We woke up early today for what was set to be an action packed and busy day. First stop after breakfast was the hotel underground car park where we met up with a local guide and our transport for the morning: mountain bikes. Quickly familiarised at 0730 in the morning with our kit, we were then off onto the quieter (but no less scary) roads of Hué. Crossing across the traffic lanes in a country which has a set of traffic laws that it ignores was an experience that we all seemed to survive. Quickly making our way out of the city, we were soon cycling along quieter suburban streets and then deep into the surrounding countryside.
With the wind in our faces providing a welcome relief from the intense heat even at this hour, we took in the views of the scenery around us as we cycled through paddy fields and local villages. We soon came to stop about 6km from the Hué hotel we had left and parked up to visit a local agricultural museum and marketplace. This was really interesting as a lady demonstrated – in best amateur dramatic fashion – how rice was traditionally harvested and prepared for selling. We also caught glimpses of how they lived alongside the traditional methods used (with primitive technology) to provide irrigation to the crop fields.
A stroll through the adjoining village followed, specifically their morning market. Having been through a number of markets on this tour already, Claire and I were well prepared for the sights, sounds and smells that greeted us; Claire did however take a liking to a crate of little ducklings and was quite keen on trying to bring at least one of them home with us!
Back on the bikes again, we cycled through more of the countryside as we returned to our hotel, getting there a little after 1030. A quick shower and packing ensued and we were checked out of the hotel and on the coach en route to our next destination: Hoi An.
This journey wasn’t direct however and was scheduled to have a number of planned stops en route. First on this journey was a local Monastery where we had lunch (being just 1200 now). Lunch was a six course spread of vegetarian dishes shared with members of our group. This wasn’t food that we would have typically chosen or ordered but it was deliciously different nonetheless.
Back on the road again, we headed South towards Da Nang, the fourth largest city in Vietnam. Passing through the rolling countryside and heading towards the coast of Vietnam. We stopped at a hotel resort for a comfort break, an exclusive hotel with amazing views atop their private pool and an abandoned sandy beach with literally no one else on. We paddled in the water and I scorched my feet on the sand beneath me before we grabbed a drink and an ice cream.
The coach time returned and we started to trudge our way up a winding mountain pass towards Da Nanag, known as the Hai Van Pass. This was the road made famous by the Top Gear Vietnam Special and we had the opportunity to stop and consume some of the breathtaking views of the surrounding terrain. This was also the time when we found out that our coach only had limited power and so we could either go up the hills or have air conditioning, not both! Clearly therefore we continued to move along in something akin to a sauna with wheels where each and every one of us sweated copious amounts of water and were left feeling totally exhausted by the experience.
About two hours later and now at about 1600, we reached the top of the pass where we stopped at a roadside cafe located alongside a former French and American war-era observation point. At this stage, we were all happy to get off the bus into the sweltering late afternoon heat as it was still cooler outside than on the air conditioned bus!
After some time to cool down and take some impressive photos, we reluctantly returned to our bus and began our descent towards Da Nang which we saw laid before us. Passing through the city which appeared large and modern, we passed elements that recognized the changing Vietnam: the modern developments of sky scrapers and sport stadia and the remains of the former US military base that the city was built alongside.
As the sun began to set, we arrived at our last stop prior to the hotel: the marble mountains. As the name implies, this impressive rock outcrops were once the source of marble for this region of Vietnam but now this is another example of a UNESCO protected site on this remarkable country. As we ascended the mountainside and then began a descent within the mountain itself, we entered a series of cave complexes replete with Buddhas (owing to their use as places of worship) and bats (as they are caves!). We also learned how these were used during the Vietnam War by the Vietcong as shelter for troops to spy on the movements in the American base located nearby (and below).
A swift walk down the mountain and back aboard our bus, we spent the next 30mins looking at the darkening terrain as we approached Hoi An and our tenth hotel of the tour. This one was especially nice as it was located a little further outside of town than normal and came with an outdoor swimming pool, bar, restaurant, spa and – as we would later find out – a private section of Cua Dai beach just 2.5km away by free shuttle bus!
A quick shower and change preceded a familiarisation walk into the City Centre (quite a long walk in comparison to previous hotels) and dinner with the group at the lantern restaurant. Desiring something a little more a Western, Claire and I both opted for house specialities. Claire had oven baked pork with cheese and mustard sauce whereas I had duck in orange sauce. Both were delicious and set us up well as we wearily returned to the hotel, exhausted but thoroughly satisfied after a long, busy, active day.
Anthony & Claire