Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Day 8 - Huong Khe to Dong Le

What a day! If I were to describe today in a single word, I would say ‘phenomenal’.

Having spent a lovely night at Duc Tai Hotel, by far the most luxurious stay we have had so far (three star!), we were all well rested and raring to go this morning. The mighty Danny McCance led an incredible stretching session, which of course quickly gathered a crowd of intrigued locals. Despite Coach McCance’s strenuous warm-up, the team was feeling quite relaxed knowing that we had a short ride ahead, an easy 54km. Excited to reach Dong Le in time for lunch, we set forth at about 9:30am.

A complete novelty, I was the first rider to leave the hotel, which meant I could enjoy being in first place (not that it is a race or anything!). Short-lived however, about two hundred metres down the road, I had to stop because I was convinced my handlebars were about to fall off! Super Chuong, our incredible mechanic, was quick to assist and I was back on my saddle within minutes. Chuong is an absolute star. We are so lucky to have him on our team.

The ride today was certainly the most beautiful so far. Blue skies, lush rice paddies and a wonderfully undulating road led us into the mountains. About 25km in, we turned off the main road and enjoyed the peace and quiet of a narrow country lane. The lane, some of which was still being constructed, soon began to wind itself around the mountains. Mid-climb, Annabel’s chain fell off, so myself along with Helen and Alex stopped to help her. Focussed on fixing the problem, we were unaware that an army of builders was marching down the mountain. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by men carrying all sorts of tools and equipment. Of course, they tried to help, but it was only Super Chuong that could be our knight in a shining DHL van! The builders were hilarious. Most of them were wearing brightly coloured floral sun hats, so we did a few helmet/hat swaps to have a laugh. One builder even tried to ride Helen’s bicycle. She was having none of it! 

Andrew, Colette and Chris also met an interesting group of people. Somewhat more intimidating than the construction workers, they encountered a bomb squad. This team of men work to identify unexploded mines. It is truly amazing who you meet when riding a bicycle in Vietnam. 

By 12pm, we had all arrived in the sleepy little town that is Dong Le. We had a spectacular ride today, with breathtaking scenery in every direction. Having made it to Dong Le in good time, there was more excitement on the cards. Our wonderful DHL drivers drove us to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. This vast network of caves and passages contains the world’s longest river cave and the world’s largest cave. The afternoon we spent in this truly magical wilderness was fantastic. An hour’s boat ride led us into Phong Nha Cave. Small rural communities lined the banks of the river, behind which was a backdrop of staggering limestone rock formations. On entering the cave itself, there was complete silence. The long-tail boats became rowing boats and the team was awestruck by the sheer beauty of this natural wonder. The size and grandeur of this particular cave was overwhelming. Lights scattered the interior illuminating certain features and we also took a short walk around part of the cave to take a closer look. Words simply cannot describe the magic!

After the boat ride back to base, we finished off the day with a tasty meal of rice and all sorts of goodies, before heading back through the mountains to Dong Le. A huge thank you to the Tuan, Thuong, Thuan and Thang, our lovely DHL men, for making not only our adventure this afternoon possible, but this entire ride too.
Whilst riding today, I kept count of a few things to give you a little insight - 

Buffaloes seen: 30
Cows avoided on the road: 4
Chased by a dog: 1
High fives: 20
Kisses: 1

Bring on 115km tomorrow!
Words by Natasha Fitzgerald x

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