Chicken Man

Dong Ha to Phong Nha

After 4 or 5 exceptional days and nights we were quite tired and ready for a quiet day. We still had to cover the distance to Phong Nha and there were two options; the straight-ish road up the coast (short and boring) or the wiggly road through the mountains (long and amazing). If we did the full length of the wiggly road it would have taken us 2 days so we decided to bomb 2/3rds of the way up the coast and then tack back into the mountains for the good bits in the national park.

The road on the map looked like the trace of a drunken man’s progress up the street. It looped back on itself so many times there was no way to tell in which direction you were actually making progress. At one point we were 15km from our destination but had 45km of road to travel. It was an interesting road, no only for the scenery, which was amazing, but the surface! It was simultaneously being resurfaced, had piles of rocks and sand, mud from loggers, trees, concrete sections, tarmac sections and all the usual potholes and moss from the minimal traffic that ever used the road. Oh and we were so high we were inside the clouds, so it was wet too. At one point visibility dropped to about 10m and we were crawling along.

We had offered the two routes to the girls and they had gone off on the short boring route. Me and Mike wanted the squiggles. As it was just us who could both ride quite well, we made some good progress. Even with the additional 100km of roads we still had time to stop and watch some loggers hauling massive trunks up into their lorry. A lorry like no other I have ever seen! It clearly used to be something else and had been massively altered with huge steel hoops and a massive, engine powered winch. Mike, knowing about tree felling and me, knowing about steel rope, knew just how dangerous the situation was. We stayed well clear but enjoyed watching them haul on the bits of wood. They were so large that the lorry was winching itself off the road and up onto 2 wheels at times.

Further on down the track we found something else interesting. When I say that we were remote, the word doesn’t do it justice. There is literally nothing but jungle where we were. Just jungle and the road. Normally there are some street food stands every 500m minimum but not a soul was in this road for 10’s of km at a time. So now you understand just how far away and isolated we were it was a shock to find a random guy sitting on his own. There was nothing there, no car, motorbike, truck, bicycle, nothing. Just a guy, sitting on a little wooden pot. Under his foot was a lead and on the end of the lead was a chicken. Just randomly sitting in the road. We pulled up next to him, no acknowledgement, just quiet contemplation of the chicken. We watched him for a minute and then moved on. Wierd!

Riding on, my gearbox issue reared its head again. Now, on the steepest most technical roads we had covered yet, the gearbox decided to play silly buggers. It started intermittently skipping gears or jumping out of gear. And pretty soon evolved into never staying in gear for more than 200m. It was quite a challenge, especially on the climbs as when it dropped out of gear i would bang it down one and end up in first with a screaming engine, drop the clutch to keep up momentum and the front wheel would lift or the back slide around. Combined with slimy roads and minimal visibility it was truly brown trouser time.

Arriving in Phong Nha we bumped into several people we had seen in other hostels. Que a night of drinking, chatting and telling our travel stories. It was a really good night and we ended up playing games. I introduced the group to The Witch – it took some doing but was hilarious. I also didn’t realise how difficult it was to count to 21.