27th FEBRUARY 2019
There’s two things that are sometimes difficult to find in Vietnamese accommodation – soft beds and hot showers. Quite often I’ll get in from a days cycling and sit down heavily on the bed, my arse looking forward to a comfortable landing, only to be surprised by a surface that feels like brick. In a similar vein, it’s quite common here for showers to be lukewarm at best, or even a touch cold. However, the Lily Hotel in Cam Ranh surpassed all my expectations yesterday with a remarkably hot, steaming shower. In fact, it was such a novelty that I have an extra shower for the road before leaving this morning. It’s an utterly pointless exercise though, as I’ll be a hot, sweaty mess within a few kilometres.
Cycling back into town, I stop at a Plastic Chair Cafe that has a large ‘Mi Quang’ sign outside. I’m not entirely sure you’re supposed to have Mi Quang for breakfast, but the young chap inside cooks one up for me nonetheless. It’s a filling noodle bowl with beef, prawns and quail’s egg, served with a brittle, thin poppadum and a side salad. One of my favourite things about Vietnam is that you can enjoy a huge, tasty, freshly-cooked breakfast for just under a pound. This meal will keep me going all the way to Vinh Hy today.
During my first hour this morning I follow the QL1A road and enjoy being blown along effortlessly by a steady tailwind. From the main road I turn left for my final 30km and make my way towards a hilly, coastal National Park. Just as I turn onto this quieter route I find that one lane has been completely taken up by rice drying upon the road. For two hundred metres there is a carpet of rice grains spread across one lane, gaining heat from both the hot tar and the blazing sun. Every vehicle that passes has to use the opposite side of the road to avoid driving over the rice. At either end of this rice mat there’s an old lady sitting on a chair in the shade, presumably ready to spring into action should a car or scooter attempt to run over their produce. I’m not sure about the hygiene implications of drying rice on a public road, but I do notice leaves, twigs and gravel in amongst the long sea of grains.
I’ve turned North for the first few kilometres on this new road, almost doubling back on myself in the process. It’s only with this change of direction that I can appreciate the tailwind that I’ve been enjoying for the last couple of days. It’s also a nasty reminder, albeit only a brief one, of the headwinds that plagued me for most of my journey South. The road then arcs round the top end of a peninsula and begins to meander towards some forested hills. The first slope looks horrific from the bottom, a mostly unshaded ribbon of grey concrete stretching up into the distance. The summit looks to be about 2km away, so I figure I might make it in three bursts with rest stops on the way up. I get into slow, plodding mode and just keep crawling along, eventually coming to a halt under a tree about ninety percent of the way up. I’m quite impressed with that effort ! I take a picture looking back down the slope I’ve just climbed, but these type of photos never do the steepness any justice.
Then I more or less follow the coast, on a hilly, twisting, turning road. At times I’m shot right back down to sea-level, and at others I’m climbing to around fifty metres above. It’s about mid-day now, it’s bloody hot and there’s barely a cloud in the sky. To my left the sea is the most ridiculous colour of tropical, aquamarine blue. Sitting a few hundred metres offshore is Binh Hung island, which provides shelter from the open sea and has allowed floating restaurants and Homestays to be built in the calm waters between the island and shore. This is cycle trip heaven.
I face climbing one final big hill which will take me up and over to the small fishing village of Vinh Hy. It’s twice the height of today’s first hill, but thankfully the gradient is a lot more steady. The climb is slow and exposed though, with less and less tree cover the higher I ride. My main problem now is the heat, as I’m trudging along so slowly that I’m not creating any breeze for myself. A couple of long hairpin bends through dry, scrubby bush get me close to the top and afford spectacular views of the coastal road I’ve just cycled. By this point I’m stopping at any opportunity for shade and gulping down water like there’s no tomorrow. At the top I have 3km of speedy downhill that take me into Vinh Hy, although I manage to miss the turn off for my accommodation as it’s no more than a dirt path. I’ve almost cycled past the village before I realise what’s happened.
My hotel is a white, two storey building that looks oddly out of place on the outskirts of a messy fishing village. Stepping into a large, fenced courtyard, the hotel is on my right and the owner’s Mediterranean-styled house is on the left. There are plenty of tall palms and shady trees in the brick courtyard, and the owners seem to spend a lot of their time lazing in hammocks that are strung between them. The owner lady has perfect English from seventeen years of living in Seattle, and has now returned with her husband to live in the same village she was born in.
For the second hotel in a row my shower is beautifully hot, but I start to feel really dehydrated when I step out. The hills and heat and relentless sunshine have taken it out of me today. I’m so thirsty that I even succumb to the mini bar, which is almost unheard of for me. I chuck down a can of 7-Up, which costs the same as a can of beer, then promptly crash out for a two hour siesta.
On waking I take a stroll into the village for a look around and to get my hands on a much-needed bottle of water. My God I’m so thirsty ! The village itself is situated on a small, circular bay and flanked all round by hills and cliffs. It’s the perfect natural harbour. There’s no beach, just a kind of half-built pier that runs right round the seafront. Squid are drying on large racks that rest on the sea wall and the harbour is choc-a-bloc with small wooden fishing boats. There are plenty of coracles too, looking like round floating tubs, that are used to ferry people from the shore to their boat in the same way that we would use a dinghy. It seems like the whole village is somehow involved in fishing or tourism, even though it’s slightly off the beaten track. The streets are claustrophobically narrow, with only the main routes wide enough to take a car or truck. The side streets are so thin that they’re only fit for bikes or scooters.
I check out the village food options before I head back, but there doesn’t seem to be much happening. There’s a couple of street stalls selling some kind of unidentifiable snacks and also a seafood place, but I tend to avoid them with the language barrier and a potentially pricey meal. In the end I stumble upon a woman who looks like she’s making pancakes at a little stall on the seafront. Through miming I ask if I can eat and she responds by picking up a cockle with some chopsticks and waving it at me to show what she’s making. The cockle drops to the ground and we all laugh which is a good ice-breaker. I raise two fingers to indicate that I’ll have a couple of whatever she’s making and take a seat at a table beside some locals. They all seem friendly and a little fascinated that I’m eating with them. For me, it’s good to watch how you’re supposed to eat these things before I have to attempt one myself. I get a salad and a little bowl of runny orange dipping sauce. The meal itself is a closed pancake containing octopus, squid and bean sprouts (I think she omitted the cockles after dropping the first one in front of me.) It strikes me as a bit of a weird mix, but it all seems to work somehow. I dip my salad and seafood pancakes in the orange sauce and chomp away happily, ordering another two when I finish just to fill me up completely. The whole meal comes to 20,000 VND, which works out at 15p per pancake. What a top find !
Full up and walking back, I pass the village’s recycling depot. They are busy crushing cans. The method they are using is to pile them all in their driveway and to drive back and forwards over them with a small truck. One bloke is at hand with a broom, standing at the side and sweeping the cans into the truck’s path before it drives over them, then reverses. Absolute Genius.
When I arrive back I’m straight into the mini-bar again for some orange juice. I must have caught too much sun today as I’m still feeling dehydrated and have a banging headache. I end up clearing out the mini-bar, minus the beers, and am in my bed by 10.00pm. I feel absolutely exhausted, and wouldn’t be too surprised if I’ve got a touch of heat stroke. Lucky I’ve pencilled in an extremely easy day for tomorrow then.