Today was my favourite day of the trip so far. It had everything quiet roads winding past emerald lee green paddy fields friendly people sea views and a couple of stiff climbs. To top it all off we had some awesome thought provoking encounters with people.
It was another early start and the mist was still hanging over the ponds and coated the foot of the mountains as we set off through the fields. It was beautiful. The still waters reflecting the trees like a mirror. Small groups of children were wending their way to school many of them greeting us with a cheery hello.
The previous day had been another pleasant days ride again mainly coastal and totally rural. The road north of Quy Nhơn turned off the main highway across the new bridge over a wide inlet from the sea. Kim described it as not the sea not a river and not a lake in Scotland we would have called it a sea Loch . Numerous boats were plying up and down the waters in the hope of landing some fish . Across the bridge were signs for a new development a large industrial zone with a tourist complex to the north. They had only completed 1 building which contained a café, a kareoke bar, a night club and a shopping centre. But there was nothing else around no houses no nothing except for a small fishing village about 10 kilometres down the road so quite how they would get their customers was a mystery to me it looked like they were all deserted and probably would be for the foreseeable future. The area earmarked for development was a beautiful sand dune that was covered in forest. They were just commencing clearing the land cutting the vegetation which had exposed the sand which was blowing everywhere . Another badly thought out development it seems to me. There are literally hundreds of three quarters empty industrial parks scattered the length of the country. Naturally I’m all in favour of providing employment opportunities but surely it makes sense to at least fill the existing developments before destroying yet more natural environment.
That night we stayed in a small village with the only guest house for miles around and the owner certainly charges accordingly knowing that there wasn’t any other options. However it was a beautiful situation in a lovely green fertile fields ringed by mountains.
The next day after about an hours riding we pulled into the first noodle restaurant we came too. Like most such establishments in the area it wasn’t much to look at, just a roof on the front of the house with a few wooden tables and some plastic chairs scattered around them. However as usual the food was tasty and this time we weren’t charged the usual special foreigner price that has been the norm ever since we entered central Vietnam. The proprietress a woman in her 50s was chatty and cheerful too which makes a pleasant change from the usual dour faced women who plonk your food in front of you with a grunt and then ask you for twice the price we paid.
So that cheered my demeanor no end. As we continued the road pulled steeply up some sand dunes and we reached a small village on the seashore . Following the shore along we passed a series of abandoned brick huts and deep holes in the sand which had obviously previously been fishponds but where now empty strips of black plastic sheets flapping in the wind and sand drifting into the hole from the strong sea breeze. I speculated what may have happened for so many of them to be abandoned . Perhaps disease spread down the coast wiping out the stock that were inside . Many such operation run on very tight margin . With no crop to sell perhaps they were unable to meet their they’re commitments and were forced to give up.
After the rather dreary fish farms we crossed a river into a magical Valley. At the base of it fields of bright green young rice was sprouting and then forested mountains rose around them like an amphitheater it was just stunning . A young guy on a motorbike pulled up and said hello. He lived in Saigon but had returned to his home town to visit his family for new year. We told him about our trip and he said he’d seen another couple of cyclists the day before too . A few kilometres further on we had another lovely encounter after pulling up at the shop to buy some water. The crowd kids from the nearby school surrounded Kim when she pulled out her camera to take some snaps. And about 30 of them spent the next 5 minutes posing for the camera.
Then the hard work for the day began . The steepest and longest hill we had encountered so far . It was only a few hundred metres but really steep and I struggled even in my lowest granny gear to make it to the top. luckily Kim was suffering too which gave me an opportunity to regain my breath as I pushed her bike to the summit. The descent was fun though and about halfway down I spotted a black eagle hanging on the thermals on the ridge above. It circled around directly above us only been about 150 100 metres . It seems totally oblivious to our presence it was just hanging around looking for lunch. Was just one of those moments where you realise how lucky you are. This valley was also lovely again we meander along a small beachside past a few houses until we reached the fishing village at the end of the bay . It looked idyllic they didn’t seem to be much trash on the beach and there were none of the ugly wooden ramshackle sheds that always seem to blight Vietnamese fishing villages. It was picture postcard perfect. Even down to that little temple on the hillside where the locals prayed for their seafaring friends and relatives.
It was just before the climb up the ridge on the other side there we have another fantastic encounter. We had been looking for a cafe to take a break after the exertions of the climb. There had been another little place in the village but Kim ever keen to find a hammock to lay in for an hour so passed it by and I’m glad she did. As we found my favourite cafe of the whole trip. it was nothing much to look at a few chairs set among the trees by the stream and some more undercover by a small house. But the guy who ran it was just for really nice guy. I was the first foreigner that had come to his cafe. So when he bought out our drinks he hurried and got the traditional foods for guests at new year candied coconut and ginger and some sweets. He then proceeded to tell us about his life. In his youth he traveled the length of Vietnam by motorbike visiting many places. And later he became fisherman and the owner of his own boat. Then almost 10 years ago disaster struck he was caught fishing in Malaysian waters by the authorities there his boat was seized and he was imprisoned for 2 years. At first he was held in a regular prison the conditions were so terrible that one of his fellow Vietnamese inmates committed suicide. After that he told us that a human rights group got involved, and they were moved to a camp housing asylum seekers. Up to a thousand people he said many from Iran and Iraq eventually he was released but had lost his boat so had to find a new way to make a living. Hence the coffee shop. You think someone who had experienced such bad luck might want to make a quick buck or two out of a foreigner but he only charged us 20,000 VND (about a dollar) for 2 coffees and a carrot juice. And when we were leaving he insisted on giving us all the coconut ginger and sweets he had given to us. So if you happen to visit Hoai Nhon in Binh Dinh province make sure you pop in and say hello. It’s at the end of the village just before the hill heading to Hoai Huong.
That hill was even tougher than the first one . A long hard slog to the top. But the view from the top was spectacular. Back down across golden sands of the bay and over the slopes of the forest hills . The descent however was rather disappointing. The road was rough and bumpy and there was too many bends and it was very steep so couldn’t really get up to any great speed until the end. And then we dropped into another bright green expanse of paddy field . The sensory overload was continuing.
Hoai Huong is famous for its coconuts and we were soon passing down little back roads through coconut groves . We decided to sample one of the famous nuts. However it was rather disappointing small and not as sweet as the cafe owners explain it should be . It was too expensive apparently because it was Tết and nobody had been harvesting them. Although the owner certainly had an eye for business he was friendly and very interested in our trip. When we explained we were riding to paris for climate change he told as the village was already feeling the effects of a warmer world. Rising seas and fiercer storms meaning that floods are becoming more frequent only last september the town was inundated after a storm.
The people at the cafe suggested that we should break my journey Sa Huyen as there were plenty of hotels at the beach. The beach was nice enough but the hotels pretty ordinary and overpriced as were the restaurants given their proximity to highway 1 . I guess just like motorway services in the west it feel like they have a captive audience so feel that they can charge what they like. Just to colour my impression of a town even further as we were walking along the beach I managed to slip down the seawall grazing my foot. Whilst not too serious it was rather painful and in this environment easily get infected . However our presence in the town did enable us to have one final encounter of the day.
It’s always nice when you meet someone who can put some perspective on what you are doing. A couple of guys rode past us as we were coming back from the beach. I was contemplating saying hello but dithered too long and they were too far away too far away to attract their attention. By coincidence they were just checking into our hotel when we walked in.
One of them was from India and is also riding a bicycle to raise attention to global warming but from India to New Zealand. Except he is riding an old Indian single speed bicycle and has stayed in one hotel since he started. He has already ridden across Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and half of Việt Nam pushing his bike up every hill. And there are lots of hills on that route. Big steep hills. He owns a corner store in India and has to work for 6 or 7 years to save up enough money for each trip. He usually sleeps in railway stations or police stations or anywhere he persuade someone to lay his head for free. He is vegetarian and tries to get by on a dollar for each meal. He certainly makes makes our trip seem like the height of luxury. For the past few days he has been travelling with a Chinese guy who had ridden from Guangzhou and was heading to Tibet via Thailand. They didn’t share a common language and suceeded in communicating using google translate!!!!
The following day couldn’t quite compare with the splendors of the day before. I was eager get to get out of town. While the beach was pleasant enough everything else about the town wasn’t just a strip along the highway filled with overpriced cafes and expensive hotels. We spent around half an hour the previous night trying to find somewhere where the food wasn’t more than twice what you would usually pay for a meal that was 10 times worse.
We stayed right next to the main road and the incessant trucks horns buses and occasional train kept Kim a wake. Surprisingly I slept like a baby only waking when a particularly loud train went past . Eager to escape the traffic we hit out off the highway as soon as we could down a maze of little lanes weaving through pleasant countryside. Google maps doesn’t distinguish between the quality of the road at one stage we were bumping along a path through the paddy fields that was barely wider than our wheels. Then we hit a four lane highway which went precisely nowhere. halfway down the road we came across house sticking out into one of the lanes they clearly couldn’t get the owner to sell or move so just built the road anyway. 100 metres later the road ended at another house and a tiny path continued round the side all very strange. Then we crossed a long thin rickety wooden bridge across the wide river. You are normally expected to pay but when we arrived at the other side the woman just sat there and stared at us before collecting money from their motorbikes. By this time Kim was flagging so we searched out a cafe with hammocks fit her to catch up on some sleep. However this must be the only place in Vietnam without a cafe Võng within 15 kilometres. Normally you can they scattered every for a 5 kilometres. Finally we spotted 1 place with solitary hammock going up in a tree and a few plastic chairs around some concrete tables. It wasn’t glamorous but Kim gratefully jumped into the hammock and was soon sleeping peacefully. An hour and a half later and she had recovered somewhat. However something was still not right has she lagged behind and I had to keep stopping for her to catch up.
Eventually we e crawled into town. Kim went straight to sleep as soon as we found a hotel. Shortly after I began to feel a little dodgy too. A rumbling in the guts heralding that something wasn’t quite right. That night we dined and crackers and water and had an early night. Upon awakening and determining that neither of us was up to doing much we decided to have a rest day and give ourselves a chance to recover.