It was time to bid farewell to Vietnam (for the time being anyway) which apart from a 5 day sojourn to Cambodia had been my home for the past 2 years and 3 months. A place which I have grown to love deeply. How could you not with its winning combination of delicious food, delightful scenery, cheap beer and friendly and kind hearted people.
People who are on the whole oblivious to the fact their countries very future could be determined this year. In the conference hall in Paris and more importantly on the streets outside and around the world. As I have describe previously Vietnam is one of the places most at risk from global warming. Much of the prime agricultural land is less than 2 m above sea level as is some of the most valuable real estate in cities such as Ho Chi Minh, Đà Nẵng, Hải Phòng, Cần Thơ. If climate change continues unchecked then sea levels could rise by that much this century or even more. Then Vietnam would face the prospect of a collapse in agricultural production creating a massive spike in food prices, floods of refugees escaping the rising seas at the same time as the economy is in crisis battered by the collapse of the real estate market as the sea threatens some of the most valuable property in the land and the huge rise in the costs of natural disasters as storms and floods grow more severe. Not a pleasant prospect. Yet it is a situation that a child born in Vietnam today could well face unless we all pull out fingers out and ensure our leaders take the action necessary to prevent this scenario becoming reality. Yet unfortunately most people in Vietnam are completely unaware just how serious a threat they face. Fortunately this is changing. Just this week a government official announced that “many” Vietnamese cities will be underwater by 2100 including 20% of Saigon, 39% of the Mekong Delta and 10% of the Red River Delta. But actually those estimates use old data and are probably conservative. IF we use more up to date predictions of sea level rise by 2100 then those figures should be ammended to 75 %, 80 % and 60 %. I’d like to think it its own small way our trip is also playing a part in raising awareness of just how big a threat climate change could be.
We’d spent a week in Hanoi, speaking at a couple of events, taken part in a “bike and brunch” and held a fundraiser at La Bicycletta. Thanks to Joy Ole and Nick who helped to organise them. Special thanks to Guim from the Hanoi Bicycle Collective who put on a fundraiser for us and serviced our bikes for free.
We also tried to sort out some visas for Kim for the countries ahead. Highly unsuccessfully add it turns out. It is tricky enough for Vietnamese people to get visas anyway and if they are travelling by bicycle….. The Greek embassy said they could give us a visa but it would only be valid for 90 days. No way to get from Vietnam to Greece by bicycle in 3 months. they suggested we applied for the Greek visa in Turkey. So we went off to the Turkish embassy who informed us we couldn’t get a Turkish visa unless we had a Greek visa…… All rather Kafkaesque We’ll just have to try again along the way.
We headed out of Hanoi across the red river delta. It was lush and green and easy to see why it is such an important agricultural area. It was also very flat and also easy to see why it was the region second most threatened by climate change.
Then we encountered one of the major causes of that threat. Coal. The first indicator were the red and white smoke stacks of Pha Lai power station. Then over the course of the following day we came across more red dragons spewing smoke into the sky and later whole mountains in the process of being removed to feed their voracious appetites.
We took a short cut suggested by Google maps. On the map the road looked the same as the one we had been on which we had been, wide with a good surface. But maps are often deceptive. This was rough. It had been surfaced at one point but that had been a long time ago, then the pot holes and been refilled so many times there was barely anything left of the original road. It was hard going with lots of hills and you couldn’t even enjoy the downhills because the road was so rough. Finally we rolled into Mong Duong just as dark was falling. The whole town was coated in a layer of dust from the nearby coal mine and the acrid fumes from the power station caught at the back of your throat. The pollutants produced from the combustion of coal are known to contribute to asthma, lung cancer, congestive heart failure and strokes. Moving away from coal is not only good from a climate change perspective it will also significantly improve the health of communities like Mong Duong. . Provided of course the transition is managed correctly and alternative employment is found for the community.
The next day was a bit of a monster. We had taken up some extra days in our fruitless quest for visas and were now running slightly behind schedule. There is a 3 day public holiday in China right at the time we will be needing to extend our visas. Arrive too late and the process will probably take 10 days as opposed to the usual 7. We are on a tight schedule anyway with only 60 days to cross the entire country so those 3 days could prove important. So to get back on track we wanted to cover the 300 km to the border in three days. Of course the first couple of days we were still getting used to being back in the saddle so we hadn’t pushed ourselves which left us around 110km for the final day. So if course there were hills, not big ones, but lots of ups and downs. And it was raining not heavily but enough to get you wet and then off and on so just as you put on your rain coat it would slacken off and once you had taken it off it would get heaver again. Finally in the afternoon it stopped raining and the terrain got flatter and we were able to eat up the kilometres. We rolled into the border town of Mong Cai just as dusk was falling. We grabbed our last meal in Vietnam and got an early night in preparation for reaching a new country the next day.