We decided to have an early start to allow enough time to eat some breakfast and ride towards the northern part of Cat Ba island to catch a boat back to the mainland. The owner of our hotel recommended this solution as the ride was cheaper and faster than the one we took on our way in, plus we would have the chance to stop ad visit the hospital inside the mountain.
So we tied our backpacks to the back of our motorcycles and rode on a small -but in decent conditions- road until we found the sign that told us we were at the hospital inside the mountain. There was not much around, just some stairs going up the mountain and what looked like an empty house opposite to them, so because we didn’t want to unload our bikes and bring our things with us we decided to take turns in climbing the stairs and go see the hospital.
Silvia went first and came back a couple of minutes later slightly disappointed saying that there was nothing really interesting to see and the stairs only led to a cave.
I decided I might as well go see it anyways, since we had travelled all the way from Italy.
At the top of the stairs I found the cave and at the back of the cave I saw an aperture -that Silvia missed. I looked inside and I saw a poorly lit long corridor, I must admit I was a bit scared and took me a few moments to decide whether to venture inside. Eventually I decided to go, and keeping a fast pace I almost ran through the corridor which led me to a whole labyrinth of other corridors and spacious rooms that formed the hospital. After a few turns I saw some brighter light- it was an aperture on the other side of the mountain! As I arrived to the aperture I barely had the time notice the amazing panorama in front of me before a man instantly shouted at me that I was not supposed to be there and I was meant to buy a ticket for it- we later guessed the empty house in front of the stairs was supposed to be the ticket office. So unfortunately I had to leave (hence no picture), on my way back I actually ran out of the hospital to get back to Silvia and our bikes.
We then started heading towards the port we were intending to leave from, riding through a decent portion of the island and stopping every once in a while to take pictures of the view.
Once we got to the port and bought our tickets (they were so much cheaper than the ones we bought to get there) we had almost an hour to wait for the “ferry” so we sat in the shade, had some fresh water and observed a woman cleaning some fish. The port did not even look like a real port, it really felt more like a swamp ending up in the sea.
Once we boarded the journey lasted about 30 minutes and we got off on the mainland in a place we are still unable to locate on the maps. We did a “toilet-stop” so by the time we were ready to go, everyone else that travelled on our boat had left already. We were in a place we didn’t know, we couldn’t locate it on the -very inaccurate and approximative- map we had, and the surroundings were almost desert, for the exception of some factories we could see at maybe a kilometre from us. After a few hundred metres of riding on the only road we could see we found a fork, one road was in tarmac, the other was a bumpy mess of dust and gravel. We picked the easy one but shortly after two men on a bike told us we were heading towards the industrial area and that the should go the other way, and so we did. After maybe a kilometre we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by trucks -I had never seen so many all at once in my entire life!- which didn’t seem to care about us nor see us at all, that’s when we started a crazy rally in between trucks, in a huge cloud of dust, trying not to be run over. For some reason my imagination would have seen this scene fit perfectly into an action movie, maybe with the addition of some fighter aircrafts hurtling with us in between trucks and some very dynamic camera-action. Such a shame we didn’t have an action camera on us!
Seven kilometres later we finally arrived into civilisation and started our journey towards a non-specified destination: we decided to ride our bikes as far as we could and plan on the spot, the only things we knew were: we were headed south and planning to go through what on the map looked like the big-ish cities so it wouldn’t have been a problem to find a place to stay if we needed to.
In between the cities, on what we could call “regional roads” there were very few vehicles so we didn’t experience the madness of the first day of riding, however the minimum acceptable challenge level was maintained by the fact that there were literally no road signs, and when we would stop to ask for information, not only people weren’t able to point us in any direction but they were also unable to locate their position on the maps. Except for one time when a man started drawing a map on the ground to show us the way (mileage included) using a stone. Including all our u-turns and back-and-forths we probably travelled about 50km more than necessary, encountering nice people, funny bridges, many very “Communist-Propaganda-Style” billboards and casual short Monsoon rains.
We sopped a few times to buy some water; our first stop was at an old woman’s house where she seemed really keen on chatting to us despite the fact we had no language in common, but that did not seem to discourage her. At our second water-toilet stop we arrived to a house with a really spacious patio with tables and chairs, it was nice and we were tired so we decided to sit down and snack on some vietnamese crisps. As we were rolling our tobacco cigarettes we noticed that the local men sitting nearby were very interested in what we were doing, so we figured that rolling normal cigarettes is probably not a thing in Vietnam.
We decided to offer them some and they accepted but did not seem that enthusiast in smoking them -they were probably expecting something a bit more “magical”- and straight after one of them started smoking some non-identified substance using a long wooden bong.
After a good 4 hours ride (or maybe more?) we arrived in Ninh Binh, it was almost dark so we decided not to keep on riding, however our next city of interest was Hue, 730km away. We had an awesome idea: we were going to put our motorcycles on a night train that would bring us there, but when we arrived at the station we found out that we were late: there were not going to be any more trains with the appropriate carriage to transport bikes that day. We stopped in a bed&breakfast opposite to the station where we were able to use the bathroom and give ourselves a wipe as we were soooo dirty from the ride, there we found out about one of the most amusing things ever: the sleeper bus and we arranged to be picked up half an hour later by one heading to Hue.
Sleepers buses are literally buses with bed-shaped seats inside. The idea sounded very exciting to me but I’m sure it would make any “health and safety person” in the UK faint. We emptied our motorcycles from the petrol as we were going to have to lay them down in the luggage compartment of the bus and waited to be picked up.
When the bus arrived some men working on it “loaded” our motorcycles, then we boarded and were extremely lucky to get the bed at the very back of the bus which was a “king size” so we had a lot of space for ourselves and for our smaller backpacks and helmets.
After a couple of hours of travelling the bus stopped at the Vietnamese version of a service station: a covered but open space with a “restaurant” and a market.
We were not allowed to wear shoes on the bus and as we were getting off at the service station, outside the bus there were a little mat to stand on and a man was giving out slippers for people to walk around, he would then collect them as we would board again after the stop.
We had some food which we ordered by pointing at dishes that we thought looked good as the “menu boards” were written in Vietnamese only.
After dinner Silvia and I decided to try some Vietnamese cigarettes so bought a packet. I can’t remember what they tasted like but I remember we were not particularly impressed.
The stop lasted maybe about an hour in total, then we all boarded the bus again and started the long journey towards Hue. I remember sleeping through the whole duration of the journey, although in my sleep I could feel the recklessness of the driver with some abrupt breaking, many bumps and generally unsmooth movements. Silvia enjoyed it a bit less as she was laying next to the window and was able to see all the buses coming the other way and almost touching ours.
Thank you for reading this blog entry! It took me a while to publish Day 5 as I have been very busy the past week.
Stay tuned for Day 6 coming shortly and as always feel free to comment, “like” and share!