Phong Nha was promised as the utopia for the adventurous. The roads hugged the ancient karsts, contorted to nature’s will. What encapsulated the place, were the enormous caves that were chiseled by floods occurring over millions of years. The mountains were shrouded by the lush forests, lending to an ethereal atmosphere.
Mist settled over, and a chill lingered in the atmosphere. The roads banked with the turns, presenting a spectacular riding occasion. A light touch of the bar tips the motorcycle over as it swoops through the curves. Even on these miserable machines, the friends found joy cruising the winding roads. Karl felt weightless as he maneuvered through chicanes, feeling an intimate connection with road from the raw, unforgiving heap of a chassis. Marcus experienced a deep sense of serenity as he was reminded at the fleeting nature of this moment, to savour it while it lasted. CW had a grin wide across his face, all his worries were irrelevant, suspended in time and space.
The curves unwinded into a long empty straight road with no end in sight. The lanes widened enough for a small plane to land. The karst peaks lined the landscape, viridescent vegetation expanded outwards into the horizon. The trio pulled over and gazed towards the distant landscape, vividly aware of how miniscule they were in this place. Their solemn gaze soon turned into a cheeky smile, CW shot a gleeful look at Marcus. The cacophony that was his engine, rose to nobody’s pleasure. Then he dumped his clutch with as much finesse as he could muster to summon an anticlimactic extension of his front forks. Their playful nature took over as they tried to outdo each other’s attempts at wheelies.
Caves and Beer!
When the trio finally reached Phong Nha, they settled for a tour of the famous caves. A wild ride on the flying fox sent a gleeful Karl across a river, into one cave. In the darkness, they fumbled with the headlamps and were greeted by a mud pool at the end of the cave. They were awestruck by the scale of the place. That night, they rode into the countryside, deep in a single track trail littered with potholes to the Pub with Cold Beer. The moon shone soft lighting as they climbed a steeped trail up to the Pub. There was complete darkness, not a soul in sight, and were greeted by rasping barks of guard dogs. A fluorescent bulb flickered into existence and the friendly owners (who became the DJs of the night), greeted them. They were farmers and grew everything that was served in this pub organically. There was even an option to slaughter your own chicken before you served it up yourself. Marcus stepped up to the challenge.
The Problem With Carbs
The next day, they ascended in altitude as they rode through the highlands. CW’s problematic bike puttered to a stop as the carburetor gasp for thin air. His loose gas tank tumbled about its place and occasionally disengaged the fuel cock. Precious time was lost with each trivial fix. Hours along the way, the met a man who was fiddling with his own motorcycle. He had a tremendous build, and one had to feel for the puny bike that had to carry its weight. It was obvious that something had gone wrong.
Friends on Two Wheels
He had bought his motorcycle in Sapa, even further north of Hanoi, and courageously did so despite never having any formal training on a motorcycle in his entire life. He spoke passionately about how he kept stumbling along the way, but stood up again in the face of adversity. The trio were filled with admiration for this man. Marcus offered to help him. With one foot on the man’s motorcycle, Marcus pinned his throttle to get them both going. The Honda Win screamed for mercy as it powered itself, Marcus, the other guy and his motorcycle up steep slopes, banks and long stretches of nothingness.
They reached a mechanic on the roadside and this was where they parted ways. The trio wished him luck in his endeavors and had to make up for lost time. Darkness ensued, and they found the throw of their headlights pathetic. In a desperate attempt to illuminate as much of the road as possible, the trio made a comical attempt to strap torchlights on the front of Marcus’s bike. Marcus road cautiously onward to Khe Sanh, reaching only at midnight.
The trio rose after a deserved rest, and had to leave immediately for Hoi An. It was a long, uninspired stretch of asphalt that had an unchanging scenery with no signs of life along the way. Time seemed to pass incessantly slow. Dark clouds loomed over and a crack of thunder signal the impending storm. The torrential rain demoralized the trio. Karl and CW sought protection from their raincoats, while Marcus braved the cold and rain head on. They all shivered in the wind and rain, but there was no shelter insight. Desperate, and dispirited they trudged along.
Marcus witnessed the formidable lightning strikes first hand as it struck ground that was dangerously close. They were on exposed highlands and could not help but fear for their lives. Their wooden boards for seats started collecting water as the rain continued relentlessly. Karl and CW could not help but pity Marcus’s drenched state. The fog enveloped the mountain as they made their way towards the city. It was their most miserable part of the trip so far.
They managed dinner and just about had enough of this day when CW’s bike broke down before they could reach their hotel. It screeched to a halt and sounded like the piston had seized, giving up on itself, mirroring the state they trio were in. They were at the brink of resorting to dumping the bike, but Marcus pushed the bike in the same way they helped the fellow stranger the day before. As they filtered through traffic, the locals stared at them with amusement. Three foreigners, a broken motorcycle and in soaked clothing.
They had reached Hoi An in horrid fashion. Marcus reminisces on this moment and knew that “we will make the best we could out of the situation.” It was learning to understand that no problem was too difficult to fix, that patience was key and unnecessary worry weighs down the soul. They had the tenacity to face each obstacle head on, and sought solace knowing that the locals would be friendly, that trust in humanity mattered more. This trust does not come easy, especially as city dwellers. One never meets horrid people in the countryside, for they congregate in town. The unique stories will be etched in their minds forever.