It was a another dull and grey start to the day. Although at least it wasn’t raining. it was cold though well cool anyway after living in Saigon it was the first I have actually felt chilly in 2 years apart from going to the cinema because for some reason all the cinemas in Vietnam are the same temperature as a refrigerator. You have to remember to bring a coat each time you go or you won’t make it through to the end of the film.
We followed the same river valley as we had the day before. As the valley narrowed the human habitation thinned out, as did the traffic on the road. Suddenly the river entered a gorge and the road was forced to climb steeply up the mountain side. Descending into the valley on the other side was like entering into another world. it was filled with thick virgin forest. The road with a largely deserted and the only sound the loud vibrations of jungle insects the canopy dense and punctuated every 30 of 40 meters with a stand of bright red flowers . It was beautiful. a reminder of what the whole area must have looked like during the war. then people moved into the area and most of the forest has been felled the only remnant being in areas difficult to access where there are no roads or the hillsides are too steep for machinery.
Deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gases contributing around 17% percent of the total. The forest is felled for the timber or to clear land for rearing beef or planting cash crops such as palm oil. It is also 1 of the easiest sources of emissions solve . All of the world timber requirements could be provided by sustainable forestry it’s just that it’s much cheaper and easier to cut down a stand of virgin forest than plan a lot of trees and then wait decades for them to mature . Simple changes to our diet would also obviate the need for land clearance. There is no need to eliminate meat entirely from your diet ( although that would help markedly) rather meat should be viewed as a luxury item to be eaten in moderation rather than providing the bulk of every meal. And you should switch from beef to low carbon meats like chicken or rabbit. Consuming less energy and therefore carbon intense processed food would also significantly reduced the demand for palm oil as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time improving your health.
All along the road the signs were exhorting people to protect the forest and obey the law. And all along the road it looked like people were steadfastly ignoring them. The buzzing of chainsaws is never too far away neither are the piles of freshly cut timber. Some of the trunks are absolutely huge it was sad to see such magnificent specimens beside the road I hope they were going to be used to create something beautiful.
Of course deforestation isn’t just a problem for climate change. The rainforest acts like a giant sponge soaking up rain and releasing it slowly. Removal of the forest has contributed significantly to the flooding and mudslides that Vietnam experiences every year. It also exposes the soils to the elements leading to erosion which then silts up hydroelectricity and irrigation schemes downstream.
After covering almost 300 km over the previous 3 day we decided to take a short day of only 50 km today and were soon rolling into the muddy little town of Huong Khe. It was dull and grey the whole time we spent there which may have coloured my feelings about the town. Although it did have a pretty little lake in the centre of town and we found a room in a cavernous hotel overlooking the shores. Next morning Kim was feeling a little under the weather so we decided to have a rest day.
It brighten up for around 20 minutes on the second afternoon but apart from that it was foggy wet and miserable I was glad to get out of town. we followed the Ho Chi Minh Highway although it can’t have been very memorable because sitting writing this few days after I have no recollection of the journey. It being the Ho Chi Minh Highway there must have been hills and trees and trucks but not too many of those. Later in the afternoon the fog lifted and at last we saw the sun. Again it was another short day to aid Kim’s recovery we made the dusty little town of Pho Chau by mid afternoon. There was nothing much of remark about the town. The only thing of note being the overpriced oranges being sold all over town they seem to be grown locally but the sellers wanted more than double what I Normally would have paid for them in Saigon. That seems to be a consistent feature of these two neighbouring provinces. Every restaurant you go has probably the worst food that we experienced in our entire trip at the highest prices with the most indifferent service. Indeed Nghệ An province is the place i have been scammed the most during my time in vietnam. It has a reputation for its gangsters and it seems like their methods have spread to the general population . Of Particular note was the 250000 vnd bus fare for a journey that should have cost 50,000.
By chance we happened to be sharing a hotel with an English guy travelling the opposite way by motorbike. We were probably the only two foreigners within a 50 mile radius and he was having a smoke on the balcony when I went out to get some food. We swapped a few tales from the road and then I took his recommendation for dinner.
Next day was more of the same. Quiet roads beautiful scenery and plenty to entertainers. School was just out for lunch as we rode past one of the biggest towns. The students delighted in laughing at the strange foreigners on bicycles. It was then we met our first female cyclist of the trip Laura from Chile had just set out from Hanoi were she had bought a new mountain bike and strapped her backpack on the back and was heading south. She hadn’t seen any other travellers since leaving Hanoi so I think she was a little relieved to see some people who had a similar idea to her. That evening there were a couple of Israeli guys staying at our hotel they were doing an easy rider style experience Where you hire a motorbike and a guide then drive the length of the country. Kim eyed their powerful motorbikes jealously especially as they went roaring past us with a friendly wave the next day. We waved cheerfully blissfully unaware of the suffering we had in front of us.
And much of the pain was down to me. Kim’s family are from the next province so she wanted to spend some time exploring the sights. It was bit a bit of a stretch to get there to allow an extra day to explore and there were a few hills in between. So checking google maps I spotted a shortcut with far less climbing than the main road. And on the map the road seemed pretty decent. In reality it was a deeply rutted bumpy dirt track was around 30 kilometres long. To make matters worse it was the hottest day we’d experienced in a long while and lunchtime and there were barely any houses nevermind a restaurant for lunch. We had plenty of snacks so weren’t going to starve but you really need a substantial meal to make up for calories lost while riding. We struggled on through the heat and the road climbed steeply . Finally we spotted a tiny little cafe. After enquiring inside the only food they had was instant noodles. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a bowl off to minute noodles more in my life full stop. the guy was rabbit rough fucking with a missing tooth and crude tattoos across body. There was a monkey chained to a tree in one corner to relieve the boredom and loneliness he had learnt the neat trick of self fellatio. However nothing was going to put me off those noodles not even a monkey giving himself a blowjob above my head .
We pushed on. Kim was still feeling the effects of the heat and lack of food . But the valley we were in was stunningly beautiful . the steep sides were thickly forested whilst the bottom has been cleared for farmland . Needless to say the road was exceptionally quiet with only one motorbike passing. As we dropped down into the other side of the pass finally the road became tarmac much to my relief. However king was feeling worse when we reach the main road she could only crawl along and we were still 30 kilometres from our destination. Then I spotted a guest house Kim was determined to continue but I insisted that she needed to rest . And rest she did.
Next day after a night’s sleep and a big meal she was like a different person. We still took things easy and took plenty of rest stops but she was still feeling fine by mid-afternoon so we decided to press on to make up some of the kilometres . By this time we were on highway 1 and were benefitting once again from a stiff tailwind . We’ve been really lucky so far on this trip. Apart from the first week we have consistently had tail winds despite the prevailing winds at this time of year being in the opposite direction. Lucky us I hope it lasts in china where the desert winds are reportedly a nightmare.
We were still km short of Ninh Binh our planned destination, but we rose early the next day and got there in a couple of hours which meant we still had plenty of time for a spot of sightseeing. I had been there before and had really enjoyed exploring Tam Coc which is kind of a freshwater version of Ha Long Bay. Lots of limestone karst formations jutting out of the river. This time Kim wanted to go to Trang An which is similar but tends to be more popular with Vietnamese groups. I have to say I was a bit disappointed. For a starters it was relatively expensive 150,000 ($7.50) which may not seem like a lot but when you consider that until this year it only cost 8,000 to go to Saigon Zoo that kind of puts it into perspective. And the parking is expensive, you even have to pay to go to the toilet. Sure the landscape is beautiful but no more beautiful than you can see if you head down some of the little roads on a bicycle. And it’s interesting going through the caves but most of them have had huge lumps hacked out of them to make them large enough for the boats to pass through. And its crowded hundreds and hundreds of boats filled with groups shouting and laughing and throwing litter into the water. I thought that Tam Coc was much better, it’s cheaper anyway which appeals to my Yorkshire Scottish sensibilities and the scenery is more interesting. Although I did get there very early last time, so maybe it is the same once the crowds have arrived.
Next day we were off to Hanoi. The ride was straight up highway one and was unbroken houses, shops restaurants and workshops the whole way. You wouldn’t call it urban because there was countryside behind the buildings. But you rarely saw the countryside save for a few limestone karst formations although many of those were being eaten away to service the cement factories that were belching carbon into the atmosphere. In fact so carbon intensive is the process that the cement industry accounts for a whopping 5% of all emissions of carbon dioxide. These emission are produced directly when the calcium carbonate is thermally decomposed and by the fuel required to heat it 1,500C for this process to occur. So whilst it is possible to use a zero emission fuel source for heating no alternative has yet been found for the 60% of the emissions created during the calcination process. As we need to get to zero emissions asap this poses serious problems for the construction industry especially as moving to a zero carbon economy is going to involve building lots of things. All questions that were buzzing through my head as we rolled into Hanoi. Which like every other Vietnamese city is filled with cement mixers pouring concrete. As the construction boom and infrastructure projects continue apace.