Bus to Quan Son, then 52.8km, 4hr 5 mins, av 12.9km/hr, max 39.3km/hr
After waking to the sound, this time, of pigs (there is a pig sty behind the hotel restaurant), we make our decision. Or rather, Rach’s inability to get out of bed before 8 makes our decision… bus it is.
A combination of fear of the unknown, traveller tales of thick mud, apprehension of a possible alternative route (the TL 520, described by one motorbike rider as a ‘goat track littered with dead animals’!) make the bus the most attractive option by far, despite the hefty price tag.
We’ve read warnings about the over-charging on this route, and then what do ya know, it goes and happens to us! The driver, pointing at our bikes and the roof-rack, wants 700,000 VND each, which is clearly ridiculous. We manage to get it down to a cool million in total, which is still way too much but what can you do in such situations?
The journey takes about 2.5 hrs and the road is bad – really bad, but certainly not impassible by bike. Perhaps if there’d been recent rain it would be a different matter but, from what we saw, you could definitely do this stretch on a touring bike. It appears that the single carriageway road is being widened but, rather than do this a stretch at a time, it seems that the entire 100km or so is being worked on (or rather, not worked on very much) all at the same time.
Quan Son is a little better and nicer than Na Meo but once again we have a bit of a ‘mare ordering food and then getting charged way more than we were expecting for food we weren’t expecting (150,000 VND for meat, rice and an omelette). Finally, for our evening meal, by being disciplined and really clear, we manage to get two bowls of noodle soup for 20,000 VND – our cheapest meal so far! We stay at a ‘Motel’ for 180,000, haggled down from 200,000 via Google Translate and a (true-ish) sob story about how the bus ripped us off and now we don’t have enough money to eat…
Next day, an early start and the ride to Quan Hoa, aka Hoi Xuan. We thought the roadworks might improve after Quan Son but if anything, they get worse. Huge stretched of road are just dirt tracks but somehow, we manage to pass through OK, with no major incidents or accidents. The hills aren’t too bad and occasionally the road is good enough to enjoy the downs. The scenery, beneath the mist and cloud that lingers all day, looks like it could be spectacular, and all day we hear constant ‘hellooo’s from people in houses, fields, and even on scooters. Everyone here has a friendly face and a welcoming smile. After a bit of a sketchy start, we’re starting to like this place!
The 50km ride is, overall, pretty great and it feels good to be riding in a new country with such friendly people, even if their approach to road construction is completely baffling. (The last few km on route 15 up to Quan Hoa are, mercifully, smooth and roadworks free.)
Quan Hoa itself, stretched out along the main road for a good couple of km, feels like a lively place. We secure lodgings at a lovely little place with private courtyard, wifi and a SOFA (bargained down from 180 to 150,000 VND just by asking nicely) and eat well, (ie: no Thit Cho, or ‘dog’ as it’s also known) at a popular local restaurant for 60,000 VND. Finally, we’re getting the hang of eating out in Vietnam!