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.