44km, av 13.6km/hr, max 38.7km/hr, time on bikes: 3hr 14 mins (but total time taken: about 5hrs!)
After yesterday’s ride on Route ‘under construction’ 217, we thought today would be relatively plain sailing; an easy 45km to Mai Chau. We’ve not come across anyone warning us about this stretch of road, either online or on our travels so far, so assumed it to be OK. We even have the luxury of a lie in and don’t get going until after midday, thinking it would only take 3 hours or so.
Today’s road, Route 15, makes the 217 look like a ride in the park. After just a couple of km’s out of Quan Hoa / Hoi Xuan, the dreaded roadworks sign appears and we fear the worst.
It’s not clear today whether the road is being widened or they’re just quarrying the hillside for fun, but for 30km we face it all – mud, sand, gravel, scree, puddles, aggressive dogs, pushing up steep slopes, clouds of dust, caterpillar trucks and, of course, lots of people smiling and waving as we struggle on through.
At one point when we come across a lorry spraying the road with water followed at the next turn by a huge, slow-moving truck carrying a bouncing load of bamboo poles, it feels like we’re on the Krypton Factor or something. Is that the best you can throw at us, Vietnam?!?
Eventually, after around 30km of us cursing “this road is a joke”, the road finally flattens out, the roadworks cease and we can make up some of the lost time, gliding along towards Mai Chau with rice fields on either side.
Up until this point the ‘road’ follows the River Ma along what would have been a beautiful valley until the road expansion project got under way, illustrating what a messy business road-building is. You pity the people living alongside the road, choking in all the dust, although you suspect they will probably feel the benefits when the upgrade is eventually finished – some time around 2020 maybe…
Mai Chau itself seems like a lively place, and there are plenty of accommodation options. We skip the possibility of a homestay in a nearby village, figuring we’ve seen plenty of village life on our travels so far already (and there will be other chances to homestay when it’s a bit warmer), and settle on a nice guesthouse/hotel, which has rooms for 500,000 VND, but to be honest they’re only a little bit plusher than the room we eventually go for at the bargained-down price of 180,000 VND.
After paying a girl 20,000 VND to give our bikes a power hose-down to get rid of all the mud and grit, we eat dinner for 100,000 (rice, pork, veg) at a restaurant where there’s much excitement at the installation of their huge Tet Mai tree – a symbol of spring. Tet is fast approaching and almost every vehicle we see (including buses) has a huge branch attached to the roofrack or is being carried precariously on the back of a motorbike. It’s a happy accident that we’re going to be in the country for the Tet (New Year) celebrations.