HCMC Dining Guide

Monday, April 13, 2015

H2H 2015: Days 8-10, or on the 'Hue' to Hue

After the accident of the previous day we were all ready for a return to normalcy, but day eight began with yet another freak accident: a rider named Thea was walking out of a bakery, missed a step, fell and broke and dislocated her left wrist. This happened while we were getting breakfast in Quy Dat before starting the day's ride, and everyone was dumbfounded. The decision was made to send her to Dong Hoi, the third rider to be sent there, and then on to Saigon from the airport. We were now down to 17 riders. The luck was unbelievable.

There was no time to waste though as we had a big riding day ahead of us: 110km to Dong Hoi, on the coast. Once Thea was seen off we headed out of Quy Dat and rejoined the Ho Chi Minh Highway for arguably the most beautiful leg of the entire route. I rode with Tat and Chris T. through the quiet villages of the area, which are lorded over by epic limestone karsts bearded in lush vegetation. The morning mist created a primeval atmosphere, and it seemed as though a T-Rex could've wandered across our path at any time.
There was one major climb for the day over the Deo Da Deo Pass, and it was shrouded in dense fog. Trucks came downhill like apparitions, only becoming visible once they were within a few meters of us. We worked our way up and eventually reached the top, our lungs burning.
 Of course, a steep uphill almost always means a major downhill, and this was no exception. I didn't want to get too much speed going in the wet and had to constantly work the brakes, leaving my arms and shoulders sore. After descending for a few minutes things dried out and the road became much easier to handle, allowing us to pick up some serious speed. The surrounding scenery was incredible, but it's hard to look away from the road when you're topping 60kph. Eventually the road flattened out into something like an airport runway, and we blasted along towards the entrance to Phong Nha-Ke Bang.
After a short lunch stop with 50km left to Dong Hoi several of us carried on in a loose group, stopping regularly for pictures. It's challenging to describe this part of Vietnam using mere words, it's something you just have to see in person. At some point I want to come up here to trek into one of the caves and motorbike onto the western branch of the HCM Highway, which cuts deep into the national park and is supposed to be just incredible.


As we neared the coast the limestone gave way to low hills, and by mid-afternoon we were entering the busy city of Dong Hoi, which has become the gateway to Phong Nha since the caves gained worldwide notoriety a couple of years ago. This had been our longest riding day yet, but I absolutely loved it. Cruising past Vietnam's dramatic landscapes on a bicycle with almost no traffic to worry about is hard to top.

We even found a hostel in town that served Western food, where I crushed two cheeseburgers with fries, pumpkin soup and an order of onion rings. Suffice to say my appetite is out of control.

Dong Hoi was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War, and the remnants of a church stand on the coast as a reminder of the violence of that conflict.

 Day 9 took us 109km from Dong Hoi to Cam Lo, a small intersection of a town which would be our last stop before Hue (and a rest day!). This ride is pretty nondescript in terms of scenery, and I also had my first bike problems of the ride, which left me needing two new tires and tubes. That actually left me riding at the back for once, with other groups waiting around for me to catch up.

After lunch we visited the massive Truong Son cemetery, which is just off the HCM Highway about 20km from Cam Lo. The site holds the cremated remains of around 10,000 soldiers of the former North Vietnamese Army who died during the war. It's an impressive, somber place, and a light drizzle only added to the mood. Whatever your political beliefs, it's always beneficial to get a look at the consequences of war from the other side, and it's sad to see how many lives were ended in a war that should not have been anywhere near as destructive as it was.

Day 10 was a 78km ride from Cam Lo to Hue, the old imperial capital. This is now the only leg of H2H on which there's no way to avoid Highway 1, so after last year's terrible accident on the road we made sure to be extra cautious. I stayed in front while Chris Rolls, my co-leader, stayed at the back, and we told people not to pass anyone unless absolutely necessary. It rained the entire day and there was almost constant construction work, meaning plenty of muddy stretches and hidden potholes. The traffic wasn't quite as dense as I remembered but there were still more than enough close calls with psychotic bus and truck drivers. Amazingly we made it through the hateful day without a single puncture, as changing a flat on the side of that miserable road would've sucked. Through an Agoda flash deal I had booked a 4-star hotel for the team, and that was our reward as we rolled into the Imperial City soaked to the bone and covered in mud. We now had about 36 hours without having to do any cycling.

Since arriving I've eaten a cheeseburger with fries, a third of a pizza, Indian curry with naan, the hotel breakfast buffet, a steak with mashed potatoes and most of a cheese board with several pieces of bread, with Italian coming up for dinner. All of those calories and carbs will be needed as tomorrow we head into the mountains southwest of Hue on the border with Laos. Since leaving Hanoi on April 3 we've covered about 840km and climbed almost 8,000m, but some of the hardest cycling is yet to come. These next few days will be gorgeous but grueling, but I feel strong and ready. If you'd like to me feel even better, please donate to H2H here: https://www.justgiving.com/Michael-Tatarski3/. We've raised over $28,000 as a team so far, but we're gunning for 45k!

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