Wednesday, September 17, 2014

From Phong Nha to the Vinh Moc Tunnels

While staying in Phong Nha I heard that the region was known for a regional delicacy. I walked around the the town, down the main street, through the market and happened up a small restaurant that was promoting their crispy roasted pork. They served it inside a sandwich, with noodle soup or with rice. It was lunch time, so I decided to try the pork sandwich. It was indeed delicious. It was so good that for the rest of the day I kept thinking about it. It was so good that I returned in the evening for dinner to try the pork over rice. I think that it was even better. The pork was roasted to perfection, the meat was tender, the skin was crispy and the layer of fat was juicy… yes it had a thick layer of fat. The morning glory vegetables were pretty good too. Yum!

In Phong Nha I stayed outside the town at a farmhouse called the Pepperhouse Homestay. The place is owned and operated by a couple... Niem (Vietnamese) and Multi (Australian). It seemed that Niem really ran of most of the operations, while Multi entertained the guests with humorous stories and antidotes. He also rode a motorcycle and told me about a road that many local motorcyclists consider one of the best roads in all of Vietnam. I was intrigued.   
The route ran south along the national park and exited near the town of Khe Sanh. On a map the road appeared to be pretty twisty. I was told that it would take 6 to 8 hours, that there would not be many towns in between and that I should carry extra gas, food and water. 
However, I had also been told about an interesting historical landmark near the town of Vinh Moc. I had to make a decision… and I chose the route to Vinh Moc. I had arranged to meet someone in Hue, so I had to forgo the scenic route for the more direct route.
Before leaving Phong Nha I realized that it was time to change the oil in my motorcycle. With a larger engine I would normally change the oil every 3000 miles, but with a small 100cc engine I tend to change the oil every 1000 miles.
I found a xe may (moto shop) nearby and was able to change my oil for about 80,000 Dong (US$3.75). It was probably 20,000 Dong more expensive than what the locals pay, but the mechanic was able to help me right away. I think that I was in and out of the shop within 3 minutes.
I headed down the road on the Ho Chi Minh Highway.
I passed by this xe công nông, sometimes called an iron buffalo. I then stopped to allow it to pass me, so that I could take this photo. These engines with wheels are used to plow fields, haul agricultural products and sometimes to transport people in rural areas. In some areas these mechanical farm tools are replacing the real water buffalo which have traditionally been used for all of these functions.
As I turned off the Ho Chi Minh Highway I left a smooth concrete road for a gravel road.
I was heading toward the town of Vinh Moc and the Vinh Moc Tunnels.
The Vinh Moc Tunnels is a tunnel complex in Quảng Trị, Vietnam. During the Vietnam War it was strategically located on the border of North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The tunnels were built to shelter people from the intense bombing of Son Trung and Son Ha communes in the Quảng Trị Province in the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The American forces believed the villagers of Vinh Moc were supplying food and armaments to the North Vietnemese garrison on the island of Con Co which was in turn hindering the American bombers on their way to bomb Hanoi. The idea was to force the villagers of Vinh Moc to leave the area but as is typical in Vietnam there was nowhere else to go. 

The villagers initially dug the tunnels to move their village 10 metres underground but the American forces designed bombs that burrowed down 10 metres. Eventually, the villagers moved the village to a depth of 30 metres. The total length of the tunnels is nearly 2,000 meters long with 6 entrances to the tops of the hills and 7 entrances to the South China Sea. It was constructed in several stages beginning in 1966 and used until early 1972. The complex grew to include wells, kitchens, rooms for each family and spaces for healthcare. Around 60 families lived in the tunnels; as many as 17 children were born inside the tunnels.
There was a small museum with displays of weapons and placards that explained the history and importance of the DMZ.
This saying, "To Be or Not To Be" was said to be an important call to arms in this heavily bombed part of the country.
Outside the museum there was a collection of unexploded ordinances that were dropped around the area from US airplanes. Many bombs did not explode because the ground was soft and the bombs simply sank into the soft ground.
These channels were carved into the surface of the ground to shield the villagers from artillery when they walked outside the tunnels. The villagers would live in the tunnels during the day and farm outside during the night.
This was a water well for the village.
A bomb crater
After walking around the surface, I ventured into the tunnels. These tunnels were accessed by a stone stairway that led to this arched entrance.
It was initially very dark inside the tunnels. After some time my eyes adjusted to the darkness and it became easier to see.
Deeper into the tunnel there were lanterns to light the way. These tunnels were perhaps 4 feet tall so I had to crouch while I was walking..
There were a number of small alcoves no bigger than 6 x 6 where families lived. There are now mannequins placed in the alcoves to demonstrate the cramped conditions. It was kind of creepy.
One of the tunnels led to this exit.
Once outside, I had an amazing view of the beach and South China Sea.
I continued walking through the tunnels for about 10 minutes. I'm not claustrophobic, but I must admit that walking through the tunnels for only 10 minutes made me a bit uncomfortable. Maybe it was the limited space or the lack of light or the dark history. I was happy to see the day light.

After visiting the Vinh Moc Tunnels I continued on my way to Hue.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Phong Nha and Paradise (Thien Duong) Cave

I found myself in the town of Phong Nha. The town is located at an elevation of 200 meters above the sea level, near the west branch of Ho Chi Minh Highway, in the Quảng Bình Province, Vietnam. The town is nestled in a valley and surrounded by a small but jagged mountain range. The thing to do around this area is to visit caves. The largest cave in the world is located in this area along with a number of other caves.
There was a nice national park that I rode through to visit a cave called the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park
The road was a single lane that twisted through lush green forest.
I pulled over to the side of the road to look and listen. With no other people around me, I could hear the sounds of the of the dense forest… birds, insects, water, wind.
I located the road to Paradise Cave, which is a cave in the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park. 

There was a river and swimming hole running along the road. I did not stop for a swim because I was excited to check out the cave.
Paradise Cave attracts a lot of tourists. There were golf cart shuttles that would carry tourists from the ticket booth close to the entrance of the cave.
I decided that I wanted to approach the cave in a more natural way so I walked along a nice nature trail for about 2 km.
Along the way I found this snail. I spotted the snail because it was not so little, it was about the size of a golf ball, so it was hard to miss.
I also came across this unusual spider web. In the middle of the spider web there was a geometric circle design… incredible. It caught my eye, I'm guessing that it is also good at catching bugs as well.
Paradise Cave (Thiên Đường) Cave is a cave in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, UNESCO's World Heritage Site. 
The cave was discovered by a local Vietnamese man in 2005. Later, the 5 first km of this cave was explored by explorers from the British Cave Research Association.  The whole 31 km was explored and publicly announced by the British cave explorers. At the time, this was the largest explored cave in the world.
This cave is 31 km long, longer than Phong Nha Cave which had been considered the longest cave in this national park. The span of the cave can reach 100 m high and 150 wide. The limestone formations are said to be some of the most spectacular formations in the area. The British cave explorers were impressed by the beautiful and spectacular stalactites and stalagmites inside this cave and they named it Paradise Cave (Thiên Đường) Cave. In 2012, a new scorpion species Vietbocap thienduongensis was found here.
A look deep into the cave, beyond what the eye could see.
A little of both and some strange formation growing in every direction.
Ridge formations on the floor of the cave. 
A shrine within the cave
The way out.

In 2009, a larger cave than Paradise Cave was found in the park called Son Doong Cave. At this time, the cave is still being charted and only scientific teams are allowed into the Son Doong Cave.

Here's a cheesy little video of the cave.

Will the Apple iWatch be a must have for Travelers?

 Apple has announced the new iWatch.
 Will the new technology be a must have for travelers?
 Sleek design

Check out the launch video above.

Some of the features include:
Price $349
Apple Watch, Apple Sport Watch and Apple Gold Watch
Selection of straps
Side dial navigation
Tap and scroll navigation
iPhone compatible
Health and fitness features such heart rate monitor and gyroscopic activity tracker
Productivity features
Sapphire glass

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Most Beautiful Road In Vietnam

I woke up early and well rested. My apprehension about my hotel was unfounded. It was an uneventful evening and peaceful night. I did not eat anything for breakfast because I was eager to get back on the road. Someone must have known that I was passing this way, because they placed these multi-colored flags along the highway to welcome me. 
I passed over this large river, but I did not catch the name. I stopped to glance over the edge at these wooden boats. Some of the boats appeared to be for transporting people and goods and some of the smaller boats appeared to be fishing boats.
I knew that I had a lot of ground to cover today. Luckily the highway was in good condition. And, the view was not bad either, mostly rolling hills broken up low lying fields of corn, rice and some other crops that I could not identify.
When I passed this river I had to stop. Cau Troi... I think that they were trying to name the river after me, but spelled my name phonetically. 
I could not tell if this crop was tea, tobacco or something else.
I was following a local motorcycle for a while. He was nicely dressed in trousers and a button down shirt. All of the sudden he stopped his motorcycle, almost in the middle of the road, and leaped at something on the side of the road. When I passed him I could tell that he had caught something by the tail, but the body was still in the bushes lining the side of the road. I slowed down and circled around. I thought that maybe he had caught a big lizard. By the time that I made a complete circle he had pulled the animal out of the bushes and was hold it. It was a snake.

The guy was very excited and pretty happy with his freshly caught prey. 

He was smiling so much that I do not think he was even concerned that the snake was biting his hand. In the picture you can see that the snake is firmly biting him between his thumb and forefinger. 
The snake was pretty large, maybe about six feet or two meters long. I could not tell what type of snake it might be. I was looking more at the man's hand that was bleeding and the snake's head that was hissing at me. The snake definitely had teeth, but it did not appear to have fangs like most vipers. The man said something to me.  I think that he said, this is a BIG one. I smiled at him and shook my head in agreement. I just wanted to acknowledge that he was pretty awesome.
I rode on. Around lunch time I passed through a small village and found this roadside restaurant. The place was packed with people. It seemed like they catered to families and large groups. I was the only single person in the place. I sat down at a large table designed for 8 or 10 and asked for a menu. 
I ordered soup and barbecue pork. The meal came with this little bowl of items that I think were water chestnuts. I ate one, but I did not like the taste and texture. The soup and pork was good.

It was raining outside so I decided to take my time to eat and just enjoy the moment. After a while a large group of maybe 30 people entered the restaurant. It was kind of a mad scrabble by the staff to accommodate the group. The owner and the staff were scurrying around.  I looked at the owner and gave him a nod of my head. I was almost, but not completely finished with my meal. However, I wanted to let him know that I could finish my meal and vacate my table to accommodate the large group. He smiled back. He brought me my bill and removed the charge for my drink. It's funny how much a nod or smile can communicate. It is nice when simple gestures are rewarded with a smile or kindness. 
It just so happened that by the time that I paid my bill, the rain stopped. I continued on my journey and was treated to some lush green scenery with mountains in the background.
I rode through this valley that seems to wind through these protruding mountains as if were an obstacle course laid out by God.
I loved the simplicity of these wooden houses. Just by looking at them I could tell that they were built to withstand rain and harsh weather, but also open enough to allow the breeze to circulate within the structure during the hot and humid times... a house that breathes. 
Tile roof, wooden walls, concrete floor, tall enterior, open patio.
Water, grass, trees, valley, mountain, clouds, sky, sun.
Fields of corn against a backdrop of tall ridges.
While passing through this area I told myself that I would have to remember the beauty of this rustic place. The road was smooth and twisty. The scenery was superb. After riding for a few hours in the rain, the clouds parted and I was warmed and dried by the afternoon sun. For me, I think that it was the most beautiful road in Vietnam.