Welcome to Vietnam… Again!!
OK, so I know I was in Vietnam in January this year, had a fab time and met up with old friends and new alike. I also know I haven’t written the blog for that backpacking visit yet, so you’re just going to have to wait, and in the meantime read all about my current visit on my Azub Ti-Fly Trike.
As you may have read in the previous blog, (if not why not!?) I’ve just left Cambodia and I’m about to enter into Vietnam along with Quentin, my travelling buddy of the moment. Read on Macduff…
- Friday 10th May 2019
- Kampong Cham to Tam Bien Vietnam
- Distance 95 km Total 25582 km
Having just left Cambodia, we cycle 100 metres to the Xa Mat Vietnam Border Checkpoint and park outside. It’s a huge building in comparison to the Cambodian one. And very empty.
We disturb the one stern faced officer from his Alibaba shopping and request permission to enter, giving him our passports and visas. He waves at us and says something loudly. It takes us a while, and two repeats for us to realise he wants us to sit down. We look behind us and there are 4 orange plastic chairs. We sit. We twiddle our thumbs and look at all the security cameras looking at us. We get our phones out and check emails etc, but dare not take any pics just in case. The guy is back on his phone, talking animatedly. We go back to twiddling. A few locals come through and are stamped straight through. Another guy in crisp uniform and peaked cap arrives. More stars on his shoulders. He takes the Visa sheets from the first guy and seems to say, “You fool, just stamp their passports and let them in, they’ve already got their e-visas!”. Or he could be just telling him what he had for lunch. We see him duck his head and hear a stamp or two going off. Sounds like we’re in. He waves us up and passes me my stamped passport and visa. Brilliant.
At this stage, we need to go passed him to the next part of the building. Our bikes and bags are still out front and we can see the luggage scanner further down the building. There’s no way our bikes will get passed the barriers and desks, so I decide the best plan is to walk through, exit onto Vietnamese soil, walk back around the building and bring my bike round where the cars come through. Quentin is still waiting for his passport at this stage. On I go. The next desk says Health Questionnaire. I look at the two lady officers and shrug. They point behind me at the desk I’ve just come from. No, I’ve just been there, look, got my stamped passport. They wave again, I shrug and decide to walk towards the luggage scanners instead and they go back to their phones. Wow! The customs guy at the luggage scanner waves me on, as I have no luggage. I exit the building and another guy sat at a desk at the top of the stairs checks my passport. All good, carry on. Oh, by the way, no one has spoken English except the first guy. I proceed to walk back to no man’s land and get on my bike. Just then Quentin comes out the door we went in and says the passport guy wants to see me. Really? Why? He shrugs. I decide to cycle back to the rear of the building to save time. Obviously this is the wrong thing to do as I see the guy waving madly at me from the window. But I just point and say I’ll park up at the back! Maybe he understood. Anyhoo, I do so and walk back into the building. He asks for my passport, checks it and gives it back waving me off. Not sure what just happened there.
Again, I walk back through the building, passed the ladies and the luggage scanner. Outside, the customs officer who was at the luggage scanner is now sat on my trike, fag in mouth rocking about… “Oiy!” I shout. He looks around and jumps off. By this time, Quentin has joined me with his bike, having not come through the building but back out the front door and the passport checker at the top of the steps wants his passport now! Suddenly the now sullen customs luggage scanning officer points at out bike panniers and back into the building. Ah bugger. Maybe I shouldn’t have shouted at him. We have to unload all our gear, walk it up the steps and chuck it through the scanner. I’m thankful we don’t have to put the bikes through! To cut a long story short… oh wait I haven’t … we are finally released and can cycle off into Vietnam. We promptly do so just in case they change their mind and insist on a cavity search! Especially as I didn’t see a single dentist!!
Welcome to Vietnam! Well, there’s no sign, but we hi-five and pedal on. It’s an uneventful 15 km to the first town, Tam Bien, but there’s definitely a different feeling to the place. Vietnam is much busier, and weirdly much greener. Lots more agricultural activity going on. Mopeds galore and very friendly people waving and shouting to us. As we enter town, we need a few things. They are, in no particular order: find food, find a SIM card, find accommodation. And, most importantly, get money from an ATM, or nothing else will happen. It’s quite a lively town, but on Maps.Me only 1 guesthouse shows up. We decide to go there first. It’s down a dusty back street and unfortunately it doesn’t look that great. Hmm. After seeing the rooms, we tell the old lady proprietor that we need to get money as an excuse to get out of there – it happens to be true too! Back on the main drag we spot an ATM. We both jump into the air-conditioned ATM stall and withdraw cash. Luckily, we were able to fight off the lady who wanted to jump in front of us. On the 3rd attempt starting at 15,000,000 then 10,000,000 Quentin finally manages to withdraw 5,000,000 Dong. (1 US Dollar equals 23,306 Dong, well that’s going to make our mental arithmetic hard!) I do the same, then we decide enough’s enough and we go find WiFi and coffee. Maybe we can find accommodation elsewhere. We have a hilarious time once we find a place, trying to order 2 iced coffees and get WiFi, but finally do so and even manage to find alternative accommodation not far away.
By now the heat is high and we’re dripping, so we head over to check out the accommodation. It turns out to be a 1 story elongated block with 6 rooms, the first being occupied by the old lady owner. We haggle but get nowhere and have to agree to give her 170,000 dong each for the pleasure of an aircon room each. Yep, $7.28, a princely sum indeed. She even tells us we can park our bikes in the rooms, excellent. Washed and refreshed, we still need food and SIM cards, so cycle our naked bikes back into town. We cycle around the busy local produce market, I lose my flag for a while when it gets ripped off by the overhead sunshades, and we pretty much cause a huge stir as we navigate the narrow aisles of the open air market. We ask some ladies outside a shop if they do chicken noodle soup, well I just point and shout “Pho Gha?” with a questioning inflection. Much merriment and cackling ensues but we get waved into their shady market restaurant and sat down onto kiddy sized stools. We’re then given rice, fried chicken and veggies. Definitely not chicken noodle soup, but none the less we’re starving and don’t complain.
We even manage to find an English speaker who tells us where to get a SIM card. Which we do next.
With all our tasks completed we decide it’s time for an afternoon nap. We’ve been up since 2.45am and are now wilting rapidly in the heat. In the evening, we pop out again. Quentin has never been to Vietnam, so I want to take him to get Banh Mi, another Vietnamese national institution. Banh Mi is a unique French-Vietnamese sandwich that’s great for when you’re in need of a quick meal. Priced between 10,000 and 20,000, it consists of a baguette sandwich, pickled vegetables, pate, butter, hot sauce, cilantro, chillies, and hot peppers. Most banh mi sellers also offer a wide range of meat fillings, including heo quay (roasted pork belly), trung op la (fried egg), thit nuong (grilled pork loin), cha ca (fried fish with turmeric and dill), cha lua (boiled sausages), xa xiu (Chinese barbecued pork), and thit ga (poached chicken). Oh god, if you’ve had one you know how delicious they are. We end up sat on little stools again eating them at a street cart. We have one each then order another round. Then a 3rd, but we’re going to keep these for breakfast. The ladies are loving our appetites and again there’s much hilarity and banter, even if neither of us know what they’re saying!
We get some water, and stop for 1 celebratory beer in a karaoke place but then it’s back to bed, another early start tomorrow!!
- Saturday 11th May 2019
- Tam Bien to Chu Chi
- Distance 85 km
- Total 25667 km
Our first full day of cycling in Vietnam. What will it bring? Well for a start at 3am it’s lovely and cool. We knock on the old ladies door and she hands our passports back and let’s us out, talk about prison mentality! We actually tried to get them back last night so we didn’t have to worry about waking her up but she was adamant. So we stood and she delivered (Adam Ant joke anyone?)
We’re heading cross country towards Dau Tieng Reservoir who’s shoreline we’ll follow for sometime before more cross country meanderings. This is purely to stay of the more heavily trafficked main roads. After an hour of dark country lanes we cycle into a small town. At a crossroads there’s a huge statue with fierce lighting all about. We cycle over to the square to investigate and find a bunch of ladies and one man doing some sort of Tài chi but with swords. We greet each other and video and photo them as they dance about. Amazing!
On we cycle and as I need the toilet we stop at a coffee shack. May as well have a coffee too. If you’ve ever had Turkish coffee then this was twice as strong and twice as grainy. It sits there gurgling at us and Quentin is scared! In fact he can’t finish his but I persevere (I have to swill my mouth out after!). When we cycle out we suddenly realise its got light. As we near the reservoir we’re cycling through plantations (no idea yet what the plants are) and then down a very long tree tunnel as rubber trees either side of the road create a sort of ceremonial arch across the road for us. We stop and drop down to the trees. Each has a cup attached to the trunk and a funnel driven in to catch the Sap which is oozing from shallow, diagonal cuts in the bark. Quentin grabs one of the rubbery sap splodges from the bottom of the cup and stretches it apart. It really is rubbery (funnily enough) but now he’s complaining his hands stink to high heaven. I make a hasty retreat and pedal off.
It really is a beautiful ride today. Finally we reach the reservoir and turn right to follow the shoreline. Unfortunately the road is now broken up every couple of hundred metres by rough and very large hard packed gravel. It’s not too bad on the trike with full suspension, but Quentin’s touring bike is shaking his body to pieces and slamming his already sore butt until we have to slow down. There’s a berm of dirt between us and the reservoir and we see people on mopeds riding along it so we decide to take a ramp up onto it and see if it fares any better. We’ll it’s a lot smoother and we can see the shore now, but it’s also very dirty and in a few places waterlogged or wet loose sand.
We decide to take a break and sit on a wall eating our breakfast Banh Mi that we purchased last night. Still yummy.
It’s a really lovely picnic spot looking out over the waters. The sun just trying to peak through the clouds and a very light mist above the farmers fields.
We push on returning to the butt busting road but decide to slow down to ensure as little suffering as possible. After 24 km of shoreline we finally move away from the reservoir and head cross country again. Apart from a stop for a second breakfast and water the rest of the way passes by on fast, smooth tarmac.
30 km later we are pulling into the grounds of the Chu Chi Tunnels memorial and museum. There’s also a hotel here with about 12 rooms and happily there’s no-one staying so getting a room is easy.
The tunnels of Cu Chi were built over a period of 25 years that began sometime in the late 1940s. They were the improvised response of a poorly equipped peasant army to its enemy’s high-tech ordnance, helicopters, artillery, bombers and chemical weapons.
The Viet Minh built the first dugouts and tunnels in the hard, red earth of Cu Chi (ideal for their construction) during the war against the French. The excavations were used mostly for communication between villages and to evade French army sweeps of the area.
When the VC’s National Liberation Front (NLF) insurgency began in earnest around 1960, the old Viet Minh tunnels were repaired and new extensions were excavated. Within a few years the tunnel system assumed enormous strategic importance, and most of Cu Chi district and the nearby area came under firm VC control. In addition Cu Chi was used as a base for infiltrating intelligence agents and sabotage teams into Saigon. The stunning attacks in the South Vietnamese capital during the 1968 Tet Offensive were planned and launched from Cu Chi.
Around 3pm just as we’re thinking of cycling into the local town for food the heavens open in a monsoon like barrage of rain. We stand under shelter and watch the downpour cleaning the days mud sand and grime off our bikes. Well that saves us a job! I pop back to my room to grab my phone and walk into a flood. There must be an inch of water all over the tiled and now very slippery floor! Bugger, where’s that coming from? I soon locate the culprit. The attached balcony is flooding and the water is flowing into the room under the sill-less doors.
We call over the reception girl who promptly falls on her arse and is now soaked. Oh dear, can I have another room please?
Fortunately there’s plenty to chose from and I’m soon moved.
- Sunday 12th May 2019
- Chu Chi to Vinh An
- Distance 96 km
- Total 25763 km
Yesterdays rain went on for hours, we managed to find food just over from the hotel, but it was very basic noodles in weak broth and a fried egg, and we got soaked getting there and back. In the evening we venture further in raincoats and find a small shop in someone’s front room. We buy baguettes, cheese triangles, crisps and crackers. Fully loaded we flee back to the accommodation for a room picnic!
At 3am the rain has stopped, darn, time to cycle again. Today’s route will see us do about 50km on normal busy roads then the last 40km along a quiet road beside a river… Yeah right! The main roads are actually very good. There’s a third lane for bikes and motorbikes and the tarmac is smooth and allows us to move quickly.
However, the river road is at times full of potholes. The tarmac is very rough and it seems there’s a number of quarries nearby as a steady procession of dust inducing trucks keep thundering by. Did I tell you it was a narrow country road? At least its overcast, well it is until about 10am then the sun breaks out and the heat rises, along with the hills! Who knew Riverside roads could be so hilly (thinks back to Pamir Highway… Oh yeah!!)
By 1130 we’re in Vinh An our target for today. Well I’m just rolling in, Quentin has been relaxing in a shop for the last 40 mins waiting for me! By 12, having had 2 ice lollies a drink and a lie on the floor I’m ready to go look for some accommodation, as we’d normally be in bed snoozing by now. The first 3 are either overpriced or a bit grotty or both, the 4th, 3.3km away from the town centre is OK. It has hourly rates, day rates and night dates, we manage to wangle a night rate only deal even though its not supposed to start from 9pm check in. What sort of place is this!?
- Monday 13th May 2019
- Vinh An to Ma Da Guoi
- Distance 86 km
- Total 25849 km
We set off cross-country today. The back roads actually cut off quite a chunk of mileage rather than sticking to the main roads.
And it’s an absolute breeze, swooping around the curves, riding one minute between banana trees, the next rubber trees or fields of green crops.
After an hour we cross over the main road for another short cut that also cuts out a hill. 3km later having swooped some more along some beautiful smooth tarmac the road runs out… It turns into a quagmire dirt track and I can see a fast paced stream crossing it further along.
Doh! Retreat. Quentin checks Google maps and thinks there’s a road we can take that’ll take us more directly to the main road. I follow his tracks and soon we’re off down a narrow dirt track. A couple of corners later and we come to some huge, trackwide puddles. I decide to carry on and it’s not too bad, a bit deep but manageable. I call Quentin through and we carry on. 100 meters further we are forced to admit defeat as the road again turns into a quagmire. Back to the main road it is then via the deep puddles!!
For the rest of the day we’re on route 20. It’s busy but manageable and we encounter several hills, well we are heading for Da Lat which is at 1500m ASL.
With about 16km to go to our stop point Quentin bumps into Hung, a Vietnamese cycling tourer also on his way to Da Lat. We decide to cycle together for the rest of the day. They soon leave me in their dust as I struggle in the heat and hills, but that’s fine as they manage to find some nifty accommodation before I arrive. We decide to head straight back out for lunch as it’s later than we thought. That and Hung can help us with the language!
I buy a new hat to replace the one I’ve been travelling in for the past 4 years. Its ripped and on its last legs. The new one may be ugly but the huge brim should keep me cooler and it was only $1.40!
- Tuesday 14th May 2019
- Ma Da Guoi to Di Linh
- Distance 77 km
- Total 25926 km
We’re back to our 3am start. Hung doesn’t look very awake and to be fair neither do we. Today we know we’re going to gain nearly 900 metres in height. It doesn’t help that the first hour we spend gaining 130 meters, only to dropback down the other side of the ridge to the same height we started at. In fact, although we gain 900 meters in height today we will actually climb for 1350 meters!!
Just as its getting light we get to the bottom of a valley where we know the next 10km are all uphill with a 600 meter height gain. We decide now would be a good time to stop for breakfast. The only thing we can find is a rather expensive plate of fried packet noodles with some beef, veggies and a fried egg in top. Once we’ve doused it in oyster and soy sauce it’s not half bad.
I decide to get an early start on the other two, no doubt they will catch me soon anyway so I head off down the last little bit of hill before turning the corner and climbing. I get to the bottom of the hill and in the distance see some very slow moving trucks ascending the road. As luck would have it, another one pulls out of a yard right in front of me, well not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth I pedal like mad to catch the back of the truck and grab on. Off we go!! Wow, this guys really motoring and hanging on is decidedly dodgy. As he decides to overtake another truck on a blind corner I see my opportunity and fall of the back and grab onto the rear of the one he’s overtaking. Ahh, a much more sedate 15kmph. Easy peasey. So for the next 40 minutes or so I hang on. Changing arms occasionally to get a rest. Trucks and cars come up behind and overtake, either staring at me or giving me the thumbs up. After 10km we crest the final rise and I let go and cruise over to the side of the road. I wait a while but no sign of the other two. Perhaps they didn’t find a tow? I decide to push on to Bao Loc, the next town.
Quentin arrives soon after me and we sit at a coffee shop waiting for Hung. He is heading off to a pagoda but wanted to share a coffee at his favourite coffee house before leaving us.
Unfortunately after an hour he still hasn’t turned up. It’s possible hes still walking up the hill! We can’t wait around all day and neither of us got his contact details so guiltily we head off.
The rest of the day gets progressively harder as our tired legs threaten to give up on us. We’re still climbing but also descending, which means we have to regain the lost height again. The heat is oppressive but finally storm clouds start to roll in and by the time we finally roll into Di Linh its cooled off. We end up visiting 3 rather rundown guest houses (Nha Nghi in Vietnamese) before settling for one on the main road. Only problem is our rooms are on the 4th floor!! Oh my aching knees.
In the evening we venture out for food, finding a quasi Korean BBQ place. Quentin enjoys a double portion of meat, cooked by his very own chef at the table. I stick with fried rice. No I’m not turning veggie. I just didn’t fancy meat tonight!!
Back at the guesthouse Quentin asks me to borrow my clippers to trim his hair and I end up helping him. We both end up covered in hair along with the floor! At least he looks much tidier now.
- Wednesday 15th May 2019
- Di Linh to Da Lat
- Distance 73 km
- Total 25999 km
At last we’ve arrived in Da Lat, time for a couple of days rest.
A few quick stats:
Siam Reap Cambodia to Da Lat Vietnam
Distance 773km Days 8 Average kmpd 85.88km Height Gain 1450m Uphill 3950m Downhill 2500m Maximum height 1510m (Da Lat) No punctures or technical issues for either of us.
Today was all about the climb to Dalat. The lead up 57km was up and down but the final push in blistering heat had me down as slow as 2.8kmph, I think the fastest I managed was 8kmph. It took me two hours with only 1 stop for a quick ice cream to summit. Fortunately there were no lorries allowed on the road, but there were plenty of buses, cars and mopeds. A couple of times speeding buses came close but all was good in the end.
The hill town of Da Lat has long been the most popular location in the region for getaway holidays since French colonial times. Many people call it ‘Le Petit Paris’ and the town even features a mini-replica Eiffel Tower in its centre! Situated on a plateau 1,500 metres above sea level, this retreat town offers a good change of atmosphere with a refreshingly cool climate while other cities in Vietnam can be very hot and humid especially during summer. Trousers and jumpers are needed if visiting Dalat from November to around March as temperatures hover at about 10°C. Da Lat is famous for its wide variety of flowers, vegetables and fruit from its surrounding farmlands as well as countless nature sites; its beautiful landscape, evergreen forests and minority villages. The area’s main sources of income are from agriculture and the tourism industry but the city is also very proud of being an education centre.
There are lakes, waterfalls and adventure parks all around. Hiking trails should keep our legs warm whilst we take a few days rest from cycling.
- Thursday 16th/Friday 17th May 2019
- Da Lat Sightseeing
So, time for a couple of rest days. And when I say rest I mean sightseeing. Fortunately we don’t have to cycle around, as we can hire mopeds!
Da Lat is actually a very nice clean looking town. There’s a huge lake and some quirky building around, plus waterfalls, temples and hiking to be done. It’s also a lot cooler up here at 1500 meters which is a bonus.
We get a taxi to drop us off at the motorbike rental shop and we are soon the proud rentalees of two rattle and shake mopeds. The man points us in the direction of the nearest petrol station, but due to a misunderstanding on Quentin’s part we go up the wrong road and I run out of fuel in the middle of a busy street! We turn around and fortunately Quentin can push my scooter with his foot from behind and its mainly down hill to the petrol station. Which is good because Quentin also runs out with about 100 meters to go. We push the bikes to the forecourt looking like two idiot barang!
Refuelled we take a spin around Xuan Huong Lake. It’s quite peaceful and there’s some lovely buildings and a theme park beside it.
OK time for the main event, we’re off to Elephant Waterfalls, about 30km South West of the city. We soon leave the traffic behind and are winding along pine strewn country roads.
There’s a great lookout halfway that gives you an amazing view of the forest and valleys below.
We also stop at Chua Van Duc pagoda. The pagoda has a large statue of Guan Yin Buddha, which can been seen from a distance. Around the temple there are many sculptures, trees and flowers that create a beautiful landscapes.
At the falls the recent rains have swollen the river with muddy waters. We take a walk down some rickety steps and over slippery rocks to a wet and misty viewing platform near the base!
Waterfalls done, its time for some weasel poop. Or more precisely Lawak coffee.
The weasels are actually Civets. (Don’t ask me why they call it weasel coffee!)
Civet coffee (Lawak) is famous and, at least in Europe, insanely expensive. Mainly because of its rather bizarre way of production. Imagine an animal that looks like 1/3 weasel, 1/3 cat and 1/3 racoon and loves eating nice and ripe coffee cherries. During the process of digestion, the cherries ferment and the protease enzyme enters the coffee beans, shortening the peptides and creating more free amino acids. Supposedly! In the wild the cats would pick only the ripest and best berries, here they are caged and given what they get, so the selection process is rather human made. We pay a princely sum for our coffee, but much less than in Europe I would think, and sit looking out over the coffee plantation and hills beyond. Bleugh!!! What’s this? Tastes like weasel poop.
Suitably unimpressed we head back to Da Lat.
In the evening we hit up the Maze Bar. Set on a myriad of levels this quirky bar will soon have you lost in its maze of sculpted tunnels, niches , stairways and creepy paraphernalia. What a laugh! And the beers were good too so long as you can re-find the bar!
Next day we take the cable car ride up over the hills to Tuyen Lam Lake. The ride up through the forest is stunning and after walking around the pagoda and grounds Quentin enjoys a dip in the lake to cool off. We spend the next hour or so relaxing with coffees at the lakeside.
Once back at the hotel it’s time to wash down our bikes and give them a check over after the last weeks riding. It’s not all fun in the sun you know!
In the evening we visit the bustling night market and sample several street food delicacies.
- Saturday 18th May 2019
- Da Lat to Nha Trang
- Distance 137 km
- Total 26136 km
We decided last night to leave a little later than our normal set off time after all its cooler up here. We’re heading to the coast and Nha Trang, a tourist city about 130km away. This is way beyond a normal day’s cycling mileage, but some of it is downhill. By 440am we’re on the go and soon cycling into the hills, forest and farmland that surround Da Lat. In fact, there’s huge amounts of greenhouses up here where the more temperate weather is great for growing flowers and fruits, particularly strawberries.
We know from looking at our maps that the first 60 km today is quite hilly with over 1000 meters of climb and corresponding descent, including two big climbs of 300 plus meter gain. However the next 35km are all downhill!! By the time we reach the top of the descent were already pooped, but at least the down will give us some respite, or so we thought. Actually it takes a huge amount of mental effort and some physical effort. This is because we’re constantly looking for potholes, rough road, gravel and traffic as we shoot down. I reach a max speed of 63kmph, but I’m always braking for hairpin corners, having to lean into them to stop the trike flipping from centrifugal forces! It’s especially not nice hitting bumps in a corner at speed!
By midday we’re at the bottom and pull in for some much needed food. The green fried rice we’re served is weird looking but filling. We take some time out from the heat and relax in hammocks, but need to make a decision. There’s still 45 km to get to Nha Trang, it’s roasting hot, but there’s not much in the way of accommodation between here and there. Obviously we decide we need to push on.
The next 4 hours are some of the hardest riding I’ve done in ages. It’s not the distance or the undulations (although I could swear at that!) but the heat of the day. There’s not a lot of shade, and we end up several times hosing ourselves down whenever we pass somewhere with water. On one stop they were wetting newly laid cement and were more than happy to drench us. We make hourly stops too for more drinks and resort to asking for ice which we place in towels and wrap around our necks. Finally we enter the hustle and bustle of downtown Nha Trang. The traffic is immense and there are Russian tourists everywhere! Our legs and bodies are just able to get us to our hotel of choice on a busy street just back from the seafront. There’s a massage parlour in the foyer, and we have to park our bikes at another hotel, but other than that it’s okay!
Nha Trang is a coastal resort city known for its beaches, diving sites and offshore islands. Its main beach is a long, curving stretch along Tran Phu Street backed by a promenade, hotels and seafood restaurants. Aerial cable cars cross over to Hòn Tre Island, and the nature reserves of Hòn Mun and Hòn Tằm islands, reachable by boat, have coral reefs.
In the evening we pop out to the beach front area. The traffic is manic and although it’s dark there are still lots of people coming off the beach, mainly Russians in speedos and beer bellies with a blonde in high heels tottering beside him! We head to a bar recommended by my mate Nick from Hanoi. It’s right on the beach and Quentin soon has us chatting and playing games with a cute Russian girl sat alone drinking from a coconut at the bar. She tells us that most people hit the beach from 5am to 10pm then again about 5pm to 9pm. The middle of the day is just a bit too hot!!
- Sunday 19th May 2919
- Nha Trang rest day
I’m awake at 7 and decide to go see what the beach is like at this time of day. It’s already in the 30s and the city is awake and bustling. A quick walk and I’m soon sweating but now I’ve got the sand beneath my feet and the water lapping around my ankles it doesn’t seem so bad. Again there are loads of Russian tourists (recurring theme!) already wallowing in the water or sunning their thonged bare buttocks.
After 30 minutes I’m baked and head for an iced coffee, I’ll leave the serious tanning to the Ruskies! Yesterday I got a message from a fellow Brit who lives in Nha Trang. He’s big into Bikepacking, Hammock Camping and Raft packing and I readily agree to meet him for a chat with the promise of beer and some home cooked food. Quentin is feeling ill and declines an invite so I call up a Grab Bike taxi and I’m soon whizzing through the beach promenade traffic.
I meet Mark outside his house and he invites me in. His wife, Sang, passes us both a beer and we’re soon chewing the fat whilst flopped down in huge beanbags being gnawed upon by his lovely mini rottweiler, Google!
Marks full carbon fat bike (it barely weighs anything!!) is sat in the living room with us taking pride of place, he obviously has his priorities right.
Bikepacking is a self-supported style of lightly-loaded bicycle touring. Bikepackers typically ride on dirt roads in remote places. A typical bikepacking set-up includes a frame bag, handlebar roll, seat pack and backpack. Bikepackers ride on wider tires and can also have suspension on their bicycles, this lighter set up enables them to more easily reach remote single-track places in the mountains or wherever for that matter. Random bikepacker images
He’s soon showing me his lightweight hammock setup and other gear, the hammock is especially interesting as I’ve been researching them recently.
I’m wondering if I should make a change now as I’m currently carrying a far too big (and heavy) 3 man tent. There’s also a good chance that in SE Asia I’m not going to camp very often in this heat.
Mark is a font of knowledge and has his own Facebook page https://m.facebook.com/Bikepacking/
and YouTube channel https://youtu.be/X8StBGoRxvk
Go check them out if your interested in bikepacking!
We end up going out to his local bar which is also a dive shop, Dive Alpha Vietnam. The owner another Brit, joins us for a beer and we enjoy an afternoon of banter and knowledge swapping (I only managed to teach Mark one new thing, pouring your unused alcohol stove fuel back into the bottle as opposed to away!) mainly in my direction. Then back to Mark’s house for a lovely home cooked meal.
Thanks for the hospitality guys, and all the best for the future.
- Monday 20th May 2019
- Nha Trang to Dai Lanh
- Distance 83km
- Total 26219km
All too soon my alarm clock goes off. Thick tongued and a little hungover I scrabble around packing stuff I should have done yesterday! I’m just in time to meet Quentin at 3am in the hotel lobby. We walk down the street to where are bikes are parked and get on our way. But we’ve got a slight detour to be made, last night I agreed to sell my tent to Mark and he paid me upfront. So now we need to drop it off. Fortunately he lives just off our route out today. At this time in the morning the cities streets are quiet apart from some party goers heading home and one man in a pair of speedos carrying a large inflatable ring… Russian perhaps?
We cycle along the beach front admiring the night views and full moon before turning off to Mark’s House. Google, his dog, is in the front yard and sets off barking, so my plan to quietly drop off the tent fails as I see lights come on in the house. Sang opens the front door and I sheepishly pass her the tent. Morning!
We cycle off through the backstreets and soon join the main AH1 road. For the spotters out there, the Asian Highway 1 is the longest route of the Asian Highway Network, running 20,557 km from Tokyo, Japan via Korea, China, Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the border between Turkey and Bulgaria west of Istanbul where it joins end-on with European route E80. Erm, I don’t want to take a wrong turn here! We see a sign for Hanoi, 1270km.
Well that’s just rude! So rude in fact that Quentin decides to call it a day, we shake hands, man cuddle and he heads back to Nha Trang to get a coach to Ho Chi Minh city to catch a flight back to France. What! Yes really, although it had nothing to do the distance to Hanoi! He’s just found out he’s got some urgent business that needs attending to. Oh bugger and I didn’t even get a picture of him cycling off. Here’s a few from our time together…
So, I’m on my own. Who will I talk to except for random shouts of Xin Chao (hello!) to random strangers I pass. How will I spend my evenings now I haven’t got Quentin breaking the ice with all the ladies, more importantly who’ll provide the momentum when I run out of fuel on a rented motorbike!
By the time I’ve done 80km I’m starting to feel a little sick from the heat so I stop for some food and to cool off. Riding on your own you can stop whenever and wherever you like! There’s another 6 or 7km to where I think there’s accommodation available but then about 100 meters down the road I spot a hotel sign above the rooftops. We’ll that’s me done for the day.
- Tuesday 20th May 2019
- Dai Linh to Phu My
- Distance 82 km
- Total 26302 km
Yesterday I was really feeling the heat and the mileage. I now know that was probably the amount of beer I’d drunk the day before. Today has been a breeze compared to yesterday. Even with the fact my nice straight flat road turned into an expressway and I had to go up and around a hilly coastal peninsula at 4am in the morning!!
Highlight of the day was cycling through a town as everyone was just getting out and about, old men sat drinking coffee in groups and ladies setting up food stalls. Waving, smiling and greeting all who glance my way.
There has been rain in the night and a cool breeze early on which keeps me motoring along and by 10am I’ve hit 80km and although I feel like I can go further I don’t want to push my luck. I pull over at a guest house along the road. There’s not a lot along this stretch of the road but even though she speaks no English the landlady nods when I enquire about places to eat, WiFi, room for the night, leaving early etc etc. All the normal accommodation questions. Lots of miming and gesticulating on my part! Nods and smiles from her. I’ve just finished washing my clothes and showering when there’s a knock on the door, she walks in with 2 plates of food, noodle soup and eggs! Good job I was dressed. I’m sat eating and she walks in again, this time with her poor old husband carrying the kitchen fridge and 4 bottles of water and a bunch of bananas! I must remember to lock the door if I get undressed! I thank them profusely and enjoy the rest of my food and now cool water!
A few more pics from today, including a war grave cemetery.
Wednesday 21st May 2019 Phu My to Quy Nhon Distance 60 km Total 26362 km
Short day today, but I really felt it. I felt like I was struggling to get any speed up. Then towards the end of the day I realised the trike was pulling excessively to the left. At the top of the last hill I checked the left front wheel rotation and it was very stiff. I loosened the brake but it was still stiff. I continued down into Quy Nhon and got to a hostel. After a refreshing drink and cleanup I stripped the caliper off the trike and took it apart. The wheel was spinning freely without the caliper on so I knew it wasn’t the new hub. Fortunately I spotted that the actuator wasn’t retracting, so it was always forcing the brake on even when I wound the preload back off. I managed to get the actuator back into its clip and all is good again. But the brake is showing signs of age and it might be time to replace the whole caliper in the near future. Maybe an upgrade! At least I now know why it felt like I was cycling through tar for the last 30km of hills!! Doh!
Other than that I had some lovely views out over the fishing grounds along the coast today.
So I decided to have fish and chips for dinner whilst watching the rain and playing pool in the hostel.
Thursday 22nd May 2019 Quy Nhon rest day
This morning I hire a moped and take myself sightseeing. First with a drive along the city’s beach road, but it being already hot its pretty deserted unlike Nha Trang beach was the other day. But my main focus today is the Eo Gio coastal peninsular and Ky Co beach about 20km North East of the city. To get there I first have to cross the Thi Nai Bridge. With an impressive length of 2,500 meters, this is the longest sea-crossing bridge in Southeast Asia.
Standing on Thi Nai Bridge and looking to the southwest, Quy Nhon city looks like a colorful painting and on the East Sea there are many dip nets of the fishermen in Nhon Ly commune.
Over the bridge and the landscape has changed to undulating cliffs and desert sand mixed together with cloud. Its like a huge sandbar has formed off the coast and the scant pine trees and grasses sprouting up give it a desert island feel. But with this serene picture comes tourism and as I get closer to Nhon Ly I see 3 or 4 huge hotels being erected. Soon the Chinese will invade here too.
Once in Nhon Ly I park up under a shade netting belonging to one of the many restaurants (5000 dong for the privilege) and pay my entrance fee to Eo Gio peninsula. There’s now a concrete path leading up and over the saddle between two cliffs to the small rocky bay below. The extreme blue water, the rocky cliffs with strange shapes and huge boulders sitting in the sea gives me peace and a feeling of solitude… just need all the other tourists doing selfies and weird poses to bugger off!
Back onto the moped I wander along to the fishing beach where I can see lots of round basket boats sitting on the beach. Considered one of the most interesting and instantly recognizable creations of the Vietnamese people, Basket Boats are known locally as “Thung Chai” or “Thuyen Thung”. They are very important to the local fishermen in this central coastal region of Vietnam. The boat is a variety of the coracle – a small, circular boat traditionally used in parts of Britain (particularly Wales) as well as India, Iraq, and Tibet.
Affectionately referred to as the “Right Arm” of the fisherman and the “Child” of the mother boats, “Thuyen Thung” is an inseparable part of a fisherman’s life. It is a multi-purpose vessel – used as a very effective lifeboat in case of emergency, a singular boat to catch fish close to shore and a small, lightweight means of carrying cargo and people to and from the larger boats anchored offshore.
As this is a fishing village, not really on most western tourist’s pathway so the atmosphere is extremely peaceful, the people are very hospitable. Which is good as I motor through tight pathways between houses and homesteads. Greeting everyone with a smile and getting them back multiplied in return. Finally I manage to find my way back out to the main road into the village and head towards Ky Co beach road. There’s a small hut at the roadside and I pay another fee, 100,000 dong, sixty for entrance and forty for the bus ride to the beach. I then follow the road up the hill. And up. And up. There are some great views down from here on either side of the peninsular.
Finally after about 3km I reach the parking lot high above the beach. This is where I’ll catch the minibus I’ve paid for down to the beach. I can immediately see why they don’t just let anyone down on their own. The road is a steep descent and the driver has to use low gear to keep our speed down as we wind our way to the bottom. The only other access to this beach is by boat from the village, and I can see a few tourists coming in that way to the small jetty. But otherwise the beach is relatively deserted, beautiful and clean with a small swell of waves bringing noise to the silence surrounding me. The sand is beautifully soft and I’m soon swimming in the cool waters. Life’s a beach! On the far left of the beach are some cliffs and rocks and I take my snorkel and mask (yes I’ve been carrying them on the trike!) to explore. This close in there are still quite a few colourful fish and sea vegetation clinging to the rocks, but the real treasures are further out. There’s a thriving scuba centre here but they’re just closing up for the afternoon so my luck is out.
It’s about this point that I realise my moped key isn’t in my pocket, hmmm lost at sea or stupidly left in the ignition! Panic on I quickly shower off and catch the minibus back up to the top. Phew, yes I left them in the ignition and the moped is still there, good job Mr Parking Attendant. Well that was a slightly curtailed visit, but it really was one of the most splendidly secluded beaches I’ve seen in a while, rivalling some of those off Goa and Okinawa!
On the way back into the city I spot a roadside open-air restaurant, with all the little plastic chairs and tables set out and a thriving custom. I pull up and seat myself amongst all the Vietnamese clientele and when the server comes over I point at one of the vibrant looking plates of food on the next table and order that, this brings some laughter and smiles from the customers and they pass me an ice cold can of beer, why thank you very much! My food arrives and on closer inspection I can see its a seafood salad with local greens, chopped peanuts and a sumptuous dressing. There’s one thing among the seafood I can’t make out, it’s a translucent white, uncooked and has an al dente bite to it. Not unpleasant, I just don’t recognise it.
Back at the hostel I engage one of the English speaking staff and ask, she informs me it’s the flesh from a type of jellyfish! Well that’s a new one for me. Delicious!!
- Friday 23rd May 2019
- Quy Nhon to Bong Son
- Distance 87 km
- Total 26449 km
Today as I cycle along I marvel at all the stuff being carried on the cargo carrier of choice out here in Vietnam, the motorbike. There’s large bundles of live chickens being transported in cages or just strapped upside down by their feet like some feathered rear panniers, piglets in cages or huge pigs on their backs strapped to a board crosswise on the pillion and ducks quacking merrily with their heads sticking up out of plastic baskets like a dog with his head out of the car window. All going to the market, for an unpleasant surprise!
Today I also cycle by a very recent road traffic accident between motorbike and minibus. Sadly the covered remains are testiment to the frailty of our bodies in such conflicts. I pass the gathered crowd as quickly and quietly as possible, no smiling greetings during this somber moment.
Saturday 24th May 2019 Bong Son to Châu O Distance 109 km Total 26558 km
I’m feeling good today and with Derby County playing in the Championship league playoff final on Monday I decide to push +100km today to ensure I reach Hoi An tomorrow if I do 90km. That’ll give me a days rest so I won’t fall asleep before the 9pm kick off on Monday night!
- Sunday 25th May 2019
- Châu O to Hoi An
- Distance 91 km
- Total 26649 km
The 90km soon flies by, I don’t know if I’m getting stronger or it’s the thought of a few rest days pulling me along. My intent is to lounge around Hoi An whilst I sort out my visa, which could take up to a week! I do have one unfortunate incident. As I cycle along the Riverside into picturesque Hoi An I decide to get my selfie stick out for the first time since cycling in SE Asia and take a video. Yep, my phone immediately slips out and hits the pavement. Ahhh busted glass. That’s the first time I’ve broken a phone, ever!! Oh well I’m sure I’ll be able to get it fixed here in Vietnam.
So I’ve now been in Vietnam again, cycling this time for 17 days. I had fun cycling with Quentin, and Da Lat was a highlight, the cool weather certainly helped there. But the main thing I’m enjoying in Vietnam is how friendly the people are. There’s always a warm smile to brighten my day or hour and a coffee stop is never taken alone.
Talking of coffee, whatever it is they’re adding to the grounds, it gives it an amazing thick and rich caramel flavour that I’m becoming quite addicted to!
Tune in next time for my continuing journey through Vietnam, so long as I get another visa!