Day 14 - Monday, November 18
Distance - 160 kms = total for day ~ 6-7 hrs
Trip Odometer = 1461 kms
Route - Mai Chau - Yen Cat. South from Mai Chau on Hwy #15 to Ngoc Lac, then HCMT (Ho Chi Minh Trail) on Hwy #15 to Yen Cat.
Hotel - Khach San Dai Lam (250,000d = $12.50)
Weather - Hazy to dark skies to hazy sunny. No rain = Dry!
Our included breakfast at the Mai Chau Inn was fantastic. I should have waited to take these pictures as half of our food wasn't even on the table. Fresh fruit, meat, eggs, juice, coffee, tea, the list goes on... and all complete at our table with-a-view.
We planned our next few days of travel while in Mai Chau and we had some tough decisions to make, well, not that tough seeing that we were on an adventure trip in Vietnam. We couldn't stick to our original itinerary planned from home as we were realizing we wouldn't have enough time to do it all, we had to make a couple of decisions. We had enough time to either head to the Ninh Binh area to meet up with a great tour guide named 'Xuan' which was recommended to us by a fellow ADV (Adventure) rider named Stan, OR we would blast south for a few days and spend time in the Phong Nha National Park famous for it's caves and tours. Unfortunately, it was one or the other.
We couldn't do both. It was a tough decision. We had watched a TV program at home about the various cave systems in the Phong Nha Park which included a couple of caves that were quite recently discovered.
It was decided. We would go caving in Phong Nha, but it would take us x3 days to get there... after breakfast in Mai Chau, we fired up our trusty bikes, and we were off...
The riding along Hwy #15 from Mai Chau was incredible. Really fun twisty roads that had tons of mini towns and villages road-side and lots to see. At one point, we came across a zone that was all about chopsticks. We would see operation after operation making chopsticks out of bamboo. We pulled over at one and snapped a few pictures (above).
I managed to strap my iPhone onto my backpack again and I attempted to shoot a video cruising through one of the many small villages. Turns out, the iPhone shoots very reasonable video with anti-shake similar to the GoPro. Below is my rendition with zero editing...
We then came across an area that was promoting a certain Vietnamese 'cuisine' which we opted not to stop at. I didn't think our x2 'man's best friends' back home would feel very good about us indulging in such a delicacy, instead, we opted to ride-on.
The riding alongside the Sg.Ma River was great. I pulled over to have a look at this river-dredge of sorts - (at least I think that is what it was), and just before shooting my photo, a man in a suit came along on his scoot to have a look as well, he walked right in front of me so I figured I'd give him the honours and include him in my picture.
Along this stretch of highway and while paralleling the river, there also seemed to be quite a few operations harvesting long poles of bamboo on the opposite side of the river, loading it up on simple bardges and ferrying it to the opposite side where the road was.
I know I've mentioned this before, but one of my favourite times each day was during our morning coffee breaks. 9 times out of 10 at these random stops, we would meet at least one or more of Vietnam's colourful characters. We bought some stale, dusty packaged 'wagon wheel' style cookies, a Coca Cola and an iced tea drink from this guy. He then proceeded to sit with us while we enjoyed our snacks and he enjoyed a cigarette. I showed him our map and pointed at where I thought we were and he proceeded to point at an entirely different area on the map. Turns out, he didn't know where he was either and it didn't matter too much, we were there together.
Above - our typical road-side Com Pho lunch stop
Turns out, Yen Cat was a dusty little road-side town with not a tourist in sight. We doubled back to the huge hotel and were approached by a very young and energetic man at the front desk. He checked us into a room and helped us unload our bikes. The place was huge. And, it was extremely creepy. The hallways echoed and there wasn't another soul in sight, we were sure it was empty other than us. We asked the man at the front desk about a restaurant and he motioned over to an adjacent building and said, 'Yes!, Yes!' energetically.
Have I mentioned how creepy this Hotel was?? We ended up calling it The Twilight-Zone Hotel and we both were hoping we would for starters, wake up the next morning, secondly, at this location, alive, ... and not in some alternate universe with zombies. I kept telling Amanda not to look too close at the sheets and/or floors once she already saw holes in the sheets and mysterious items on the floor. I kept saying the closer she looked, the more nasties she was bound to find.
It was a place to spend the night, a roof-over-our-heads, and unfortunately this hotel wouldn't be the lowest ranked hotel of our trip. We aren't complainers, we don't have super high standards, but on nights like these, the following morning couldn't arrive any sooner for the both of us.
IF the main hotel wasn't creepy enough, our restaurant experience was another story. Once we were ready for dinner, we headed over to their 'restaurant', as they called it. By this time, it was dark, which was perfect for the setting, and, it was now raining. We walked over to an adjacent building with no lights on and proceeded to walk further to an outdoor area covered with palm palapas and a few people were sitting around a table there seeking shelter from the rain. I said 'restaurant' and a young woman got up and waved us over to the dark building we were just at. She brought us in the front doors, sat us down at a table in a very large, dark room and brought us each menus, only in Vietnamese. The room must have had 30 odd tables with enough seating for at least a hundred, and we sat at large table for 8.
By that time in the trip, we knew how to order chicken, so we ordered chicken and rice and were lucky to order a plate of morning glory (fried spinach) as well. This building was equally as echoey and even more creepy. The next thing we heard is something that we both remember clearly. Just after ordering, we heard our chicken being hacked up on the chopping block, continuous loud 'thunks' of a cleaver smashing against a thick wooden block followed by an immediate ignition of a hissy propane burner. Not to be a drama-queen here, but it was quite startling.
Dinner was served. We ate. We filled our stomachs as best as possible, paid the bill to a random man who came out of the shadows and then we walked back to our 5-star room. Without discussion, Amanda locked and bolted the door upon entering and I placed a chair under the knob for good measure.
The next morning couldn't arrive soon enough...