Imagine driving the huge passes all by yourself without seeing anybody for hours. To me, this was a crazy yet awesome experience, something I will remember for the rest of my life! Let me tell you the story of overcoming my fear and conquering the way from Hue to Khe Sanh.
A trip to see Khe Sanh came to fruition when my boyfriend Markus and I rented a motorbike in Saigon. A guy in the bike shop said that the route Hue – Khe Sanh – Phong Nha is not a popular one, but it is a remarkable journey for motorbike traveling enthusiasts. It was tempting but we were still hesitant. Not until Markus made up his mind to skip Da Nang to save time for Khe Sanh did we decide to embark upon this adventure.
It took 30 seconds to recall what I knew about Khe Sanh and figure out where it’s located. I had heard about the site from my favorite Vietnamese song, which is forbidden in Vietnam. Google showed me that it was an important combat base of the US army during the Vietnam War 50 years ago. A big attack took place which killed a lot of soldiers from both sides.
While Markus was very happy and excited about driving the route to feel like soldiers marching through East Truong Son, witnessing the battlefield bombed by US troops that is now healing day by day, a part of me wanted to ignore my insecurity in questioning whether this was adventure or not. I couldn’t ignore my worry over small things. A hundred “what if” questions popped into my head. What if our bike got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere? What if we run out of gasoline on an empty pass? Moreover, what if I feel hungry and there isn’t any food around me?
When I texted my friends at home to update them about this sudden trip to Khe Sanh, they began to worry and asked me these same questions. They even worried that I might be kidnapped by some bandits and they would never see me again. Please forgive city children like us. Our parents grew up during the war and suffered a lot. They do their best to provide us a better life in the lightful city. An adventure like Hue – Khe Sanh was something I was raised to never think about. But a few of my friends did encourage me to go. Bin, a guide with Onetrip, reassured me and gave me some tips for the trip. Bin’s advice and Mark’s plodding convinced me that this would be the adventure of a lifetime.
Finally, my invisible fears couldn’t win and my desire won out (thanks Dad for training me to be a brave girl). If other people had succeeded in conquering the route, so could we.
A Troublesome Start
This trip didn’t go well at first. We had an accident on the pass from Da Lat to Buon Ma Thuot, which caused damage to our motorcycle. The shop from which we rented our bike has a partner in Hue. As soon as we arrived in Hue, we took it there for repair. We got the bike back after nearly seven hours of fixing and decided to stay in Hue for one more day to ensure that the bike ran smoothly.
After having it fixed, Mark still thought there might be some problems. We ignored all the warning signs and stuck to the plan to leave Hue the next day.
The next morning, we woke up early to check it out and make time for drinking a cup of coffee at Root Cafe before we left (I mentioned this coffee shop in my article about one day in Hue– check it out here). It might not be a good habit but motorbike journeys in Vietnam require a good cup of Vietnamese coffee before you start.
30 minutes after we left the city center, when Mark tried to make a left turn onto a smaller road, suddenly, he almost lost control of the steering. “Someone must have cast a spell on our bike!” I told Mark. The crazy heat beating down and the frightening turn of events put a damper on our excitement. We brought the bike into a vendor mechanic nearby. In spite of the fact that our bike seemed unfixable, we had no choice but to trust him. Many of my fears were coming true.
After checking it, he came back to us saying that the previous mechanic might have forgotten to tighten a screw in the motorcycle steering. He also said that we were lucky because we detected the problem now. It would be dangerous if we crashed on the curvy pass to Khe Sanh. In addition, the engine oil was bad quality. It seemed like someone mixed the oil with water, increasing the heat of our engine and creating a burning smell.
While Mark angrily contacted the previous motorbike shop, the vendor mechanic had already finished repairing our bike. He even “invented” a simple radiator made of a bottle of water for our bike. In the end, he kindly wished us a safe and happy journey to Khe Sanh. Random acts of kindness in Vietnam seem to be around every corner, especially when things are looking a little bleak.
A Ride to the Famous Combat Base
There are two routes you can choose between Hue and Khe Sanh. The common route is about 132 kilometers long. It passes Quang Tri City on National Highway 1A. The other route is for adventurous travelers. On this 177 kilometer long route, we mainly drove up and down the mountain passes, taking many small breaks to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
It seemed like the road was newly made, so except for the few troubles with the bike in the beginning and the heat, our trip went smoothly. The ride was so dramatic as we drove up and down the curvy and gradient roads. It especially got harder after we entered the territory of Quang Tri Province.
Let me be honest, to a foreigner, the crazy traffic of Vietnam is intriguing. However, I find it annoying to drive my bike around Saigon with crazy drivers honking at my back. That’s why I felt grateful and happy to have a nice ride on an empty road to Khe Sanh. On the huge passes, we barely saw any people or vehicles apart from some trucks, which appeared occasionally. And the scenery was astonishing!
I would have spent the rest of my life regretting my decision if I had not accepted the risk to participate in this crazy adventure with Mark! Luckily, I don’t have to regret anything. Since there wasn’t any city noise or stress from normal life distracting us, we were able to pay more attention to the beauty of the surroundings, the sounds of mother nature, and the voice of our inner selves. During the long path, we drove past countless healthy green hills and a small ethnic village resting peacefully in a valley. This cute village was setting up a big party. We joked about joining them and we definitely would if time hadn’t mattered. As we were afraid of not making it to Khe Sanh before sunset, we had to keep going.
The most remarkable moment was when we saw a huge river winding its way through a green valley. Am I exaggerating? No, I am not! Never in my life have I seen a river that clean and clear! Compared to what I am used to in my hometown of Saigon where all of the rivers or canals are polluted, this was paradise. But this was a jade green river that fed the mountains with healthy drinking water. Since there aren’t many people living in this area, and urbanization is still dormant, the pollution hasn’t affected this area yet, so everything remains pristine. I still remember the urge to jump into the river, letting the water cool me down and wash away the stress and anxieties of daily life.
“Success belongs to those who dare to achieve it!”
After about six hours on the bike, the moment when the Victory Monument of Khe Sanh came into sight, I knew that we finally made it. We screamed and laughed loudly as our pride rose for our adventure and Vietnam!
Hotel in Khe Sanh – An Unexpected Surprise
The first thing we had to do when arriving to Khe Sanh was find a place to unpack our luggage before exploring the town. I usually book accommodation at least one day in advance. But, when I browsed for a room in this location on booking.com, there weren’t many options. Even so, we didn’t want to stay in a random room, so we decided to leave it until reaching Khe Sanh. Wandering around searching for a clean hostel or guesthouse was the better option. The mountains of Vietnam almost always afford relaxing and friendly stays with local families.
Contrary to our expectation, my hotel experience in Khe Sanh was an unbelievable one! We drove past a new big green hotel, I asked Mark to stop to check the room rate. I admit I was a little bit shocked when the receptionist told me it costs only 250,000 VND/night for a room on the sixth floor with a shared bathroom. And the hotel facility even has an indoor swimming pool, a children’s playground, and a coffee shop on the eighth floor. The price doesn’t make any sense! I had to ask the lady again just to make sure it was really 250,000 VND and not 250 USD!
Our room was quite small but cozy. The double bed was so soft and the cool atmosphere of Khe Sanh made me want to chill in bed all day and do nothing. Besides, the staff was friendly and helpful. I definitely recommend this hotel to my readers.
GreenHotel Khe Sanh
Address: 36 Le Duan, Huong Hoa, Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province.
Phone: (+84) 0233 2222 868
Facebook: GreenHotel Khe Sanh
Khe Sanh Combat Base – The Legendary Battlefield
Khe Sanh Combat Base (A.K.A Ta Con Airport) was built in 1962 and used from 1962 to 1975. In 1968, it was abandoned until the US army reactivated it in 1971 and abandoned it again in early April of the same year. Later on, it was taken over by the People’s Army of Vietnam. The combat base has played a very important role in history. It’s near the DMZ (Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone) and General Westmoreland, a famous U.S army general, thought that Northern Vietnam was planning a huge attack (like the Dien Bien Phu with the French)…instead they were planning the Tet offensive.
Nowaday, Khe Sanh Combat Base is a witness of history, many people (especially the old soldiers) travel here to visit the old battlefield, where they used to fight with their teammates. A museum displays pictures and weapons used in the battles. In the field, the abandoned helicopters, portions of the airstrip, and a restored bunkers are still showing.
Because the museum closes at 5 PM and we were there at 4 PM, we didn’t have much time to explore every corner of the combat base. Though we saw the museum, the restored bunker, and even touched the abandoned huge helicopter, we felt that we had seen enough. Get there early if you want to have more time wandering around and taking in the history.
Other Important Things to See
Besides the famous Khe Sanh Combat Base, you should also visit Lao Bao border crossing in the frontier of Vietnam in Lao (13 kilometers from Khe Sanh town). The scenery on the way to the border gate is magnificent with a great view. The citizens of Southeast Asia can even cross the border to enter Laos and visit Savannakhet with no visa required.
Mark and I skipped the Lao Bao border because we needed to leave early again for Phong Nha. It was another insane adventure on a said-to-be abandoned route. We crossed the curvey Sa Mu Pass in the foggy mist, with limited sight so we had to be extremely careful. The weather changed from cool and wet to warm and dry which made us feel super exhausted. But hey, that’s another story I’ll save for later.
Hue – Khe Sanh Pro tips
Here are some helpful things you should take note of to make this adventure a fun and memorable one:
- Have your bike checked before departure for your safety as you will mostly drive through curvy passes.
- Prepare food and drinks. As I mentioned, there are not many people living in this area. Therefore, it’s hard to find a food cart after you leave A Loui town.
- Wake up early to start driving. It’s pretty dangerous and risky to drive these passes at night.
- Check the weather and prepare the appropriate clothes like a wind breaker.
- Take frequent breaks to rest your body and keep your eyes sharp.
Today, I’m sitting in a comfortable bean bag, recalling the greatest memories of being all by myself, living in harmony with nature. I can’t stop smiling and wishing to go back there one day. I hope to provide you the information you need for your trip from Hue to Khe Sanh via National Route 49 and 14 (or Ho Chi Minh Route). If you are inspired by this article and are thinking about making the trip? I would say just go for it! You won’t be disappointed! Last but not least, have a safe trip! Don’t forget to share your experiences with me and other fellow travelers in the comments!
If you enjoyed reading this article and would like some more fun info about what to see, do and eat (and a bunch of interesting cafes!) in Vietnam, follow us at the Christina’s blog!