Monday, February 3, 2014

Flat tire and the Hai Van Pass

Day 19 - Saturday, November 23
Distance - 140 kms = total for day ~ 5 hrs
Trip Odometer =  2218 kms
Route - South from Hue on Hwy #1 to Hai Van Pass then south on #1 to #608 east to Hoi An.
Hotel -  Ha An Hotel - Hoi An ($55 x 2 nights)
Weather -  Nice weather in the morning out of Hue.  Then rain like it has never rained before, the hardest, most intense downpour yet as we approached the base of Hai Van Pass.  Skies opened up to sunshine and warmth once over the pass on the Danang side, then sunny to Hoi An.

Social Media.  It can be a royal pain in the ass at times, and at other times, an amazing resource for people to connect and reconnect.  Well, a simple post on Facebook allowed a long-lost traveler friend and I to meet up... 14 years later, ... in Vietnam.

I met 'Henning' from Norway in 2000 in Ecuador.  We were studying spanish at the same school in Quito and we ended up traveling together throughout South America for about 3 months.  We kept in contact over the years via Facebook and when Amanda and I arrived to Hanoi, I posted a pic on FB, Henning saw it, and then sent me a message stating that he and his better half were headed there as well and perhaps we would meet up.  We had a fairly tight schedule on the bikes to travel throughout the north and then all the way south to HCMC but the timing would work out.  Henning and his gal Pernille were arriving to Hue by train the morning we were set to leave.  We told him to meet us at the Serene Palace Hotel and it was a great, although very brief reunion.

Henning and Pernille had tried to reserve at the Serene Palace, but for some reason their booking via an alternate website didn't confirm the booking and unfortunately the hotel was fully booked for that night.  The folks at the front desk still invited them in, had them sit for the free breakfast and they helped them find an alternate hotel for the night.  (Henning told me that they headed back to following night and he too agreed that this hotel was incredible).

After our brief reunion with Team Norway, we loaded up our bikes to head south to Hoi An and over the famous Hai Van Pass which I was stoked to ride.  As I put a final bungee on Amanda's bike, I noticed that her back tire was completely flat.  (You can actually see this in 3 pictures above).  The bellboy-door-dude saw me pointing at it and without hesitation, he hops on her bike, fires it up and starts riding it down the road, away from us, without gestures or words.  I look at Amanda, she looks at me, and we smile... 'I guess he is going to get it fixed, eh'?!

We sat down in front of the hotel to chill and wait.  The timing of the flat tire couldn't have worked out better.  Amanda then tells me that she saw a small North Face down jacket the night before while wandering around Hue, and it would be perfect for her 2 year old niece for Xmas.  We load up on my bike x2 up, head to the shop around a few corners, make a sweet deal for the jacket and hammer back to the hotel moments later.  Within a full 10min max from when the bellboy took Amanda's bike, he was coming down the road back to the hotel.  Back tire, fixed!  70,000 dong ($3.50) for a brand new tube and the repair... done and done.  We then tipped the bellboy another 70,000d or something of the sort, we all highfived and were on our way south.  Amazing.  Didn't even get our hands dirty.  In all of my travels over the years, the hospitality we experienced in Vietnam was exemplary...

Our original plan was to head directly to the coast from Hue and along a more rural road that would eventually link up with the #1.  After the flat tire, the reunion with Team Norway, we decided to just hop on the busy #1 south and head directly to the Pass.  It turned out to be reasonable riding.  It was busy and hectic as the #1 always is, but it wasn't out of control, or perhaps we were just getting used to Vietnam by that point.

As we approached the base of the Hai Van Pass, the skies completely opened up.  We encountered rain like we had never seen before.  I half thought of pulling over, but we were literally soaked from head to toe in a matter of seconds, so we pushed on.  Amanda pulled up to me at one point with wide eyes and we started to laugh, we were creeping along at a safe snails pace, and we had a hard time hearing each other due to the sheer noise of the rain.  It was incredible.  We started heading up the famous Hai Van Pass and the rain mellowed.

In 2005, a large scale tunnel was opened for larger truck traffic and cars to avoid the 21km Pass.  The tunnel is closed to all motorbikes and bicycles, only open for large vehicles which makes the Pass perfect for scoots.  This stretch of highway was notorious for bad accidents which occurred regularly every year.  Most of the accidents were largely in part due to the constant thick fog on the northern side of the Pass.

As we gained elevation, the rain subsided, but the fog set in.  At times, it was so thick, you could barely see in front of you.  As we approached the summit, we opted not to stop as we couldn't see a thing anyway.  As we started down in elevation on the southern side of the Pass, a magical thing started to happen...

The skies opened up again, and this time, without the heavy downpour of rain.  The sun started beaming and we could see blue skies in the distance.  We couldn't believe it.  I had read that this is quite common, rain and fog on the north side and sun and blue skys on the south side.  We were amped.  It was crazy to look left over our shoulders to see the grey, loomy skies we had just passed through and now we were cruising down in elevation, warming up, drying out and enjoying the curves without any truck traffic and very few cars.

Looking south from the Hai Van Pass towards Danang.  Amazing.

Amanda giving the AOK, thumbs up to some beauty weather.

I started opening up my XR on the way down the Pass enjoying every twisty curve with little to no traffic, giving my 1-Fiddy a run for its money - (or is it a 'run for it's dong'??!).  It was hilarious to see packs of automatic scoots heading up the Pass in the opposite direction all piloted by flip-flop and tank-top clad travelers coming up the famous Pass they saw on the BBC's 'Top Gear' in Vietnam Episode << Have a look, these guys are hilarious! 

Looking south - you can see the cityscape of Danang in the middle (roughly 900,000 people).  As our plans and routes were constantly changing with our go-with-the-flow-attitude, we yet again, changed our original plan.  Dean at the Phong Nha Farmstay told us a route where we could avoid Danang altogether.  We were planning on skirting the city to the east and right along the coast.  By the time we arrived to the city, we opted to head straight through to get a jump on Hoi An as we wanted to arrive at a reasonable hour with our shorter day on the road.

I was so impressed with Amanda's skills in Danang.  A city of just under 1 million people, the traffic started getting quite thick and heavy as did the traffic lights as we headed through.  Amanda was rocking it, she would pull up next to me at traffic lights in the middle of packs of at least 50-100 other bikes and she was talking and chatting to me like she had lived there for years.  Light would turn green, we would start out with the other riders like a flock of seagulls all heading in the same direction.  Funny enough, going through Danang was actually fun, we both enjoyed it for the most part.

We continued along Hwy #1 out of Danang and we arrived to our turn-off on Hwy #608 east not before long.

Pulling into Hoi An was interesting to say the least.  There were SO many tourists and a great deal of action for a smaller town.  We knew it would be busy, but we were both very surprised with the layout, it was beautiful.  Hoi An's old town is another Unesco World Heritage site with over 800 buildings that have been preserved and restored in the city's Old Town.  The town was literally destroyed during the Tay Son Rebellion but was rebuilt as it continued to be an important port until the late 19th century.  It was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999.

We had a reservation at the Ha An Hotel in the heart of Hoi An's Old Town and it was a perfect choice.  It was close to our most expensive stay, but we decided to splurge on something really nice.  At $55/night, it was a perfect fit and a great choice.

Top notch choice of hotels in Hoi An - the Ha An Hotel.  Hoi An has an incredible array of hotels at any range, and any price, most in the heart and proximity of the Old Town.

After unwinding at the hotel after our shorter day on the road, I dropped a bag of laundry at the front desk as it had been quite a few days since we had any laundry done.   We then headed down the street from the hotel and quickly arrived at the local market.  It reminded me of the Sapa Market but much more spread out.  The perfect equation and combination of foreign tourists + locals was present, which made it easy to shoot photographs in every direction possible without offence or rudeness.

Locals were piling onto these boats right off the market, heading along various waterways and heading home to various villages in the area.  We were told that some were living as far as the adjacent islands 15km from Hoi An known at the Cham Islands where they lived in settlements and villages as well.

Hoi An's famous 'Japanese Covered Bridge'...

And Hoi An's Famous lit-up paper lanterns...

After a few cold ones and a bite-to-eat at the tasty 'Miss Ly' restaurant, we made our way to one of the many custom tailor shops in Hoi An.  We figured we couldn't leave Hoi An without a custom tailored 'something', so we both decided to get fitted for warmer wool jackets (petty coats) for home.

The options were endless, you could get them to make you whatever you could dream up and in whatever material you wanted, whatever colour, with whatever buttons... the list went on and on and on...

On our way back to the hotel I made a jack-ass comment joking our 'laundry had better be done or I'll snap-show at the front desk'... we both had a laugh, opened the door to our room and whammo... our laundry was done.  Amazing.  We both had a huge laugh.  Only a handful of hours since our arrival and well before the 'next-day-service' the hotel stated.

  Again, Vietnam, number #1 in service!

Our plan for the next day was a relax day in Hoi An... tour around, hit the beach in the morning and we had a fitting back at the tailors in the afternoon for alterations and the rest.

No comments:

Post a Comment