Hanoi to That Khe
210 km: 10 hours total travel time. Left garage at 9:30am Arrival at 6:40pm
We were instructed to be checked out and waiting in reception by 7:30am. The group did better than that and were on the bus and rolling away from the hotel right on 7:30am. As Jenny put it, “Everyone is a bit twitchy.”
It was Friday the 13th. What could go wrong? Luck seemed to be on our side, not a rain cloud in sight and the traffic was “freely flowing” compared to the morning we travelled the same road to the Department of Transport. So far, so good.
Our jeeps were beautifully lined up awaiting us, all with our Self Drive Adventures logo and car number on them. Yen had the numbers in a hat for the lucky dip car allocation.
By 9am we had fitted the radios and aerials, finished the paperwork and briefing and had a test drive of the cars in the streets around the garage.
We were off at last, and already on the highway successfully by 9:30am. The lead driver, Twan, was very good. I used Google Translate to communicate, which worked quite well. He set the perfect pace and the traffic seemed quite light, especially on the highway. We travelled at around 60 km per hour, which seemed to be a good speed for the city. The red and gold Vietnamese flags on the back of the cars looked fantastic and made it quite easy to see the convoy. Drivers on the highway were patient with us, with Cuong racing up and down on his 250CC motorbike paying tolls and taking photos.
Around 11:15am we radioed that it was just 2 km to the coffee stop. The answer was from Sue & Russ saying they were pulling over because they could not engage the gears. So, we had made it 88 km and had what might be the first of many breakdowns.
Within minutes the mechanics had the top off the car and a spare gearbox out ready to fit, and before we had finished our drinks they had it fixed!
Everyone looked pretty hot and sweaty. It was a sunny day and the heat and humidity was high. A couple of jeeps decided it was worth giving the canopies a shot - I would agree, good idea! Those taking doxycycline for malaria prevention are very susceptible to sunburn. There are cool boxes in the cars that are replenished every day with ice and water and the jeeps even have one USB port.
Just a few kilometres on, the mountains started to appear. I can’t wait to get up there and have the temperature drop. We turned off the main road and onto a pot-holed dirt track. There were quite a few trucks from a large quarry on the road, but nothing much else.
Cuong was on his 250cc motorbike with his high visibility vest on racing ahead to mark corners and up and down the convoy to see how everyone was going.
We started to see many small, restful villages along the road which were growing many crops. There was corn being dried on the side of the road and when we stopped to put on the canopies only some of the young girls who came out to watch us plucked up the courage to shake my hand. They were very shy.
The convoy has been moving quite slowly on this small road. Just getting used to the conditions, learning that you don’t have to pull off the road and stop for trucks, they will find a way around you, and so on.
So, lunch was a little late. It was a tasty affair of French style white rolls, cold meats, cheese, tomatoes, gherkins, carrots and watermelon for dessert. The picnic was on a grassy patch next to a temple. Adults and kids alike stopped to take photos, ask for photos with the cars, or selfies with us. I took a lesson on how to count to 10 from one of the ladies who asked for a selfie with Sue and me.
The rice harvest looks to be just starting, so the rice paddies look a beautiful luminescent green and yellow.
The afternoon roads wove through the mountains at around 490m above sea level. Although called “sealed” that really means some tar lots of potholes. It was slow going but quite pretty, especially as the late afternoon sun hit the tops of the rice stems.
At 5pm when we still had 37 km to go it started to look like we’d be arriving in the dark.
As the sun set across the mountains, we started passing families on the side of the road starting their fires as we worked out the quirks of how to get the headlights on.
The full moon rose as we hit the 13 kilometre mark from our destination.
We arrived at 6:40pm.The town is busy, as tonight is the end of the mid-autumn festival. It could be a night for ear plugs from the singing I could hear.
After all the cars were parked in the garage Cuong quickly whipped up a cold and strong G&T for everyone. Marg exclaimed that it was the best one she had ever had. The team had performed brilliantly today. It’s a pleasure to be travelling with a group who are taking everything in their stride.
Accommodation and food will be simpler for the rest of the trip. Our guest house felt more like a hotel, but they do not serve meals here. The buildings in Vietnam are tall and narrow so there was up to four flights of stairs to get to your room and no elevators or staff to help with your bags. It’s good to pack light. Cuong also explained that in this simple, but clean accommodation they don’t provide sheets - there is a cover over the mattress and pillow slips that are cleaned and a light blanket.
At 6:45pm we headed out for a very well deserved dinner and cold beers before pushing in the ear plugs to try and block out the loud karaoke playing downstairs.