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, sickly 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.