Day 18 - Friday, November 22
Distance - 235 kms = total for day ~ 7 hrs
Trip Odometer = 2078 kms
Route - South on HCMT from Phong Nha to Ben Quan then east on #571 to Hwy #1. South along Hwy #1 to #572 to Vinh Moc then south along 576B to 49B and 49A to Hue (beautiful route).
Hotel - Hue Serene Palace Hotel (600,000d = $30) Nicest, newest hotel to date!
Weather - Wet in the morning, dried up as we approached the South China Sea - sunshine! Then cloudy and dry to Hue.
Leaving the Phong Nha Farmstay was tough, even though we had only been there for 2 nights. It was a warm place to stay with good energy and great folks. We met a fellow ADV Rider and his wife upon arrival. Craig (below) and his wife, both from Australia had travelled through Vietnam once before by bike and he and his lovely wife came back for more. They arrived at the Farmstay the same day we did and were offered a position to work for a week as a employee was going on vacation. They gladly took the position and this is Craig supporting his uniform in style.
Craig and his wife rented the exact same bikes they rented a few years prior... 'His' and 'Her' Honda 125s.
Another reason it was tough leaving the Farmstay was that we had to make another decision with our route. Originally, I had planned to head south along the HCMT through Khe Sanh, as I had heard this stretch of road was amazing, with the road at times literally touching the border to Lao.
We opted to head east instead and along the coast to enjoy the cities of Hue and Hoi An which included riding the famous Hai Van Pass between Hue and Danang. We also thought that the closer we got to the coast, the more rain we could potentially avoid. We were both a tad tired of all the rain, so to the coast it was... to the South China Sea and beaches... miles and miles of beaches.
A couple of creepy-cats at our morning coffee break
By the time we arrived to the South China Sea, the weather was starting the break and it was getting warmer. We were both excited about this, we took a few layers off and enjoyed the warmth. Dean (from Seattle) who lived and worked at the Phong Nha Farmstay told us to head to the 'Vinh Moc' tunnels north of Hue as they were an interesting array of complex tunnels. More than 90 families disappeared underground due to heavy US bombing in this coastal area during the American War. We had heard via other travellers that it was an interesting stop and we both were keen on seeing the area and learning more about the history of Vinh Moc.
By the time we hit the coast, we had realized that we popped out closer to Cua Tung Beach south of Vinh Moc. We also realized that we still had quite the push to Hue, so opted out of backtracking north to the tunnels and we instead pushed south along the coast due to light and time.
My Honda XR 150 work-horse, a surprisingly fun bike to ride (aside from the horribly uncomfortable seat).
Loads of shrines and monuments dotted this section of the coast as did a plethora of deep pits.
Vietnam Tourism monument on the South China Sea
We followed stretches of roads that hugged the coast north of Hue. We were very impressed with the quality of roads along this stretch. We felt like we were following golf-cart tracks with little to no traffic. The traffic we did encounter was mostly other moto-scoots, bicycles and animals for the most part. Also, there were many roadside monuments, cemeteries and shrines in remembrance of those lost in the war. We found that these stretches of roads were ironically peaceful.
We pulled up to a woman selling various items out of a cart in a small village along the coast road. We loaded up for a picnic lunch, bought some fruit and mystery snacks from her and pulled off the road next to this man-made canal for a break just up the road. It was a great roadside stop and we were both ecstatic that it wasn't raining and we could enjoy our surroundings with a bit of heat and dryness in a tranquil setting. It was at times like this that made traveling Vietnam by bike worth every minute, even those minutes spent cold and in the miserable rain. On the bikes, we could stop where we wanted, when we wanted and as long as we wanted, it was perfect.
Travelling along Hwy 576B was excellent. It was mellow and peaceful with long stretches of road that were as straight as an arrow. Hwy #1 was paralleling this road roughly ~15-20km to our west, which is why this road was empty and peaceful. We were still able to hold a good speed and cover a great deal of ground even by avoiding the hectic main route of the #1. We were very pleased with the suggestion to travel along these roads, I would definitely recommend these as an alternate to Hwy #1 between Vinh Moc and Hue.
We had started making reservations online and in advance for hotels before we stopped at Phong Nha. We knew we would be traveling along a more touristy route from this point on and almost all the way to HCMCity, therefore our choice, price and quality of accommodation would be fairly easy to research online and to reserve in advance, especially in the more popular locations.
We had read a good recommendation online for the Hue Serene Palace Hotel in Hue and we went ahead and made a reservation. I also plugged in the location onto my phone via Google Maps and figured I would have an easy time navigating the city and landing at our hotel. Turned out, the address that the hotel had listed on TripAdvisor or their website was wrong. Once in Hue, I circled the block 3-4 times in fairly heavy traffic trying to find it. I stopped in a couple of different hotels and businesses to ask, and still, I couldn't find this hotel. I was just about to snap and blow my top, when finally I asked the right person and they knew the exact location. The address I had on my map was wrong. We were x2 blocks off and hadn't traveled down the right skinny laneway. But we finally found our 'Palace' for the night. And a palace it WAS. The Hue Serene Palace Hotel was rated #1 on TripAdvisor for a reason.
Upon landing at the hotel, the bell boy was battling us to unload our bikes and bring our luggage up to our room (something we weren't used to). We were sat down in the lobby and offered their 'Welcome Drink' upon arrival which they seemed to take a great deal of pride in. I whispered to Amanda that I was keen to get up to our room to grab a shower and unwind, so we both guzzled our passionfruit bevies and headed to the elevator. We paid $30 for our room and were immediately upgraded to a higher priced room 'with city views' upon arrival (I had read that they do this often when rooms are available as they wanted good reviews in order to keep their TripAdvisor #1 standing). We were both very impressed. It was our nicest hotel to date. It was clean, new, and shiny with a huge breakfast spread included in the price. I would highly recommend the Hue Serene Palace Hotel
Trip Advisor link...
After showering we started to unwind with a cold beer after our long day on the road. We then headed out and into the streets of Hue for a nice supper. We headed to the Golden Rice Restaurant and had an excellent meal. After supper, we walked the streets of Hue, enjoyed a few mojitos at Hue's popular DMZ Bar and then called it a night.
Next Day - the Famous Hai Van Pass into Hoi An for a x2 night stop over... closer and closer to our final destination Ho Chi Minh City.