young teenage girl come to us as we sat and the first thing Amanda asked her was if they had WiFi.  She gestured yes and Amanda typed a phrase on her iPhone.  Even in the midst of a perfect 'Google Translation, the young girl's teenaged angst seemed to prevail.  Awkwardness followed, she made a call and then passed her phone to me... sure enough, there was a guy at the other end speaking broken english and I told him we were looking for dinner. 

My guess - this town rarely sees foreign tourists.  BUT, I had the feeling that Huong Khe was in fact, a tourist town.  With its situation on the lake, all of the choices of hotels, and the plethora of restaurants and stands lining the lake, I'm sure Huong Khe is a go-to destination for local tourists when the seasons and weather is right.  I think we arrived in the low-season.

(Above) - Our Son Ha Hotel.

We both enjoyed the experiences we had with communication, whether it be looking at a hotel room or ordering food.  This was sometimes frustrating when we felt we were clear with our communication and then adding the help from good old Google Translate.  The bottom line was that if our communication wasn't clear at the receiving end, then we were back to square one, sitting there waving our arms and smiling, making shoveling motions towards our mouths like cavemen... minus the grunting.  

We would always end up with food or a room, but sometimes the 'getting' there with communication was more exhausting than the day on the bikes... it was all part of the adventure.

We knew our next night was going to be in Phong Nha National Park and our plan was to stay at the Phong Nha Farmstay - a combination Aussie/Vietnamese owned hostel complete with tour guides and meat pies... I was fairly certain that at the Farmstay we would be able to order with ease, and most definitely with the same smiles.  

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