It was misty as we left Hue the streets were dull and grey and a light drizzle was falling. The ramparts of the fortifications and the famous bridge over the perfume river took on a mystical quality in the fog. Even at this early hour the streets were filled with children bicycles on their way to school. Kim stopped to put on a jacket over her t-shirt, shirt and trousers I continued riding in shorts and a t shirt. I guess that’s the difference in tolerance too cold between someone born in Scotland and someone from Vietnam. I wonder how she will cope with Paris in December.
The previous day had been exploring the former glories of Vietnam’s old capital city. Huế was the seat of the Nguyen dynasty for nearly 150 years. The first king was the first to rule over the whole of what is now Vietnam. After those glory days things swiftly went downhill as the family descended into succession disputes and sold the country to france in order to retain their power. They build an impressively enormous citidel and if anything that lives became even more lavish and pampered as their power wained and they became a figureheads for the french. each king had up to 100 wives and hundreds of concubines. It seems like his average day went something like this. In the morning he would sign a few papers then tired after such exertion after lunch he would rest among his harem being fanned and massaged by beautiful women . In the evening dinner would consist of more than 50 dishes from which he would choose a few . Then would come the most taxing decision of the day which of the wives or concubines to spend the night with . And then repeat. Not a bad life really. Although give me 90 kilometres daily on a bicycle over that any day.
As the morning progressed the mist began to disappear as did the traffic. and we were soon riding on deserted roads through a sea of green paddy fields. It was very fertile very lush and very flat. It was hard to imagine the horrors that must have occurred in those self-same 50 or 60 years ago. We were now nearing the former border between north and south Vietnam. The scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the war. It seems like the cemeteries became more numerous and the slogans reclaiming the glory socialism weekend even more exultant.
Around noon we turn towards the coast and paddy fields gave way to sand dunes and first . We lunched at a small fishing village by the beach and then followed the road along dunes. We spent the afternoon weaving in and out for the forest past small villages. By late afternoon we’d reached Cua Viet literally Viet door there was a large cemetery with big flag flying and a few down at heel hotels. but it didn’t seem very appealing so we continued up the coast on a marginally busier road (there was an occasional car as well as the motorbikes) to the seaside resort of Cua Tung. The second hotel we tried as reasonably priced and had touring bike parked outside. Turns out it was a guy who passed us on the Hai Van pass but hadn’t noticed our bikes and thought our cries of hello were simply yet another person wanting him purcell something to him. He was Portuguese food spent much of his life in France until he set off 5 years ago on his bicycle crossing Europe and into Asia. He’d spent a year in china and another year in Vietnam and the rest of the time another countries in South East Asia. Sounds like a nice life to me. His visa expired in a week or so and he was just contemplating where to go next.
Our hotel room had the best view yet. The balcony opening straight out over the beach and the waves below were only about 50 metres away. However dusk was falling and a brisk wind was blowing off the ocean so we didn’t linger too long. The climate is definitely changing as we move north. There is a definite chill in the air now once the sun goes down and you can tell in winter it would certainly be chilly.
Another early morning start and this time we’re heading away from the coast . As we reach highway 1 we can see a huge flag flying in the distance which must mark where the border stood up until 1975. Thankfully we’re only on the highway for a half dozen kilometres. Then we strike out towards the Ho chi minh highway. This is a relatively new road which follows at least in part the path of the Ho chi minh trail the route through which weapons and supplies were brought to those fighting the American backed regime in the south. The road is gloriously quiet compared to highway 1 and while the shoulder isn’t up to much it’s not really necessary as it’s very rare that two trucks happened to be passing you at the same time. The road is hilly compared to the main highway however the section we were riding on was undulating rather than mountainous I was never required to drop down onto the granny gear of my bike. Nevertheless it still takes a bit out of your legs the constant up and down especially on the back up 100 kilometres make the day before.
It was nearly dark by the time we reached Dong Hoi and eventually found a hotel after a bit of confusion. The first place we went to was full so we tried next door It was a hole. A little windowless room with dirty sheets spread on the bed and dubious looking stains on the wall . I asked the price he asked when will you leave. I said I wasn’t really sure but probably around 6:30 he told me it would be a hundred thousand I thought it a little expensive and so bargained down to 80. It was only after inquiring about a towel that the receptionist said why do you need towels you only here for an hour. Then we realised he thought I meant 630 that evening . The place was clearly more used to renting out rooms by the hour although why they thought sweaty dirty cyclists would want a room for only an hour is beyond me. They wanted us to pay 150,000 for the night. We laughed and quickly left. Finding a much nicer hotel for the same price just down the street.
To avoid a 800 meter climb and reduce the total distance by 25km we decided to leave the Ho Chi Minh Highway and cut back on to highway 1 for a few kilometres. I’m glad we did because for the first time on the trip it was actually raining, more drizzle than anything but still enough to get you wet. To make things worse we discovered that the new raincoats that I had bought for us in Saigon weren’t actually waterproof. The route back to the highway was through a thick pine forest . Deep grooves have been cut into the trees to collect the resin . But it was lovely riding through the avenue of trees and as we headed back towards the coast the rain stacked off and then died out completely as we reached the coast . Just in time for us to get lost for the first time on the trip. We ended up taking a shortcut to re-join the road down a rutted muddy track that was rather slippery and treacherous in the conditions but eventually we joined the road we should have been on in the first place. It seems like google maps isn’t as accurate in these more sparsely populated areas.
Leaving the highway the route took us up a river valley. Nearer the sea it was broad and flat and filled with fertile rice fields. It narrowed as we went and began to be hemmed in with limestone peaks that rose out of the water like the scales on a dragon’s back. Once again it was lovely. We rode over bridges cross clear blue limestone tinged waters up. Though with yet another day of almost 100 kilometres it was a relief to reach the small town of dongle and found a cosy little room by the station.