It was still dark when I left my hotel. I wanted to have a lot of time for this portion of the Ho Chi Minh Highway, which is said to be the most scenic. It is a long, remote 240 km with no gas or restaurants. I picked up some lunch and had a couple water bottles filled with gas, then set out.
I would be taking the Western Ho Chi Minh Highway, staying close to the Lao border. In fact, the road came very close to the border, so I took a quick detour down a side road to see it. I rode past people working in the fields and through a small village. I rode right up to the border post and the guard shooed me away.
Back on the Ho Chi Min Highway, I started going up into the mountains and it got remote. There were no settlements for a long stretch. But the views were nice.
I came back down, and there were some small villages. Just a few wooden houses on stilts, and thatched huts with corrugated metal roofs. People are poor here. Elsewhere in Vietnam houses are concrete. This was almost like being in Cambodia.
Tién’s front wheel was squealing again, and driving me crazy in this quiet and peaceful place. Some quick research allowed me to diagnose the problem myself as the speedometer cable seal, which the guy yesterday must not have put on properly. I stopped at a mechanic shack and showed him the problem. He wanted to replace the nut in the front wheel. I asked the price up front, and it was cheap. Shortly I was back on the road with a quiet wheel.
After 100 km the back wheel felt funny. Sure enough, Tién had a punctured tube again. I ate my lunch, then slowly rode into the next village, which luckily was right around the corner. It was just a few wooden stilt houses. No mechanic. Riding my bike seemed impossible, since the tire was totally flat and it was all wobbly. A local said there was a mechanic in 5 km. I tried walking it, but gave up. I flagged a guy down, but he was a foreign bikepacker, so could not help.
I tried again, and it was a local guy. At first he was hesitant. But he eventually drove my bike to the mechanic’s house, and I drove his. The mechanic wasn’t there, so we drove to the next one. This one wasn’t there either, but his wife let him use the tools. He agreed to change the tube for 300,000. I tried to bargain, but he wouldn’t budge. Considering he wasn’t even a mechanic, I was just happy to be back on the road. There were no mechanics around for miles. Sometimes you have to pay the middle of nowhere tax.
I rode through more small villages. Then it was time for the final stretch through Phong Nha National Park. It was quite spectacular. I went up and up, and there were epic views over the forest. It was very remote and hilly. There was nothing on this stretch. There was absolutely no traffic, only some bikepackers. Getting a puncture here would not be fun.
After the amazing park, I still had a long drive. It got dark, and I had to drive on the highway with trucks. Everybody in Vietnam drives with their brights on at nigh, so I could not see. I drove slowly to the Lakehouse Hotel, but they only had dorms. So I drove back to town. The first place I looked at was a dump, but they came down to $11, and the people running it seemed nice.
In fact, the whole town is a dump. The world’s largest cave was discovered nearby, so a bunch of guesthouses were thrown up anticipating an influx of tourism. But they are not nice guesthouses. Everything is geared toward backpackers. Maybe it’s the worst place in Vietnam.
But I wouldn’t be hanging around in town tomorrow.