We tried extremely hard to get an early start from Khe Sanh because the drive for the day would be 240 km of mountainous road, the Western fork of the Ho Chi Minh Highway. So many bloggers have posted about the drive that we had an idea of what to expect from the road(VietnamCoracle, NOMADasaurus, ramblingnortherner, TimevsFocus, willtravel4knowledge) and had prepared accordingly with extra fuel, preemptive bike checks, etc. The weather was the main unknown as we had yet to find a good weather forecast site for Vietnam. Most of the them had some variations on some rain to more rain for the day with a trend of either scattered or increasing rain. Getting our bags rain bagged for the first time took longer than expected then we needed some water and food provisions for the day, so we finally hit the road just before 8 am.
The ride was increasingly beautiful especially the river valley we joined for the middle of the ride. The end as we reached the Phong Nga – Ke Bang National Park was pretty much socked in giving us a great view of white clouds. We had a brief moment of worry when Max dropped his bike while taking a picture causing the chain to fall off (easy fix) and the bike refuse to shift (more problematic). Luckily with a team effort including another passing backpacker, we were able to bend the foot shift lever a bit back so it wasn’t stuck anymore. We passed a few backpacker groups heading south and a couple heading north moving faster than us. With the climbs under heavy load, we had to rest our bike a bunch and Max kindly stuck with us (Thanks Max!). I tried to give it a break by hiking up the hills (some even had an 11% sign) every time we stopped for a cool down. We did a good job keeping the engine cool and had no issues with the bike. The same could not be said for this amazingly cheery Dutchman who we met ~10+ km out of the one town in the middle with mechanics, food and gas. He had left from Phong Nga at 7am and about 70 km in his drive belt broke leaving him pushing/gliding the scooter for 40 km. We gave him some food (a sandwich and oreo between us and Max) and sort of offered him a ride/attempt to tow to the village, but he didn’t seem keen. We were already worried about making Phong Nga by dark so we couldn’t stick around too long. Later, we met some folks in Phong Nga who ran into him about 5 km from the town, so we hope he made it okay.
With the long drive, we didn’t stop to talk to many of the people living along the road, but a group of workers waved us over to share a bit of their food. They were nice and we tried to communicate for a bit. This woman really wanted a height extremes photo with Max.
Not too long after 5 pm we reached Phong Nga a bit damp and tired but overall not too bad considering the long day and constant threat of heavier rain than we got. After cleaning up, the pizza at the Capture Cafe tasted amazing and the super cheap bakery food from the morning left us plenty of budget for dinner.