Forming the northern curve of Danang Beach, the Son Tra Peninsula wraps a protective arm around the city, sheltering it from the fierce winter storms. Once the site of brutal fighting during the American War, Son Tra still maintains a military presence in the form of naval installations but has now been classified as a national park. The wooded mountain slopes are home to an impressive diversity of flora and fauna, including red-cheeked gibbons and several varieties of langur.
Riding up the winding road, the panoramic views take on a mystical lustre in the soaking drizzle. Wisps of mist writhe through the tree trunks and giant fern leaves. If the fairies of legend descended to play a game on the giant flat rock atop Chess Board Peak or to play and bathe at Thien Sa (Fairies’ Landing), they would not seem out of place.
At the moment, Son Tra is blissfully untouched, a slice of natural beauty presiding over the vast sprawl of development below. Rumours bubble away regarding the future of the peninsula and the construction of an InterContinental resort at its base may be an indication of things to come, so take the opportunity to visit while the monkeys still gambol on the mountain.
The sun has already well and truly burned through the morning mist as I meet Mark Wyndham at his garage at 8am. A raft of mechanics is hard at work tinkering with his 35-strong fleet of Minsk and Minsk-hybrid motorbikes. A former tour leader for Intrepid Tours, Mark settled in Hoi An in with his German girlfriend, Simone (now his wife). Needing a break from working from a big international organisation, Mark quit his job and planned to spend a few weeks or even months planning his next move while taking in some much needed r’n’r. Luckily for him, Simone had other ideas. A talented web-designer (among other skills, Simone is also one of the founders of Hoi An Events, a destination wedding and event planning company), she created a website almost overnight and Hoi An Motorbike Adventures (HAMA) was born.
Mark’s somewhat gruff and sun-lined exterior hides an inquisitive mind with an obsession for all things military and an unexpected attention to detail. He may be the most Aussie man in town (not always, or even rarely, a compliment) but bike tours come with picnic lunches, replete with gourmet sandwiches and a fascinating array of anecdotes and trivia. If there’s a book on the American War that he hasn’t read — send it to him! His years of travelling the highways and byways coupled with his open attitude (not to discount the role of the odd — sometimes very odd — bottle of rice wine) have allowed him to forge friendships with the fascinating folk he meets along the way. All this adds up to a conduit into the history and lives of those in central Vietnam that few get to access.