Jungle Roamers

Phong Nha exploration

Today we didn’t plan any trips. We grabbed the motorbikes (back from the mechanic – again) and went exploring the national park. There was a suggested route to take and at the bottom of the map page they gave us it said you need at least 3 litres of fuel to complete the circuit. But, more about that later.

We set off and decided to take a dirt road next to the river. I like getting lost when I know where I am. I know that doesn’t make sense but I mean exploring an area, finding hidden gems off the beaten track. This is why I enjoy motorbiking so much, you can just go exploring and really cover some distance. We just kept going down the track, it was on the non-highway side of the river so completely unsurfaced and devoid of tourist traps. We passed loads of locals nearly all of them smiled or waved, especially the children. They get really excited when we responded to their shrieked “Hello”. Presumably this is something they learned in school from a very young age

We have noticed that the houses are built very cleverly. The family starts their home on the ground floor, with 2 or 3 rooms. Built using poured concrete columns and ceramic air bricks, they finish the one storey and then move in. After a few years, when they have saved up, they continue building on top! They leave the re-bar sticking out the top of the columns deliberately so they can expand when they need to. Such a good plan and something I would really like to emulate, just adding rooms as and when I need/want them.

There was nothing at the end of this particular track and we had to turn around and go all the way back. No problem, it was still awesome to see the people and how they live. We passed through some rough country and hypothesised that the ground features were bomb craters. Before we had found out how often unexploded bombs are found, we had wanted to go exploring for waterfalls and bush-wack hiking to the top of the limestone mountains… Seeing the craters, and they were very obviously craters, kinda brought it home to us that they are very real. We made a note to only travel well worn paths after that.

The next track we found was really out in the middle of nowhere. We had passed it by unnoticed on our drive into Phong Nha and now we explored it. You don’t build a substantial concrete road off into the jungle with nothing at the end of it. And this was true. We came to a construction site of what we thought was a hotel complex. It made sense to us – Vietnam recently open to tourists, benefitting from lots of backpackers, and we had already seen plenty of building sites of hotels.

We biked around a bit, in between newly laid posh flagstone paving, landscaped ponds and carefully placed trees. Eventually we came to a big river (Ah! The focal point of the hotel!) with a destroyed concrete bridge, presumably from the war. Inbetween the wreckage of the bridge were about 6 young Vietnamese chaps having a wash in the river. They all started to head back up to the main complex we had passed. I offered one of them a ride on the back of the bike up there and he introduced us to the group.

There were 4 families in total living on the site. 4 fathers and roughly 12 sons between them. Turns out the “hotel” is actually a military base that was destroyed in the war and now they are rebuilding it. They slept in hammocks strung between the columns of the building, washed in the river, cooked on fires and camp stoves and had minimal electricity from a generator. After introducing ourselves and having loads of photos taken with them they invited us for dinner. The mothers had just cooked and the men had just scrubbed up for the night. They produced a huge spread and wanted to share it with us. Bearing in mind we are literally twice the size of these guys, we had a few bowls but didn’t want to eat too much. After all, they had been working and not expecting to share it with a pair of random lost westerners. It was the best noodles and fish I have ever had. There was a massive grilled lump of fish, a calamari soup thing, some spicy veg soup, rice, noodles and lettuce. They also passed around a cup of what we assume is rice wine but tasted like neat petrol! It was an incredible experience. We chatted (via hand signals, sketches and google translate) about all sorts of things.


They offered us space to sleep when it got dark. We would have done, but had to travel the next day so really needed to get back to the hostel to pack. We figured, as they live on the site, they must rise and fall as the sun does. It was only 7ish but already completely dark. Our poxy bikes also had rubbish lights. Time for a crazy, dimly lit, video game-esk night ride back to the hostel. We had gotten about halfway around the recommended loop and now had to find our way back. It was slow going. My bike light pointed everywhere except the road and Mike’s only gave enough light when the engine was revved highly. So we had to crawl along, screaming to see where we were going.

Coming back down into the town, Mike’s bike started to cough and splutter as it ran out of petrol. All the revving had used up all our juice and we barely made it back. It would have been properly type 2 fun if that had happened.