Tyres, Tubes and Troubles

20th FEBRUARY 2019

My day off in Quy Nhon is preceded by a much-needed twelve hour sleep, from 8.30pm last night until 8.30am this morning. I felt completely shattered after yesterday’s 100km trek into an all day headwind. The devilish combination of too much heat, too much sun and too big a distance just about had me beaten. I tell myself there will be no more 100km days on this trip.

Anyway, I need to purchase a few things today. Flip-flops are a must because I need to get my feet out in an attempt to even up my absurd tan lines. I’ve got a sock-level straight line right above my ankles which is brown above and deathly white below which, quite frankly, looks ridiculous. Shorts are on my list too, as the arse cheeks are worn through on the pair I use most. I make my way to a gloriously air-conditioned Vin-Mart and try to find sizes that will come close to fitting me. Because Vietnamese people are smaller in general, even the XXL sizes seem too small. The flip-flops are fine as my toes stick out the front, my two t-shirts are pretty tight and the shorts feel like castration devices. Oh Well.

Just after mid-day I take a walk to the beach to find it almost deserted; there are literally only two people on the huge expanse of yellowy sand. Vietnamese just don’t go to the beach during the hottest part of the day, whereas UK beaches would be rammed at this hour on a hot, sunny day. However, the locals will start to venture down about 4.00pm, and the beach will remain busy well into the evening. I’m just glad to see a litter-free beach for once. On the way back I brave my first Vietnamese haircut, giving all my instructions in charades and rudimentary sign language. A young bloke takes on the task, paying particular attention to clippering the back and sides. I’ve no idea what the top is going to look like as he combs all my hair backwards to cut it. The result is that my hair looks a bit long and a bit high on top afterwards, but it’s not disastrous. Maybe that’s the trend in Vietnam. He charges me less than £1, but I give him £3 as he’s put in a fair bit of time and effort.

An afternoon siesta helps my continued recovery from yesterday’s battles, before I head to a Plastic Chair Cafe for dinner. It’s a place that does rice meals, displaying about ten different meat and vegetable dishes in trays at the counter to accompany the rice. I just point to the three nicest looking options without being entirely sure of their contents. When the meal is delivered I find I’ve chosen egg, something that resembles beef and a weird, flat meat that might be pork. All the dishes are spicy and slightly curry-like, but I really haven’t a clue what I’m eating. They all go down well though, along with a side of clear, tasteless soup.

Back at the hotel I have an iced coffee in the bar downstairs and message a Brazilian couple from Instagram who have been cycling North as I’ve been cycling South. Our paths are due to cross tomorrow and we’re both heading for the same accommodation. It’s only 40km down the coast too, so it should be a nice easy day. What could possibly go wrong ?

The next morning I allow myself a leisurely 10.30am start as I don’t want to get to my next accommodation too early for a 2.00pm check-in. As it’s such a short distance today there’s nothing to be gained by an early start. My destination is the idyllic sounding Ocean Beach Hostel, where I’m looking forward to spending some time in the sea on my arrival. Downstairs my bike is still resting against the coffee shop back wall, so the owners were true to their word, or perhaps fortunate that nobody tried to steal it. To be fair though, Vietnam has shown itself to be an exceptionally safe country so far, so there’s much less chance of bike theft here than in most other countries.

I amble along the 5km beachside to begin with, towards the South end of Quy Nhon Bay and hills that sport a resort name in huge, Hollywood-style white letters overlooking the city. Then it’s a steep climb into those very same hills and off through some picturesque and undulating coastal landscapes. I’m on a quieter road today too, so spend a bit of time playing with my GoPro camera and trying to get some ‘ride past’ shots. It feels like I have all the time in the world compared to yesterday. About halfway I meet a twenty-something Canadian cyclist heading in the opposite direction. He doesn’t actually tell me that he’s Canadian, but he does say ‘aboot’ all the time so it’s a pretty safe assumption. He’s also ginger-haired and rides without sunglasses, so I’m not quite sure how he copes with the sun and heat. We have a brief chat, and I find out he’s only going to Quy Nhon himself, so I sign off with the famous last words of ‘We’ve both only got 20km to go then, so it should be easy !’

About 2km later my back tyre starts to feel a bit wobbly. It’s funny how a flat tyre never feels like a flat tyre to begin with. Rear tyre punctures are always more of a nuisance as all my gear has to come off the bike first before I can remove the back tyre. I wheel my bike to a shady spot under some trees and set about my task. There are two spare Presta valve inner tubes in my panniers, which I try, but my pump doesn’t seem to fit them. A patch up job it is then. Before I put the tyre back on I run my fingers round the inside wall in case there’s any lingering sharp objects that would immediately re-puncture the inner tube. In doing this I find the culprit still sticking through the tyre. I pull it out to find a small piece of metal, about the size of a staple, only twice as thick. Slightly annoyingly, my brand new Schwalbe tyre that I bought in Hanoi a month ago has been almost worn smooth already. With all the weight on the rear end of my bike, I thought it would be a sensible idea to put the good tyre at the back. I realise that my rear tyre always wears down more quickly than my front, but a brand new tyre shouldn’t look so worn after a month. Procrastination has got the better of me here as I had been meaning to rotate my tyres for a few days now.

With all my gear reattached to the bike I’m about ready to go again. I give the back tyre a final squeeze, only to find that it’s already deflated slightly. Bollocks. Once again I remove all my gear from the bike, upend it, take off the tyre and try to find which part of the inner tube that the air is escaping from. It turns out that air is still getting out from under the patch I’ve just stuck on. At this point I decide that I might as well just rotate the tyres, putting the good one on the back and the dodgy one on the front so it’s easier to remove. After a further six patches my inner tube looks like it has some kind of horrible growth on it, yet air is still escaping. This is no good. My fingers are covered in oil and my patching clearly isn’t doing the job. I decide just to cycle the remaining 20km, stopping to pump up the tyre each time it deflates.

A further 2km down the road and my tyre is flat again. I carry on like this for a few more stops, before I have the bright idea of trying to see if the twenty-six inch inner tubes I’d bought in error will somehow fit round my twenty-eight inch wheel. They don’t. No matter how stretchy and rubbery they are, they just won’t reach right round. So my crappy, patchy inner tube goes back on and I continue limping down the road until it deflates once again. My plan is to somehow flounder my way to the hostel tonight and see if the Brazilians (or anyone else) has a spare inner tube I can buy. I continue my routine of cycling a kilometre or so until my tyre goes flat, stopping, pumping it up and then repeating the whole process. At the turn off for the Ocean Beach Hostel I’m faced with a road that is no more than a bumpy, stony single track. Just what I don’t need with today’s tyre issues. It’s 4.00pm now and 5.00pm by the time I crawl up to the hostel. I was meant to be in the sea three hours ago.

The English sounding owner must realise from my demeanour that I’ve had a shitty day, so he simply points me in the direction of the dorm building and says I can unpack and shower before formally checking in. When I delve into one of my plastic bags for shower gel, I find the top has popped open and the thick blue liquid has leaked all over my bag. It’s just been one of those days. The shower is basically an outside bathroom with a shower head fixed to the ceiling almost above the toilet. It’s like a mosquito carnival in there, but I’ll put up with slumming it when the location is so stunning in every other sense. I’ve been deliberately trying to avoid staying in Backpacker hostels on this trip in favour of Homestays, because I’m not going to experience or learn anything new in a Backpackers. However, this cheap, spectacular beachside location has made me re-evaluate that thinking.

When I get back to the dorm the Brazilian cycling couple are in the room. Weirdly, I already recognise the bloke from his Instagram pictures. We make our introductions and I tell them about my rubbish day and all my tyre issues. He tells me that he has a pump that can inflate my spare inner tube through a Presta valve, so we go outside to retrieve it from his bike. I go to attach the pump and just start pumping. It doesn’t work. Then he drops the bombshell by saying ‘No, you have to unscrew the top bit first !’ Oh, For Fuck Sake ! Once you take the plastic cap off, there’s a tiny metal screw on top of the valve that has to be undone as well. My spare inner tubes would have been fine if only I’d known how to operate a Presta valve ! All that time spent faffing around with patches and re-inflating my tyre, when I could just have swapped inner tubes ! I should be livid, but I’m just glad there’s a solution to my problem. Strangely, for all the long cycle trips I’ve taken, I’ve never once used a Presta valve. Every single inner tube I’ve used in the past has come with a Schrader valve, the same universal type you get on cars and motorbikes. Now at least I know what to do with a Presta valve, so I can simply put on one of my spare inner tubes before leaving tomorrow.

I go for food with the Brazilians, Felippe and Martina, and find out about their trip. They began after their work contract finished in New Zealand and are trying to cycle all the way back to Brazil. So far they’ve ridden through New Zealand, Australia and most of South East Asia. They aim to continue through Central Asia, Europe and eventually back home to Brazil via the foot of South America. They do fly a lot between destinations and put their bikes on buses to skip boring or difficult sections. It’s not a continuous ride by any stretch of the imagination, they just cycle when they want to. Martina says she doesn’t like the busy roads and noisy traffic in Vietnam, and they both think Vietnamese people aren’t as friendly as those in Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia. I find this a bit odd as I’ve found most Vietnamese to be friendly, although they do seem to have become slightly less hospitable the further South I’ve cycled. Felippe suggests this might be a throwback to the Vietnam War and the fact that Southern Vietnam were on the losing side. This was a theory I’d actually thought of myself, but figured it was too far-fetched to be valid.

We all have beef noodle soup and a good chat, before we are asked to move on so that another group can use our table. Back at the hostel’s bar I slowly sup on a beer, while the Brazilian couple share a coke. We’re about thirty metres from the sea in a large, open sided bar with a palm leaf roof. I can almost feel today’s trials and tribulations fading away with the beer and the location. The Brazilians go for an early night as they want to be up early to witness sunrise over the sea tomorrow morning. I go for a walk along the quiet beach in the dark, paddling in the warm sea and illuminated only by the moonlight. However, I’m in my bunk and asleep by 10.00pm, thankful to have put this day to bed.

It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

18th FEBRUARY 2019

The ever smiling Ron gives me coffee and an Oreo biscuit before I leave Quang Ngai. And, of course, the now customary hug. He then fills all my water bottles, and happily poses for selfies and pictures of himself standing outside his guest house. I think he’s probably the most genuine, good-natured bloke that I’ve met on my trip so far. As I’m leaving his wife shows me all the brilliant reviews they’ve had from British travellers, with the strong inference that I should do the same. They will get a great review too, because they thoroughly deserve it.

To my good fortune there’s a Banh Mi stall on the pavement right outside the Guesthouse, so I order two with extra fried egg before heading off. I’m up and running about an hour earlier than normal this morning in an attempt to get more distance covered before the early afternoon headwind. However, my cunning plans are thwarted as the headwind decides to make an early appearance too. It looks like I’ll be riding into the wind for the full 80km today, but at least that will cool me down on an otherwise hot day. For the most part I’ll be following the QL1A road again. The road bypasses most towns, whereas I go straight through as they are usually more interesting, whilst also offering shade and food options.

I’ve been getting into the habit of not stopping for lunch until I’m well past the halfway point for the day, as I tend to feel a bit lazy and sluggish after a big feed. I’d rather feel lethargic towards the end of the day than halfway through it. For today’s lunch I walk into a deserted Plastic Chair Cafe to find the owner asleep on a hammock near the back. I don’t want to wake the poor chap up so I try to creep back out, only for him to hear me, wake up and start cooking. He sleepily rustles up a noodle dish with some kind of fatty meat in it and charges me 65p for his efforts. He probably wishes that he’d stayed asleep. My stomach certainly wishes he had.

The road skirts round some hills and towards the coast, the change of direction pointing me straight into a fresh sea breeze. Despite this, I’m feeling really strong today. It always baffles me how I can feel great on some cycling days, and yet struggle on others with more or less the same routine. At Tam Quan I ride parallel to the beach and find my hotel up a dusty side street. I chain my bike to a thick roof support column outside reception and am told not to worry about it as the front gate gets closed every night.

The hotel is very close to being beachside, which would be lovely if the beach wasn’t strewn with all sorts of plastic and litter. This is without doubt the dirtiest beach I’ve seen yet in Vietnam. I’m not sure why the local council or beachside businesses can’t get this cleaned up, especially when the cafes and restaurants trade and make their money by being ‘on the beach.’ It’s almost scandalous that the beach area is such a disgrace when it has the potential to be gorgeous.

After a depressingly short stroll on the disgusting beach, I walk through town in search of food to cheer me up, stopping at a cosy little Plastic Chair Cafe. The lady owner gives me noodle soup along with a big side plate of mixed green salads and fresh herbs. She shows me that I have to pull all the coriander leaves from the stalk before adding them and just to tear up the lettucy-looking leaves and stir them in. This is a useful etiquette lesson for me as I usually just chuck everything straight into my noodle soup. She must think I’m completely clueless though, as she also motions for me to add the fish sauce and hot sauce for flavour. Once again, I know she’s only trying to be helpful, so I try not to feel too insulted.

Once I get back to the hotel I’m a little surprised to see how red my arms and face have become. One of my original sunscreens had run out and it appears that my cheap Vietnamese replacement just isn’t up to the job. There’s some things in life you can’t compromise on, and sunscreen is most definitely one of them. I’ll need to get back onto the good quality cream tomorrow for a big 100km day of sun and wind that will take me to Quy Nhon.

The following day I wake up feeling strangely listless, which isn’t ideal with a long day of strong headwinds looming. I’m trying to leave before 9.00am, although I’m really not in the mood, moving all my gear downstairs in instalments. At least my bike is still chained to the roof support outside.

For breakfast I return to the same Plastic Chair Cafe that served me dinner last night. The owner lady had offered me baguettes just before my noodle soup culinary lesson, so I’m hoping she’ll do Banh Mi this morning. I point to the baguettes and raise a couple of fingers to indicate that I’d like two, only for her to give me them dry with tomato and cucumber as a side. ‘Banh Mi ?’ I almost plead, before she fries up two eggs and pops them into the baguettes I’ve just opened. I scoff them down, even though I’m in no rush to get on the road. The headwind has started early again, and I know there’s nothing I can do but keep pedalling into it like an automaton.

A couple of hours into the day I notice some huge, shady trees to the side of a cafe and pull over for a breather. I stand in the shadows, reapply my sunscreen and drink a few mouthfuls of what is now lukewarm water. The cafe owner waits a couple of minutes then comes over and angrily motions for me to move on. The little bastard ! I give him a sarcastic Thumbs Up and an even more sarcastic ‘Thank You, Thank You !’ In hindsight I should have asked to come in for a coffee and then told him to Fuck Off. His rudeness has really pissed me off, although this anger does channel itself into getting the pedals turning.

For lunch I’m looking for somewhere that does rice meals, so I need to find a sign that says Co’m. I ride past signs that offer Bun (noodles) or Pho (soup), but I really fancy some rice to fill me up and give me energy. A Co’m sign eventually appears on the opposite side of the road, so I cross over and begin playing my familiar game of charades. I do my usual hand signals for ‘Can I eat?’ while the lady at the counter points to a tray that contains cooked chicken portions. I nod my head and take a seat. One of the owner’s little kids brings me some home-made iced tea, which is a real boon today and cools me down beautifully. I’ve ordered chicken, however I’m never exactly sure what form the meal will take until it arrives at my table. Today I get a plateful of chicken, rice, noodles and cucumber, along with a little side bowl of clear meat soup. Overall it’s a good feast, and sitting in the shade under a fan is just what I needed. The owner also coaxes me into buying a big bottled water as I leave, so I should be sorted for the rest of the day.

By mid-afternoon I’m starting to become lethargic and a little bit achy. My right shoulder feels like it has frozen shoulder, my legs are stiff and my hands now have a dull ache from constantly gripping the handlebars. And, of course, my butt is hurting too, despite me wearing three pairs of padded shorts and using a gel seat cover. By this point I’m making any excuse to stop and rest for a few minutes, whether it be reapplying sunscreen, drinking water or just taking random photos. One particular rest stop is justified though, as I’ve never seen a sight quite like it. There must be tens of thousands of red chillies lying on huge mats near the roadside, drying in the sun. A spectacular carpet of bright, brilliant red stretches for about fifty metres into the adjacent field. We’re right in the middle of dry season now, so they can be left out for days to ensure they lose all their moisture. I learn they can keep for over a year if they are dried properly. 

With about 20km to go I start to really struggle in the heat. I’m sweating like a fat pig and have to buy another two litres of water, having already drained the one I bought at lunchtime as well as three others. I keep pausing and forlornly checking Google Maps to see how much further the blue dot that represents my position has moved on. It’s creeping along horribly slowly, probably not helped by my constant stopping. I’m getting that almost dizzy, sicky feel each time I stop too. It’s not as bad as the day I arrived in Huế where I thought I might be physically sick, but it’s still not pleasant.

At the turn off for Quy Nhon I turn towards the coast and directly into the teeth of the headwind once again. I stop one final time for a breather and feel like the bones in my lower back are about to collapse on themselves. I’m wrecked. For the final couple of kilometres I turn North, which rather cruelly shows me the tailwind I would have had cycling in the opposite direction. I get to the Hoang Gia Homestay, which is more like a hotel above a coffee shop than a Homestay. The bloke who greets me says I can leave my bike outside on the pavement, but there’s absolutely no way I’m going to agree to that. He lets me wheel it in and leave it against the back wall of the coffee shop, telling me it will be safe there overnight. There is nothing to chain my bike to, so I have to be content with looping the chain through the frame and back wheel. The bike will now be awkward for someone to move, if nothing else. I’m slightly more reassured when the guy tells me there is always someone on duty, and that he actually sleeps on a bench in the cafe overnight. The family sit me down and feed me glasses of iced water, presumably because I look so exhausted.

Sadistically, they’ve given me a room on the second floor, so I take all my gear and lumber upstairs in heavy-legged slow motion. The shower switch is off in my room, so I click it on and then, frustratingly, have to wait the required fifteen minutes. I don’t want to lie on the pristinely white bed with my sweaty mess of a body, so I just lie on the bathroom floor, knackered, while the water heats up. I feel pretty faint after getting off the floor, but the rejuvenating powers of the warm shower seems to make today’s struggles disappear. 

Feeling much better I take a walk to the beach. It’s 5.00pm now and a fat, round moon is rising above the hills that form the North-East side of Quy Nhon Bay. There’s plenty of locals in the sea and on the sand, with football and beach volleyball proving popular. And after the repulsive shambles of yesterday’s beach, it’s so refreshing to see that Quy Nhon beach is in pristine condition. I just stop at a Banh Mi stall on the way home as it’s still too warm for a hot meal. Even then, I can feel sweat pouring off me as I sit there eating.

Back at my room I lie under luxuriant air-conditioning and reflect on what’s been a tough day. My plan was to avoid doing 100km days on this trip due to the heat and humidity. However, like a fool, I’ve now completed two of those long days and have genuinely struggled on both occasions. I really need to stop being such a twat and stick to shorter, more manageable days. I’ve only used half the time on my visa and am well over halfway down the country, so I’ve bought myself enough time to start taking it easy. With that in mind, tomorrow will definitely be a Rest Day. I feel so drained after today that I’m in bed and asleep by 8.30pm.

 

 

 

 

Slender Man Rides On

16th FEBRUARY 2019

My final breakfast at the Xanh Lá Homestay involves my new preferred food and drink options of Mi Quang and Iced Coffee. Normally I’m a tea drinker, but in Vietnam the double whammy of strong coffee hit, coupled with cold refreshing ice has me hooked. I always try to have condensed milk in my coffee, too – partly because fresh milk is so scarce, and partly because I need some form of sweetener to offset the bitterness of Vietnamese coffee. Before I leave the Homestay I get some pictures of the family posing with my bike. The grandfather comes outside in a white vest, smiles and asks ‘How are you ?’ like he always does. He then spends the next minute furiously patting down his hair so that he looks good for the photo. Like most of my Homestay families in Vietnam, they’ve been lovely.

I’m off on what should be a fairly easy 47km ride down the coast today. Hương tells me the route I’m taking is ‘not good’ as there are no shops or houses should I need any assistance. Nevertheless, I still take this quiet coastal road and find myself cycling through an arid and barren landscape soon after leaving town. The desolate feel of this area is compounded by a string of messy, home-made graveyards lining the roadside amongst scrubby trees and sand. Then a powerful, blustery headwind picks up. In a way this is good as it cools me down, but it also becomes a chore fighting against it as the day wears on. I plod on, realising that Hương was spot on with her assessment of this bleak and lonely road. The silver lining is that it’s quiet, with only a few scooters to keep me company.

I carry on down this empty road, being blasted by the headwind, until I reach the small fishing settlement of Tam Thanh. At the village centre I turn back towards the same direction I cycled from, before I find my Homestay accommodation along a narrow street that’s a mixture of homes and small farms. This place had received glowing reviews, scoring 9.8 out of 10 and being classified as ‘Exceptional’, so naturally my expectations are too high. It’s a nice two storey house, but it’s not amazing. The owner bloke just shows me upstairs and opens all the windows in my bedroom, allowing a strong sea breeze to rush through the room and cool it down.

I walk across the road and down to the village’s beach, weaving through a healthy population of fat, wooden fishing canoes. Getting into the sea seems pointless though, as the waves are so large and messy with the strong wind that I soon turn back inland in search of food. I’m walking past a Plastic Chair Cafe when an old lady beckons me in. There’s the usual language barrier, but I think I’ve managed to successfully put in an order for some more Mi Quang. I sit down, pour some of their home made tea into a glass over ice and await my new favourite dish. About ten minutes later the old lady is back and putting a huge bowl of cockles down in front of me. What the Fuck ? How have I ended up with cockles ? There has to be over fifty of them in there ! My pronunciation must be appalling if I’ve been given cockles while trying to order noodles. In my defence, Vietnamese is a language that uses six different speaking tones, so it’s very easy to get things wrong. Here a word can be spelt the same way but, when said in a rising, falling or neutral tone, can have three separate meanings. There’s a Vietnamese tongue-twister that goes ‘Bấy nay bây bày bảy bẫy bậy.’ It appears that the same word has just been repeated six times, but with the rising and falling pitches this actually translates as ‘All along you’ve set up the seven traps incorrectly!’ So, you can see why I make so many mistakes.

As I love shellfish anyway, I’m not too fazed by this turn of events. I’m more worried about how to tackle them with chopsticks, especially as I have an audience. Four old local blokes are sitting drinking beer at the table beside me and seem to have taken an interest in my predicament. One of them ambles over to show me how I should ladel some cockles from the large bowl into a smaller side bowl and eat them from there instead. Showing a grown man how to eat his food might be seen as piss-taking in some quarters, but on this occasion I know he’s just trying to help. My meal goes surprisingly smoothly, considering that I have to pick up each individual cockle and remove the meat from its shell with chopsticks. None of the old guys return to correct my eating habits, but they do ask me to have a beer with them so I must be doing something right.

Walking back to my Homestay through the tiny, one street village I’m amazed by how many people, especially kids, say Hello. They are disarmingly friendly and seem to love speaking to foreigners. I somehow can’t imagine kids in Britain showing quite the same interest in overseas visitors as I’ve received today. Back at the Homestay my bike is chained to the inside of the front yard perimeter fence. I’m not entirely comfortable with this so I lift it up to my room, in the process taking a small chunk out of the ceiling above the stairs with my pannier rack. Oops. Tomorrow’s weather forecast brings the uninspiring prediction of more gusty headwinds by early afternoon. Mornings always seem less breezy, so I might have to factor that into my cycling and haul myself out of bed a little bit earlier over the next few days.

The following morning I find that I needn’t have bothered setting an alarm because the local rooster starts cackling before sunrise. I grumpily open my window and look into the back garden below me to see if I can spot the noisy bird. All I can see are patches of fresh fruit and vegetables and skinny chickens running everywhere. My Homestay also produce and sell their own fish sauce, so opening the window does let in a rather distinctive aroma. The owner bloke isn’t around this morning, so I spend a good ten minutes trying to explain to his elderly mother that I need my passport back. Then it’s a further ten minutes waiting for her to locate it for me. Most of my waiting time involves playing high-fives with her grandchildren.

I roll down the settlement’s main street, getting more ‘Hellos’ from practically everyone I pass. It’s a great way to start the day, and really good for the soul to see so many friendly people. Within two hundred metres I’ve bought some bottled water from a little grocery shack, and then just across the street there’s a Plastic Chair Cafe for breakfast. I’m completely sorted for everything I’ll need today within five minutes of leaving my accommodation. The cafe is run by an amiable couple in their thirties, who serve me up a beef noodle soup and big jug of tea for the equivalent of 65p. The lady in particular speaks reasonable English, so it’s nice to have a proper chat before I leave.

To leave town I retrace my final few kilometres from yesterday, before taking a wrong turn and going straight through the city of Tam Ky instead of bypassing it. A young couple on a scooter slow down to my pace and chat with me as I make my way through the traffic. He tells me that he’s studying in Ho Chi Minh City, although they are both from Tam Ky originally. When I tell him about my trip he’s utterly astonished that I’m cycling such a distance through their country. Then, after negotiating the city, it’s back onto the busy old QL1A road yet again.

A couple of hours later I stop for lunch at a large Plastic Chair Cafe, where I have chicken and rice while inadvertently amusing the owner’s kids. Ironically, they are actually doing their English homework while I’m eating, and the parents encourage then to practice on me. I get a few decent attempts at ‘How are you?’ and ‘What is your name?’ questions, but they just go all shy and giggly when I reply. The youngest child, who looks about eight, is getting very animated and I hear him whispering ‘Slender Man !’ to his brother while looking at me with some degree of panic. Slender Man is a sinister fictional character with no facial features; a tall, thin bogey-man who terrorises children, so I’m happy to see my presence has left an impression on the poor kid.

As promised, a strong headwind blows in after lunch, which results in me trundling my way lethargically towards Quang Ngai. The last quarter of today’s cycle sees me trudging along in slow motion and making plenty of pit-stops for the most banal of reasons. It’s not exactly been a struggle, just a very, plodding and wind-hampered 70km. When I reach Quang Ngai, I make for the Thanh Lich Guesthouse, which has received rave reviews, primarily because of the hosts. The lady owner speaks almost no English, but greets me warmly with a plate of Oreo biscuits and a much-needed bottle of chilled water. She takes me upstairs and shows me the room that I had originally booked, before saying I can have the larger, riverview room instead. I notice that the owners have already turned on the shower switch prior to my arrival, which is a nice touch. With Vietnamese accommodation the shower switch is normally turned off as a money saving measure. This means that when you first arrive at your accommodation, you have to turn the shower switch on yourself, and then wait ten to fifteen minutes before the water heats up. It did take me a couple of cold showers at the start of the trip to work this out, mind you.

After my shower I head back downstairs and get to meet Ron, the husband. I’m just getting ready to shake his hand and introduce myself, when he beats me to it and greets me with a huge hug instead. He’s a stocky, muscly bloke in a white vest and seems like he is the happiest person on the planet, smiling almost continuously. Again, like his wife, he speaks virtually no English, but with Google translate and a willingness to be patient, we get along fine. He tells me my bike will be safe downstairs, standing unlocked between the motorbikes that the Guesthouse rents out. ‘No Problem’ he says, like every Vietnamese person does when I ask about the safety of my bike.

For dinner I take a short walk and find a Plastic Chair Cafe that serves up my second beef noodle soup of the day. I don’t mind the repetition as it’s probably one of the best I’ve had, with unusually tender meat in a rich, tasty broth. It’s hot though, both in terms of spiciness and temperature – sweat is beading up on my forehead and I can feel droplets trickling down my sides. The attentive lady owner keeps refilling my tea cup from a cute metal teapot that looks like it should be a family heirloom.

I return to the Guesthouse, where Ron greets me with a huge smile and a big hug once again, as if I were a long lost relative. His friendliness is infectious. He shows me how he will feed a thick metal chain through the rear wheels of his line of motorbikes later so they can’t be stolen. My bike will be part of this secure line up too, chained to motorbikes on either side, and I know that this reassurance will mean a much better sleep for me tonight.

 

 

Lanterns and Tourists

14th FEBRUARY 2019

I’m downstairs for my final Homestay breakfast in Da Nang, thinking that once again Lin will have left all the ingredients out for me. Instead, she has ridden her scooter back from work just so she can prepare breakfast for myself and one other Chinese guest. I’m almost embarrassed by her level of helpfulness, which goes far, far beyond what I’d expect from any accommodation. She also allows me to remain at their house until noon as today’s short trip means I’m able to start cycling later. When it does come time for me to depart, Lin shows up yet again on her scooter just so she can say Goodbye. I’m astounded by her attentiveness, although she could just be checking that I’m not making off with half the household possessions.

I leave Da Nang via the Dragon Bridge, as I need to get some daytime pictures of this bizarre spectacle, then continue riding South. About 10km further on I reach the Marble Mountains site, which Lin had recommended I stop at. There are five large, rocky hills that are home to Buddhist temples, pagodas, tunnels, caves and even steps up the inside of one mountain. It sounds like a place worth exploring, but when I arrive there’s an absolute glut of tourist buses at the entrance and an army of street hawkers shouting at me. I really can’t be doing with this, so I simply turn around and head straight off again.

Today I’m taking the coastal route to Hoi An, thankful that I’ve no need to go near the busy QL1A road. It’s only a 25km cycle, so I trundle along, stop for a Banh Mi lunch and reach the outskirts of Hoi An before I know it. I find my way to the Xanh Lá Homestay which, with its colour scheme, almost certainly translates as Green House. The owners are lovely, and have three generations of their family living in a two storey house next to the rooms. I chain my bike to a palm tree in their front yard, before settling into one of the larger and more modern rooms I’ve had on this trip. This place is classed as ‘Budget’ on my accommodation website, but it feels like luxury to me. The shower head is wider than I am.

Later I go for a walk into Hoi An’s Old Town for some food and stop at a restaurant that overlooks the wide, lazy Thu Bồn river. I order Mi Quang, which I’m told is a noodle dish peculiar to Central Vietnam. It’s basically wide, flat noodles with prawns and veggies in a tasty, yellowy broth. For a texture contrast it’s topped off with peanuts and a handful of crispy rice crackers. Wow, that’s bloody delicious ! When I’m done I order a beer and sit and people-watch the pavement out front and the river beyond. As darkness begins to fall every vessel on the river turns on it’s colourful lights and lanterns, so that the whole area becomes a picture of bobbing reds, pinks, greens and blues. It’s a magical sight. The restaurant has some really chilled, hypnotic Asian music playing too, which adds to the whole ambience. I order another beer. I’m having one of those ‘moments in time’ I get on cycle trips where there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be right now. I sit there happy as a clam and soak up the surroundings.

I toy with having another beer, but instead I take a walk along the riverside. My God, it’s busy ! There are throngs of tourists everywhere, meaning I can barely move faster than a shuffle. Nearly every street has displays of coloured lanterns strung above them and people are paying to release floating candles down the river. I walk across a wooden bridge to an island where Hoi An’s famous lantern shops are situated and try to take some arty photos of the vivid, multi-coloured globes. I spend a while just wandering around and taking in the sights before walking back to the Homestay, feeling totally at peace with the world.

Breakfast the following morning is taken at a table outside my room and consists of an apple-heavy bowl of fruit with yoghurt and a mixed fruit shake. Although this is a remarkably healthy option for me, I have to say I’ve still been eating a lot better on this trip than I normally do. Usually I’m devouring heaps of chocolate and biscuits for energy, but this time I’ve not strayed far from a diet of noodles, rice, meat, veggies and fruit. I’m not even missing or thinking about the naughty food, so I suppose that’s got to be a good thing.

The grandfather of the house is a kindly old gent who smiles and asks ‘How are you?’ every time I see him, although that seems to be the limit of his English. His daughter, Hương, tells me that he fought in the Vietnam War when he was fourteen years old, in the vast system of tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City that the Viet Cong used for shelter, storage and supply routes. In those days kids would live in the skinniest of tunnels for days on end, alongside stinging ants and mosquitos, only popping up at night to forage for food or to shoot Americans. If they were spotted they would retreat to their tunnels and pull the earth roof back over their heads. Most times the Americans had no clue that they were so close. Hương tells me that ‘We followed Uncle Ho’, meaning that her father fought for North Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh. It’s almost incomprehensible that this was the life of a fourteen year old kid during that war. He wasn’t forced to do this though, he proudly volunteered to fight for his country. Despite all their firepower, the Americans severely underestimated the spirit and courage of ordinary Vietnamese.

A little cycle in and around Hoi An is as far as I get today. I take a spin to the beach, where a bloke wants money from me just for parking my bike, so I move on purely out of principle. Then a beachside Banh Mi stall charges 30,000 Vietnamese Dong for one Banh Mi, whereas yesterday I got TWO for 20,000 ! Because I’m at the beach and because Hoi An is such a tourist trap, consequently things are much more expensive. In a strong headwind I ride down to the river mouth, past plush resorts on the water’s edge that offer no access to the beach beyond them. Then it’s back to town on a raised road through a sea of flooded green rice fields. Groups of women in wide, conical hats are back-breakingly bent over and tending to the crop. It makes for a great photograph but it must be tough, arduous work.

In the afternoon I take a siesta in true Vietnamese style, before having a little chat outside with the lady from the room next door. She’s a seventy-five year old Canadian who runs a clothing shop in Canada and spends every winter in Hoi An sourcing clothes to ship back home. (Hoi An is also famous for tailored clothes, as well as lanterns.) A recent hip operation hasn’t slowed her down, although she has been confined to a ground floor room while she recovers. After our chat she collars me to lift some of her heavy possessions up to the first floor where she’ll be moving shortly.

For dinner I walk back towards town and stop at a Plastic Chair Cafe a little bit before the Old Town. Because it’s not on the riverside it doesn’t come with the same tranquil view as last night’s meal, although it is much better value for money. I get a noodle dish, seven small spring rolls and a soft drink for around £3.00. Afterwards I walk into the lantern-filled Old Town again, where the mass tourist hordes are already starting to gather. Whereas last night I was at one with the universe, tonight I just can’t be arsed manouvering through all the bodies. Although Hoi An is a lovely spot, the sheer volume of tourists would get very annoying, very quickly. I return to the sanctity of my Homestay, which is just far enough from the Old Town to allow for a lovely quiet night.

 

Da Nang

13th FEBRUARY 2019

I’m downstairs for breakfast at 8.30am, just as Lin has requested. She’s just about to leave for work, but has left me all the ingredients for a beef noodle soup on the kitchen table. All I have to do is put my ingredients into a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Even with this simple task she doesn’t depart until she’s happy that I know what I’m doing. This will be the first time that I’ve (knowingly) drunk Vietnamese tap water on this trip, although I’m not overly worried at this point as Lin’s tap does have a filter attachment.

In the morning I go to meet an Aussie bloke named Lee, a fellow cycle tourer from the Warmshowers website. He isn’t able to host cyclists as his apartment is too small, so instead we catch up for a coffee across the road from where he lives. He’s a big lad for a cyclist and, in his own words, ‘likes to have only slightly more cycling days than rest days’ when touring. He also tells me that he doesn’t enjoy hills or exerting himself too much, yet he still managed a 1,000km trip down the coast from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City. This is the same route I’ll be taking so I load up on information as well as a couple of coconut iced coffees. He’s an interesting guy too, having worked as a teacher in Vietnam for the past seventeen years. Currently he teaches foreign applicants how to pass their English Language exam as part of the Australian citizenship process. He does all this via Skype whilst living in Da Nang, and hasn’t taught in a classroom for three years now. His next big cycle trip will be from Athens to Croatia, so I’m able to pass on tips from my European cycle, while he clues me up about what to expect in Southern Vietnam.

I’m back at the Homestay around mid-day, with the intention of cycling out to see the massive white Lady Buddha statue just along the coast. However, after getting back I start to feel a bit weird and weak, like my stomach is playing up. I begin to wonder if this is a result of Lin’s tap water this morning, or maybe even the ice in my coconut coffees. Part of me wants to go and lie down for an hour, but then I’d probably fall asleep and miss seeing the Lady Buddha statue and pagoda if I did. So, even though I’m feeling slightly crap, I know I should make the effort.

The Lady Buddha statue is 8km from my Homestay, but it’s huge, white form is visible on a hill to my left as soon as I reach the seafront. I’m dawdling along painfully slowly though, feeling faint and with my stomach churning like a washing machine. I carry on to the end of the beach, past seafood restaurants and a flotilla of small fishing boats at the sheltered North end of the bay. The road then twists along the rocky coastline of the Son Tra Peninsula, with a handful of hot climbs that I struggle up sluggishly in my delicate state. I’m not sure if my perspiration is down to cold sweats or the baking heat. At the top I leave my bike with the car park attendant and walk round the Linh Ung pagoda first. Architecturally it’s all curved roofs and dragon sculptures, giving the impression it has stood here for centuries, when in fact it was only completed in 2010.

All the while I’m moving round the pagoda grounds I keep catching glimpses of the giant Lady Buddha statue a little further up the hill. I make my way towards it, staying in the shade as much as I can, before reaching the level ground of the temple complex. The colossal statue in the centre is an impressive sixty-seven metres high, making it the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam. This gleaming white hunk of marble stands overlooking Da Nang Bay and is meant to help protect sailors and fishermen in the waters below. There are seventeen floors inside the statue, each one representing a different Buddha, but that’s a climb too far for me with the way I’m feeling today. I content myself with ground-level temples and the amazing views over Da Nang city, before retrieving my bike and freewheeling back downhill. On the way back I start to feel a bit better too, as if I’ve managed to walk off that slight feeling of nausea. I stop at a Plastic Chair Cafe beside a lake, where a seat and a couple of Banh Mi seems to bring me back to normal. As suddenly as I felt shit this lunchtime, I feel better just as quickly now.

I take a walk across the river and into Da Nang city in the late afternoon as I need to get a couple of spare inner tubes. My current spares sit at the bottom of my panniers each day, virtually forgotten about, so it took me a while to realise that two were actually the wrong size. It’s lucky I’ve not needed them thus far, as I’m sure twenty-six inch inner tubes won’t fit twenty-eight inch wheels. Darkness has fallen by the time I get the spares and have some dinner, so I make my way back via the illuminated Dragon Bridge. I’d seen this quirky-looking crossing from the next bridge on the river as I walked into town, so made a point of walking over it on my way back. The dragon is quite a sight, spanning the entire bridge, with three long humps in the middle like a Loch Ness monster. There’s a tail on the city side and an enormous dragon head on the other, all brilliantly lit up at night and changing colours from golden to green to blue. The dragon is also programmed to breathe fire and spray water, but apparently only on weekend nights. I’m here slap bang in the middle of the week, unfortunately.

After crossing the bridge I walk along the riverside, passing restaurants, food stalls and a gigantic carp-dragon fountain spraying a tumbling arc of water into the river. When I get back to the Homestay the kids are in the lounge. Michael is studying again, while Cherry has come out of her shell completely, showing off that she knows her colours in English and that she can count up to ten. She’ll probably be fluent before she’s in high school with all the English speaking guests they get at the Homestay. I sit chatting with the family for a while, with Lin constantly feeding me biscuits and water, Michael studying and Cherry high-fiving me at every opportunity. They’re a lovely bunch so I’m not fussed about having a late night, especially as I’ve only got a 25km ride down the coast to Hoi An tomorrow.

The Hai Van Pass

12th FEBRUARY 2019

There’s no breakfast option at the Binh An Guest House this morning, so I stop for food at a Banh Mi stall on my way out of the village. Banh Mi are essentially just little filled baguettes and are a legacy from when Vietnam was part of French Indochina. The baguette is sliced lengthwise, like a Subway sandwich and usually filled with one or more meats and some local vegetables. So far I’ve seen fillings of pork, beef, chicken, egg, tinned fish, omelette, sausages and pate, although I’m sure I’ll encounter many more varieties in the next month or so. The meats are topped off with ingredients like sliced cucumber, pickled carrots, coriander leaves, chilli, soy sauce and fish sauce. Banh Mi stalls are becoming a more common sight as I cycle further South, and they provide such a cheap, easy way to start the day. Today I have two egg Banh Mi, which fill me up nicely and cost 20,000 Vietnamese Dong. That’s my breakfast taken care of today for the ridiculously cheap price of sixty pence.

With my stomach full, I follow a straight, flat and gloriously quiet road away from Chan May Bay. From my humble surroundings last night, I’m now cycling past large international resorts and spas that overlook the more exclusive Lang Co beach. Because I only have a short ride today, I decide I have time to faff about to try and get some ‘In Action’ photos of myself cycling. I don’t normally bother with this, as I find it a chore setting up my camera and then riding past the same spot three or four times just to get a shot of myself cycling. Nevertheless, I find a roadside milestone, set up the camera and dutifully ride past a handful of times in the hope I get a decent picture.

I’m going to be traversing the Hai Van Pass today, a hulking chunk of mountain that was once a natural barrier between kingdoms in ancient Vietnam. The name apparently translates as ‘Ocean Cloud Pass’ due to mists that rise from the sea and cloak the mountain. This route over the pass used to be part of the main North-South road, but now the twisting 21km trek can by bypassed by using a shorter, straighter 6km tunnel. The road splits before the pass – cars, buses and lorries will generally use the tunnel, whereas scooters and cyclists have no choice and must use the mountain road. One exception to this is petrol tankers, who have to crawl slowly up and over the pass, forbidden from using the tunnel as a potential explosion hazard.

For the start of the climb I just take it easy and get into that slow, plodding rhythm I use for big hills. Road signs are telling me that the gradient is only 8% at this stage, which is just about manageable even for me. The fact that I’ll probably be stopping to take scenery pictures every few hundred metres is certainly going to help too. Not long after starting the ascent I’m treated to a spectacular view back down towards Lang Co beach, the very spot where I was cycling thirty minutes ago. Now I’m above a location where a large lagoon flows out to meet the sea, both waters coloured a brilliant azure blue. The sands of Lang Co beach stretch off for kilometres into the distance and I can just about see the beach I walked along last night. I spend a while taking photos and marvelling at the view. It’ll take me forever to get over the pass at this rate.

I trudge upwards until I reach a tight, right hand bend, where an Asian guy suddenly jumps out into the road in front of me and starts taking pictures. I’m breathing hard, whilst trying not to laugh at the absurdity of his actions as I creep past him. A few metres further on I realise that this man has just been taking the very same ‘In Action’ shots of me cycling that I was trying to manufacture earlier this morning. It would be great to get a copy of these pictures, so I turn around and go back to see him. It turns out the guy is a Chinese tourist in his forties who is here with his family, and also an avid cyclist. His son, Han, speaks good English and says he can e-mail me the pictures later as Chinese don’t have access to Facebook or WhatsApp. I’m not entirely confident that he will, but I’m hoping he’s true to his word.

It’s warm near the bottom of the hill, but luckily roadside trees and the twisting nature of the pass itself means that I remain shaded for large parts of the climb. I take more rest stops as I get higher, although the pay-off is that the temperature does become cooler with height. A few scooter riders offer me encouragement on my ascent, and occasionally stop and talk with me when I’m resting. It’s great that’s it’s only me and the scooters up here. There are also a small amount of tourist buses, cars and petrol tankers, but otherwise this is two-wheeled transport heaven. When the Top Gear team rode motorbikes for their Vietnam Special, the Hai Van Pass was a highlight with it’s winding roads and breath-taking views. I’m stopping so often to take pictures that I’m only slightly tired as I near the summit, whereas normally I’d be knackered.

I reach a viewpoint just below the top, where a different group of Chinese tourists have stopped to take photos. A couple of the women ask if they can pose with my bike to make it look like they’ve cycled to the top. I don’t mind their cheekiness though, as it means they’re happy to reciprocate and take pictures of me too. By this point though, things have started to become rather misty and almost a little chilly. The cloud line has drifted ominously down the mountain to nearly the same level I’m standing at, and it’s time I got moving again. Another few hundred metres of steady climbing then gets me to the summit, where the landmark is denoted by a collection of ramshackle tourist stalls lining the road. At only 500 metres high, the Hai Van Pass is not the tallest, but it’s definitely one of the more spectacular roads that I’ve cycled.

At the top I just roll straight past the market stalls and begin a speedy 10km descent on the opposite side. Now I’m over the pass I can look across a huge bay to my left and see the tall city buildings of Da Nang in the distance. The downhill zips past and I’m soon back down at sea-level, riding along the seafront and being buffeted by a strong, blustery headwind. I Google Map my way towards my accommodation and cross one of the seven bridges that span the city’s Han River. Da Nang is Vietnam’s fifth largest city, with a population of 1.2 million, yet it still doesn’t feel stupidly busy like Hanoi. Thank Goodness.

I continue pedalling to a lovely, leafy suburb that sits between city and beach to find my Homestay. I’m dawdling up the street, trying to read house numbers, when a guy who’s been talking with his neighbours realises that I must be his house guest. He shows me in and gives me a bottle of Desperados as soon as I sit down. The cold beer mixed with tequila and lime is going down beautifully after all today’s climbing. He’s a nice guy, although our language barrier means that most of our communication relies on Google Translate. I bring my bike inside and leave it parked on their wooden-floored lounge, alongside the family scooters.

From here a ten minute walk takes me to the beach, which has a row of tall hotels dominating the strip along the seafront, giving the place a Gold Coast or Miami feel. It’s a busy beach too, with sun loungers and straw umbrellas monopolising the sand. I order another two Banh Mi and watch messy waves dumping on the shore whilst waiting for my food to arrive. Then it’s back to my Homestay to meet the rest of the family. Lin, the wife is lovely and disarmingly helpful, always making sure I have a bottle of water on hand. Their oldest child, Michael, is thirteen and quite an earnest young man who spends most of his evening studying. Cherry, who’s six, is quite shy at first but then comes out of her shell and transforms into a giggling, mischievous little monkey. Studying becomes increasingly difficult for poor Michael as Cherry starts getting more and more hyper. I spend a while in their lounge just chatting with the family and munching on biscuits that Lin keeps feeding me. I’ve been made to feel very much at home here, so I’m more than happy to have a Rest Day tomorrow and stay in Da Nang for one extra day.

 

 

 

 

Chan May Bay

11th FEBRUARY 2019

Before I depart the excellent Charming Riverside Hotel, I have my final breakfast on the fifth floor overlooking the Perfume River. I stuff myself with omelette, baguette, banana pancakes with chocolate sauce and a plate of sliced fruit prior to checking out. Downstairs, on the wall in reception is a large printed map of Vietnam, which lets me see how far I’ve cycled since starting in Hanoi. I’m making great progress, and by the time I’ve ridden a further 100km to Da Nang I’ll be halfway down the country. I toyed with the idea of cycling that 100km in just one day, but pushing myself to cover big distances in this draining heat is precisely why I felt so crap on my arrival in Huế. Plus there’s a big mountain pass between me and Da Nang which would make a long day even tougher. Instead I opt to cover the distance over two days, and will stop at a place called Chan May Bay tonight.

Thankfully, it’s only twenty-two degrees when I leave this morning, sheltered by intermittent cloud cover and cooled by a welcome fresh breeze. For the first 20km I’m on a quiet-ish road out of Huế, before I rejoin the big QL1A road that bypasses the city. Then it’s a further 25km of busy, noisy traffic which leads me to a fork in the road just before a tunnel. Here I have the choice of taking a longer, steeper road over some hills or the more direct tunnel that bores straight through them. I choose the hilly option this time, partly because I know today is only a short cycle and I’m therefore more relaxed about spending time on a detour.

As soon as I’m off the main road it falls strangely silent. I’ve been so used to a constant stream of traffic passing me, normally accompanied by a symphony of blaring horns. The silence is almost eerie at first, but I soon start to appreciate the peace and quiet. There’s a great view from up here too, over rice fields below and out to a turquoise blue lagoon beyond. From above I also get a chance to see the QL1A road from a totally different perspective. It looks a horribly busy road from up here, with a fast, steady flow of traffic that contains an inordinate amount of buses and lorries. Seeing it from the outside makes me wonder why I’ve stuck to this road quite so rigidly since leaving Hanoi. I think I’ve become too used to just putting my head down and getting on with it, but now I’ve bought myself enough time to get off the big roads and explore the quieter areas.

Lunchtime at a roadside Plastic Chair Cafe brings some amusing language-barrier confusion at first. I do my usual fingers to my mouth gesture to enquire if I’m able to get food. The young guy who speaks to me appears to understand and asks ‘Meal?’ I nod, smile, give a Thumbs Up and sit down to wait for my meal. A couple of minutes later he brings out a cup of cold coffee, and I assume my meal will be with me shortly. More time passes and I begin to realise that my cold coffee is not going to be accompanied by anything else. I speak to the guy again and it turns out he thought I wanted ‘Milk’ rather than ‘Meal’. Once we’ve cleared up that misunderstanding, he says I can have Banh Canh for food. To save any further confusion I just go along with this, although I’ve got no real idea what particular foodstuff I’ve now agreed to. When the Banh Canh arrives I find that it’s a bowl of thick noodle soup containing prawns and a poached egg. It seems an odd mixture, but is actually surprisingly rich and tasty. It would seem that I’ve come up trumps on the Food Lucky Dip this lunchtime.

I’m off the main road again for the final few kilometres to take me to my village accommodation on Chan May Bay. Again, this road is bliss without the hustle of traffic. There’s still plenty of scooters, obviously, but almost no buses or lorries. I really don’t know why I didn’t make the effort to get off the main highway sooner than I have. I trundle slowly towards the village, passing water buffalo with their masters, labourers working in rice fields and people walking along the quiet road. My room tonight is at the Binh An Guest House, a two storey affair on a residential street. It looks nice from the outside, although once I go inside my room looks a bit old and grubby. I leave my bike downstairs, propped up against a wall in the family kitchen.

I have a shower and then walk to the beach on Chan May Bay. A further benefit to my short cycle today is that I have plenty of time to explore during daylight hours after arriving at my destination. The beach is sandy and wide, a long arc of coffee brown sand following the curve of the bay. A port and some ugly-looking industrial buildings blight the East side of the bay, while the West side looks uninhabited, with a group of hazy, smoky mountains dominating that end of the beach. I would go as far as to term this place ‘beautiful’ if it weren’t for the few stray bits of plastic and trash on the beach. Admittedly, the beach isn’t over-run with litter, but it does still manage to spoil the settting slightly. I’m not sure why local residents or beachside businesses don’t take more pride in their surroundings and organise a clean up. I’ve found that it seems almost culturally acceptable in Vietnam to drop litter on the beach or to leave it behind after having a picnic, which is such a shame.

Despite the litter presence, I go for a long walk along the beach towards the mountains at it’s far end. There’s a few locals on the sand at the start and a couple of Plastic Chair Cafes are blasting out what sounds like a mixture of Asian Techno and karaoke. I alternate between walking in the water and on the land, until I find I’m halfway along the beach and sharing the sand with a small herd of skinny cows. A little further on and I’m being passed by children cycling across the compacted, damp sand on their way home from school. Almost every single one of them waves or smiles at me, and the braver ones even offer a giggling ‘Hello’ in English to show off to their friends.

I keep walking until I’m almost at the end of the beach before turning back, with the sun setting over the mountains behind me. Spending time at the beach is just so good for the soul, and today has been one of my favourite cycling days so far. The 58km wasn’t taxing, and getting away from the busy highway to this tranquil location is just bliss. I know it seems obvious that this would be the case, yet I’m somehow still shocked by how chilled out and relaxed it has left me feeling. The last couple of weeks of ploughing down the main QL1A road haven’t been in vain though – I’ve now left myself in the position where I can take my time and use quieter roads without compromising the amount of days left on my Vietnamese visa. I’m glad that tomorrow’s cycle to Da Nang will continue this trend, even though it’s a steep, hilly climb over the Hai Van Pass that I’ll be looking forward to.