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Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey – The Final Part – Kon Tum to Kham Duc and Hoi An

After an action packed few days on the motorcycle, the most southerly part of the Ho Chi Minh trail now awaited me on the final stretch of the motorcycle tour – this leg concluded the journey, heading up the trail from Kon Tum to stop off overnight at Kham Duc before arriving at Hoi An. The trail was the most important spinal network during the Vietnam War for the logistical transportation of Viet Cong troops, supplies and ammunition from the North to the South of Vietnam, with parts crossing over into nearby Laos and Cambodia. It was an area of supreme strategic and tactical importance and was therefore host to many bloody battles. Apart from the historical aspect of the trail, the landscape it cuts through is some of the most breath-taking in the world. The trail was originally quite compact, but its modernisation has led to the construction of long winding roads that cut through a the complex terrains. The next couple of days gave me a chance to see just what the jungle was about and ended up being the most enjoyable for cruising on the bike. The majority of time on both days was spent just taking in the sights and enjoying the bike ride.

As we moved on past Charlie Mountain and headed past the remains of a US airfield, the vegetation started to spring out at us more readily – the landscape was still trying to fight off the war remnants, and as we headed further out of Kon Tum towards Kham Duc, the scenery changed into thick forestry with the occasional beautiful waterfall, until finally becoming full grown jungle territory.

Breakfast with Mui Ne - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Breakfast with Mui Ne – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Charlie Mountain - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Charlie Mountain – Kon Tum, Vietnam


War Memorial - Kon Tum, Vietnam

War Memorial – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Schoolkids with Guns - Memorial at Kon Tum, Vietnam

Schoolkids with Guns – Memorial at Kon Tum, Vietnam


Kon Tum Airstrip - Vietnam

Kon Tum Airstrip – Vietnam


Start of Ho Chi Minh Trail - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Start of Ho Chi Minh Trail – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Ho Chi Minh Trail Roadsign - Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Trail Roadsign – Vietnam

En route, the only main stop off we had in terms of culture, was a brief visit to the Ve Tribe. They had much more traditional housing, bungalow in appearance, but again on stilts. In contrast to what I’d seen so far, they were built widely rather than deep, with the main entrances to the side of the building. For them, the bull was central to their sacrificial ritual, and in similar vein to the Ba Na, sees the bull with great power and presence – a protector of their people.

Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings - Vietnam

Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings – Vietnam


Bulls Skull - Ve Tribe, Vietnam

Bulls Skull – Ve Tribe, Vietnam


Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings - Vietnam

Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings – Vietnam


Ve Tribe Councilman Dwellings - Vietnam

Ve Tribe Councilman Dwellings – Vietnam


Ve Tribe Councilman - Vietnam

Ve Tribe Councilman – Vietnam


Children at Play - Ve Tribe, Vietnam

Children at Play – Ve Tribe, Vietnam


Twig Bridge - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Twig Bridge – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Wobbly Bridge - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Wobbly Bridge – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Schoolgirl Walking Home - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Schoolgirl Walking Home – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Restful Boy - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Restful Boy – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Hills of the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Hills of the Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Farming along the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Farming along the Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Smoky Invasion - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Smoky Invasion – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Jungle Post Agent Orange - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Jungle Post Agent Orange – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Rice Farming - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Rice Farming – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Hidden Waterfall - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Hidden Waterfall – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Modern Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Modern Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Peaceful Jungle - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Peaceful Jungle – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Jungle Canape - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Jungle Canape – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Jungle Valley - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Jungle Valley – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Local Kids of Kham Duc - Vietnam

Local Kids of Kham Duc – Vietnam


Woman Making Pancakes - Vietnam

Woman Making Pancakes – Vietnam

Upon arrival at Kham Duc in the Quang Nam province, I was at complete ease with myself and was completely blown away by the scenery. It was the final night of dining with Mui as the following day would complete our 5-day journey to Hoi An, so we decided to have a few beers and rice wine to see off the night. At this point, having spent the last 4 days with Mui, we felt a good bonding between us and it was a shame that it was to end soon…

The final stretch between Kham Duc and Hoi An was quite a short affair with some final spectacular jungle foliage to cut through with some wide rampaging rivers to cross over.

River Cutting Through the Jungle - Vietnam

River Cutting Through the Jungle – Vietnam


Rapid River - Vietnam

Rapid River – Vietnam


Colourful River - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Colourful River – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Riverboats - Vietnam

Riverboats – Vietnam

Mui did his usual emergency stop when he spotted something interesting. One touching visit was to a farmer and his wife who had apparently built shelter in the middle of nowhere. Mui questioned why they were so isolated on their own, and we learnt that they ran away a couple of years ago in order to be together and start a family. The customs of their village forbade them from marriage; so daringly, they decided to start life elsewhere on their own. They haven’t been back since.

Isolated Family - Ho Chi Minh Trial, Vietnam

Isolated Family – Ho Chi Minh Trial, Vietnam

As I was coming to terms that the trip in Vietnam was ending, Mui had one last trick up his sleeve. He took me into nearby Quy Thang to visit another temple – this time; it was of the Caoist religion. This is a modern day religion that attempts to combine world religions bringing together Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Their core belief is for peaceful homogenisation – that all beings should be able to live and share the same space, irrelevant of beliefs and worship the god that they choose unchallenged. It was an interesting premise that was working here…

Caoist Temple - Vietnam

Caoist Temple – Vietnam


The Three Saints of Caiosm - Vietnam

The Three Saints of Caiosm – Vietnam

At Hoi An, it was time to say a fond farewell to Mui after an incredible journey. Although it had only been 5 days since we met, it seemed a long time ago that he wandered into the hostel in Da Lat to offer me his services. And I’m glad he convinced me…

Mui and Me - Hoi An, Vietnam

Mui and Me – Hoi An, Vietnam

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-vietnam/history

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 3 – Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum

The third day of the motorcycle journey through the Vietnamese Highlands was the most ambitious one in terms of distances, needing to cover around 300km up to the next resting point of Kon Tum. In terms of millage, it doesn’t seem that long on the face of it, but on a motorbike doing around 60km/h average, it’s a fair distance with the stoppages planned on the way. Not only that, but we were greeted by a ferocious gale which froze us to the bone during the morning hours, the fight against the wind unbearable at times. Strangely, it painted a perfect picture of what we would see throughout the first couple of hours. Buôn Ma Thuột was definitely the starting point for more tales of the Vietnam War. The day was heavily based around its history and the journey was unable to escape the hangover of the war.

Our first stop off point was in fact at a War Memorial which gave me a chance to take a look at the vast amounts of names of people that had succumbed to the battle.

War Memorial - Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

War Memorial – Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam

Moving on, we battled our way through the wind on the incredible zigzagging roads through lower mountains, but the weather couldn’t spoil the breath-taking views of the countryside. I have to say, as much as I love photography, I really struggled to capture the ambiance and atmosphere that I was experiencing on the road without real preparation – this was definitely more a personal feeling of freedom over the photography of what you would probably define as customary countryside.

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam


On The Road - Vietnamese Central Highlands

On The Road – Vietnamese Central Highlands


Cut Through the Forest - Vietnam

Cut Through the Forest – Vietnam

En route, we managed to veer off track to check out a vast Vaseline and rubber tree plantation. With the wind at full force, it was a brilliantly eerie setting, with the tunnels of noise thundering through the canapés as we wandered about.

Vaseline Trees - Vietnam

Vaseline Trees – Vietnam

After scaring ourselves silly, we then hopped back on the bike and stopped off at a nearby rice noodle factory. Again, one might expect the factory to be a huge full blown production system – in fact, it was yet again owned by a small family who milled the rice noodles by hand and basic machinery.

Local Rice Noodle Makers - Vietnam

Local Rice Noodle Makers – Vietnam


Rice Noodle Rack - Vietnam

Rice Noodle Rack – Vietnam

Not too far down the road, we then came across some peppercorn ranches followed by my first proper introduction to the best fruit I’ve ever tasted – the Star Fruit. Mui told me I’d had it in the spring rolls yesterday and this could have been why they were so succulent. As I’d picked these from the source, they were ripe and irresistible, the freshest and sweetest fruit I’ve ever had!

Coffee Groves - Vietnam

Coffee Groves – Vietnam


Peppercorn Groves - Vietnam

Peppercorn Groves – Vietnam


Star Fruit Plant - Vietnam

Star Fruit Plant – Vietnam

It was then time for lunch. We couldn’t have stopped off any further off the beaten track. It was like the American mid-west. There was nothing insight apart from farmland and forest in the distance, a gas station and this one restaurant. We’d obviously arrived just after lunchtime as the place was a complete mess. Mui said that the mess showed signs of why we are here – it gets busy because it’s the best crispy chicken around. And boy was he right. I was beginning to wonder if I was getting carried away, but the chicken was amazing. Crispy as hell skin topped with some secret spice recipe with succulent tenderness beneath. All served with rice noodles and shrimp sauce. We had two servings each…

Back on the bike, we then headed onwards to Kon Tum. This took us through Play Cu and Ham Rong which is otherwise known as the Valley of the Dead and borders Skeleton or Charlie Mountain. Having come through some thick vegetation en route from Buon Ma Thout, this was a complete contrast in scenery. The scars of the Vietnam War were substantial here. There were huge flat plains which were left lifeless from the huge from Agent Orange bombings.

Charlie Mountain - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Charlie Mountain – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rice Gathering - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rice Gathering – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Effects of Agent Orange - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Effects of Agent Orange – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Mui told me how the area used to be thick jungle, the scenery true to the depictions in Vietnam War movies. It used to be brimming with life and the jungle would dominate the area for hundreds of miles. This was a key area for Viet Cong outposts that the US army couldn’t infiltrate and one of the most underestimated treacherous areas the US soldiers would enter – an area the Viet Cong thrived in and ultimately led to their victory. The only way for the US to take the Kon Tum area was to bomb it, even if it meant sacrificing US troops. And the scars were here to be seen.

We arrived in Kon Tum late in the afternoon – a little battered and weary from the earlier winds that then turned into red hot sunshine. The first thing that we bizarrely went to visit was the Kon Tum Wooden Church or the Christian Church of the Tay Nguyen people. The church was built in 1913 by French christian priests during Vietnam’s occupation. It is perfectly designed under the combination of Roman architectural style and Ba Na people’s architecture for stilt housing which resulted in the beautiful convergence of Tay Nguyen culture and Western style.

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

From there, we ventured off to visit the more traditional side of Vietnam and meet two more tribes – the Ba Na and Gie Trieng. As with each tribe, they both have their symbolism and rituals which we had a chance to peek at. The Ba Na Tribe is easily recognised by the huge sky-scraping village halls or communal housing (rong), built on high stilts with huge thatched roofs and long corridors. Within the Ba Na tribe, the focal point of marriage is the responsibility of the individuals – which is quite rare. They also worship the God of Water and the Mountains, with human spirit being central to life. Music is a huge part of the Ba Na tradition, and I had a chance to watch the local councilman play on his hand built t’rung xylophone and even have a go at playing myself.

Ba Na Tribe Hall - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Tribe Hall – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam


Beams of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Beams of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Ba Na Councilman on the T'rung Xylophone - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Councilman on the T’rung Xylophone – Kon Tum, Vietnam

The Gie Trieng Tribe were located nearby and were quite similar. However, the buffalo is the most symbolic to them, with regular ritual ceremonial sacrifices. They believe that this transfers the strength and presence of the animal to their tribe.

Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam

As we wandered through the villages in the late evening sunshine, we were greeted once more by local children on their way home from school. As we sat witnessing the sunset over the nearby river, we also saw the local rush hour home, with horse and cattle carts coming back across the bridge from the nearby farmlands.

Sunset over a Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Sunset over a Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Farmer En Route Home - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Farmer En Route Home – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Steel Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Steel Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Children behind Bars - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Children behind Bars – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Suitably chilled out, we ate at a local pancake stall in the village – a concoction of rice flour, eggs, beef and vegetables. Simple and delicious again. Then, it was time for bed in preparation for Day 4…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/kon-tum/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/kon-tum

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |