Passing Through Little Russia

24th FEBRUARY 2019

My eyes are open at 5.30am, which is slightly surprising considering I was still awake and half-pissed about four hours ago. If I got out of bed now and walked to the beach I could get there in plenty of time for sunrise over the South China Sea. Or more likely I could lie there semi-comatose, staring into space, while a warm, pink glow slowly creeps into my room from what must have been a glorious sunrise.

Breakfast is a no frills affair and served downstairs by the one remaining staff member that Trung hasn’t fired yet. It’s a rather odd collection of foodstuffs, containing some kind of breakfast biscuit, coffee, a guava and two fried eggs which I squeeze into a baguette. Trung is up and about too, not looking any the worse for last night’s rum consumption. Back upstairs, I go about fixing the puncture on inner tube number two. I couldn’t locate the tiny hole at the roadside yesterday, so I fill my wash hand basin up with water and slowly turn the fully-inflated tube around until a stream of small bubbles rises to the surface. ‘Aha ! Found you !’ I say out loud, before taking my time patching the tube so I make a good job of it.

I’ve only a short 50km cycle to Nha Trang today, so barring tyre issues it should be fairly straightforward. I say Goodbye to Trung, who’s been an absolute star, and trundle gently through the town to a Banh Mi stall, even though I’ve not long had breakfast. The woman who owns the place seems to take a shine to me, cramming way too many ingredients into my two sausage Banh Mi. She tells me by writing on a piece of paper that she’s forty-nine and seems very pleased when I write that I’m forty-seven. When I say Goodbye she gives me two oranges for the road and squeezes my hand meaningfully as I depart.

I’m back on the main QL1A route today, whose roadsides are the usual litter-strewn minefield for my tyres. Heading inland for an hour, I pass through the big town of Ninh Hoa, then swing back towards the coast again and into a headwind for the next hour or so. By early afternoon I’ve moved to riding Southwards, just around the time when the headwind is normally at it’s strongest. Amazingly though, for my final 15km the headwind seems to disappear and there’s a slight chance I may even have a tailwind ! At this point in my journey I’ve nearly reached the South-East corner of Vietnam, which should mark a change in wind direction for me. The Brazilian couple I met three days ago had complained about fighting headwinds all the way along the South Coast, whereas I should have them behind me as I’ll be riding in the opposite direction to them.

About half an hour from my destination the road splits and I spend a while climbing steadily, before a fast downhill takes me down towards the coast and Nha Trang. It’s a large, modern city with half a million inhabitants, hugging the coast and surrounded by a series of jagged mountains. I ride along a seafront of restaurants and high rise hotels for a couple of kilometres and then turn inland to find my guest house about five minutes walk from the beach. My bike ends up in a tiny outside courtyard, chained to one of the owner’s scooters, as there’s nothing else to secure it to. I’m still a bit dazed after last night’s rum drinking malarkey, so my first hour in Nha Trang is spent crashed out upstairs.

Heading out for food later, I’m taken aback by the amount of Russians in the city. They are everywhere ! My fried noodles with seafood is eaten at a restaurant where the menu is printed in Vietnamese, English and Russian. As I take a scenic route back to my guest house, I notice Bar Moscow and Bar Yerevan, complete with pockets of huge, blond Russians standing outside. In much the same way as chavvy Brits would head straight for a Lineker’s Bar in Spain, the Russians all seem to stick together like a herd here too. Trung, being the Russian expert, told me that most Russians can’t afford to go on holidays in Europe so opt for cheap, hot destinations in South-East Asia instead. The result is that Nha Trang seems over-run with tourists, both Russian and Chinese.

The following day I remain in Nha Trang, primarily to get my hands on some spare inner tubes, but also because I wake up feeling dog tired. I’m not sure if this is a delayed hangover or my body just telling me to relax and recuperate after a few hot days in the saddle. My guest house had recommended a bike shop, so I walk there via a Plastic Chair Cafe only to find out that it’s actually a motorbike shop. Nevertheless, they do provide me with a couple of spare Kenda inner tubes after I show them what I’m after on Google translate. I don’t have a lot of choice as it’s the only inner tubes they have for my size of wheel. The ridiculously cheap price doesn’t make me feel any more optimistic about their quality and prospects either.

By mid-afternoon I decide it’s about time I get to the beach and have a proper swim in the sea. I spend about twenty minutes in the water and it feels brilliant. Why the Hell haven’t I made the effort to do this before now ? When I get out I find I’m lying on a beach that is choc-full of red Russians who don’t appear to favour wearing sunscreen. By 5.00pm the sun is starting to dip between the high rise hotels behind the beach, casting long shadows over the sand. Most of the Russians are now standing up so that the low sun is still able to shine on their entire bodies. Presumably, if they remained lying down then the sun would be hitting them at too shallow an angle and, consequently, they wouldn’t get so tanned.

The next morning I say Goodbye to the lovely family at the Thinh Le Guest House. My bike is still faithfully attached to one of the family scooters, the lock being looped through both our back wheels. I pump up my tyres for good luck, roll down the main street along the seafront and stop for Banh Mi and iced coffee before leaving town. Then I follow a road South that will take me out of the touristy Nha Trang, inland over a river and then back out towards the coast. For the first few kilometres there’s a nice big concrete divider on this road which keeps bikes and scooters separate from trucks and buses. This divider ends eventually, but the road is still far quieter than the nasty old QL1A route.

I’m passing plush hotels and golf courses further South of Nha Trang, for tourists who want to avoid the chavvy Russian crowds in the city. Because these resorts are so upmarket, the road quality around them is excellent and I’m enjoying a smooth, easy cycle for the first time in ages. And what’s that ? That’s not a tailwind is it ? I think it might just be ! It seems that I’m now turning the corner, both physically and metaphorically, as I round the South-Eastern tip of the country. The road then skirts round a bulky set of hills, hugging a rocky seaside cliff for 10km of stunning cycling. The coastal scenery is definitely becoming more spectacular, and the sea a more tropical blue the further South I ride. Once I’m round the hills and back onto flat ground the cycling becomes incredibly easy. The road reverts back to smooth, quiet dual carriageway again, with a landscape of beach resorts and hotel construction off to my left. This strong tailwind is now blowing me along beautifully. What a difference it makes to be speeding along in a high gear with next to no effort. I bloody deserve it too, after slogging South into a headwind for almost a month !

I cross a river just past the Cam Ramh International Airport, which must only exist to serve Nha Trang, and move inland once more. I’m back on the QL1A road for the last half hour, still busy as ever and still full of potentially puncture-causing debris at it’s edges. My accommodation is just off the main road, and staffed by a middle aged woman who is more efficient than friendly. She assures me it will be safe to leave my bike unlocked in the reception area, but I chain it to the stair bannister just to be sure.

By mid afternoon I’m showered and off for a wander through town, stumbling upon a Buddhist temple that is interesting, if a little surreal. The whole place looks more like a fairy tale garden with multiple and ramdom statues of unicorns, elephants, serpents, dragons and Buddhas. There’s also a massive reclining Buddha, about fifteen metres long, draped in a gold robe and with a wagon wheel design on the sole of each huge, chunky bare foot. I spend a good while just exploring the grounds, before stopping for some bang average Banh Mi on the way back. I book my accommodation for the next three nights, making sure that my longest day of cycling is no more than 70km. I’ve now got two weeks left on my Vietnamese visa and about 450km left till I reach the border.




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