23rd FEBRUARY 2019
I wake up to a message from Bobby, the owner of the Ocean Beach Hostel where I stayed two nights ago. He’s asking me if I have any contact numbers for the Brazilian couple as they had apparently slipped away yesterday without paying for their accommodation. Naughty ! It’s 9.00am when I leave Tuy Hoa, pausing almost immediately at a Banh Mi stall for breakfast and a seat. On the road out of town I find that the headwind has started early, and it’s destined to remain in my face for the vast majority of my 90km day. I’m riding parallel to the coast, but about 5km inland for the first quarter of my cycle and back onto the busy QL1A road again. There’s no shelter from the wind through a flat landscape of rice fields, and I make very slow progress to begin with.
About 20km into my ride I’m through the rice fields and heading towards a barrier of steep sided hills. The road splits into two here, similar to the Hai Van Pass, with a tunnel through the hills or a slow, meandering route over them. Again, I have no choice with which option to take as scooters and cyclists are forbidden from using the tunnel. I take the smaller road and start heading East, back towards the sea. The climb isn’t too bad, gradual at first with a couple of hairpin bends. I’m actually thankful for all the twists and turns as they give me some momentary relief from the persistent headwind. About halfway up I feel as if the bike is wobbling, and for a few weird seconds I think that this section of road may just be bumpy. It takes me another few seconds to realise that, of course it’s not a bumpy road, it’s another bloody flat tyre. I stop under the shade of a roadside bush, sit on the ground and put on my final spare inner tube. I’m not sure whether I’m being really unlucky with punctures, or that my tyres are becoming more worn down and susceptible after 1,200km. In a way I’m amazed I haven’t had more flat tyres, given the amount of junk and debris lying along Vietnamese roadsides.
With my tyre inflated, I slog up what’s left of the hill, over the summit and enjoy a view of the ocean once again. I’m a little nervous about the tyre re-puncturing so take it easy on the way down, pausing for a drink in the shade when the road levels out again. When I restart, a young guy in a cafe has obviously been watching me taking on liquids in the heat. He walks out into the road with his hands up, beckons me to stop and then hands me a can of cherry coke. I shake his hand to show how grateful I am for this act of kindness. It’s only a small gesture, but it is well and truly appreciated. Five minutes further down the road his group passes me again on a pair of motorcycles and all four of them wave or say Hello. What a good bunch of kids.
Another hour or so down the coast I see what I think is a sprig of dried grass sticking to my tyre and whirling round with each rotation. When I stop to investigate it turns out to be a skinny length of metal, like an elongated staple, sticking into the tyre. I pull it out and immediately think that I shouldn’t have, thinking it would be a similar scenario to pulling a knife out of a stab victim. In much the same way as a lodged knife could stem any blood from a wound, my length of metal may have been plugging the puncture. Sure enough, within two minutes of removing the metal, the air has escaped and I’m left with yet another flat tyre. Im not even annoyed or surprised any more. Pulling over into the driveway of a closed business, I set about patching up my inner tube from this morning as I know where the puncture is. However, I can’t locate a hole on the tube I’ve just removed, so I’m hoping that’s my last tyre drama for today. There’s even an upside to getting all these flats – the tyre that was so difficult to fit two days ago is now a lot more pliable and easy to put on.
By mid-afternoon the headwind is still blowing against me and it’s starting to get uncomfortably hot. I stop for water and, instead of getting it from the fridge, the shop owner goes out the back of her shop to bring me a bottle from the freezer. She didn’t need to make the extra effort and get me frozen water, but I’m extremely glad that she did. So that’s two flat tyres and two random acts of kindness I’ve received today.
When I finally turn off the main road, I cycle my final 5km to Doc Let past a host of what look like prawn farms. I get to the Light Hotel, which has some kind of major groundworks going on at it’s entrance, and meet Trung the owner. He’s about forty with a Beatles haircut and is tiny, even by Vietnamese standards. Most of his hotel reviews had said what a good bloke he is, and he lives up to that by giving me a Bia Saigon (Saigon Beer) as soon as I get in the door. His English is sketchy, but he’s fluent in Russian, having lived and studied there for seventeen years. When he Google translates, he types in Russian rather than Vietnamese because he says that works better with English. We talk for a bit in faltering English and also by passing his tablet between us and typing into Google translate. We get talking about alcohol, and before long he’s pouring me a shot of Vietnamese dark rum to go with my beer.
I go upstairs to my room, but only change out of my trio of padded shorts as I want to see the town’s beach before dark. It’s about a ten minute walk and I arrive to find a wide, clean beach backed by hotels and palm trees. The expanse of sand must be 5km long and both ends of the beach are overlooked by tall, jungle covered hills. It’s such a gorgeous, peaceful spot and just what I needed to unwind after a day of headwinds, heat and punctures. Darkness is beginning to fall and the remaining light from the West is throwing the line of palm trees behind the beach into silhouettes. It feels like I’ve now reached the Promised Land after the day I’ve had. I ask a Vietnamese beachgoer if he’ll take my picture, before another random guy wants to be in the picture too. Then the photographer decides he wants to be snapped with the Westerner as well, so now there’s three of us in the shot. It always cracks me up when locals want their picture taken with me, although I do find it quite an endearing habit.
Trung had told me that eating at the beach would be expensive and the cheaper options were further inland. I’m walking back towards the village and see Trung outside his hotel as I approach. When I ask him to recommend somewhere to eat, he replies ‘You go for food now ? I can take you !’ We jump on his motorbike and head to a place on the outskirts of the village that I cycled past on the way in. They obviously know him well at the restaurant as he must bring a lot of his guests here. We sit outside with his tablet to translate for us, a bottle of dark rum and a large bottle of coke for a mixer. Trung orders rabbitfish for himself and recomnends that I have Bo Ap Chao, which looks a bit like beef casserole with rice. It’s one of those meals you cook yourself, adding beef to a sauce with vegetables that are heated on a silver tray above a gas burner. The sauce is absolutely delicious, although I’m told it’s a secret recipe that the restaurant will never divulge. It’s one of my favourite dishes of the trip so far.
After the meal we stay and chat for a while, with Google translating things between us, before heading back to sit outside the hotel. Trung asks if I’m going to sleep or if I would like another rum. I tell him I’ll have one more. One then becomes two, and a couple of hours later the bottle is three quarters empty. I stop there as I’m a little pissed now and really need to get some sleep. I’ve got a tyre to patch up before leaving tomorrow and I would like to see one sunrise over the sea before I leave the East coast of Vietnam. Trung has gone above and beyond today, and I’ve seen first hand how his hospitality gets him such great reviews. I’ll certainly be adding my comments to that ever expanding list of praise. Today has been testing in many ways, although getting to the stunning Doc Let Beach has more than made up for all the little hassles. Now, barring tyre dramas and hangovers, it should be a fairly easy 50km run to Nha Trang tomorrow.