Hugging the Coast

28th FEBRUARY 2019

When I wake I feel much better than last night, with my headache gone and an easy cycle to look forward to. I’ve been told that my hotel doesn’t do breakfasts, but the lady owner says she’s willing to cook me up an omelette if I’d like one. This sounds good to me so I take her up on the offer, only to be left feeling slightly puzzled when a baguette and two fried eggs arrive. Oh Well. Before leaving I head into the village to buy two large bottles of water for the road. I open one immediately and it tastes bloody awful, like it’s gone stale after sitting in a glass for days. However, the seal on the first bottle is definitely unbroken and so is the cap on the second one. I think the fact that they’ve been sitting outside in direct sunlight may account for their stagnant taste.

There’s one big hill I need to climb to take me away from sea-level at Vinh Hy, although thankfully it’s nowhere near as steep as the roads I took into town yesterday. The slope is still a challenge, with one guy even struggling to get up the hill on his old motorbike, eventually coming to a halt about halfway up. I just plod slowly to the top, before a small downhill takes me through an arid looking landscape with spiky cacti at the roadside. It appears this peninsula I’m cycling on, jutting out from the rest of the country, must have it’s own dry micro-climate. The surrounding area looks almost Mediterranean, and as I continue descending I find myself cycling through a small section of vineyards. I somehow never thought of Vietnam as a wine producer.

This side of the hills is slightly more populated too, and I stop for lunch when I see a large metal garage with a Banh Mi stall outside. I must look a frazzled, sweaty mess when I stop as the lady owner invites me to come inside, plugs in a pedestal fan and points it straight at me. Her husband, incongrously wearing an Australian beach cricket top, then ambles over with a jug of iced tea for me. The poor bloke looks like he’s just woken up, but he wanders off again and returns with four small bananas on a plate. He simply hands them to me and says ‘Free.’ What a brilliant family ! I can’t thank them enough as it’s an absolute godsend to be getting out of the heat and downing a huge cold drink today.

Getting back onto the road, I’m soon out of the dry, cactus-ridden terrain and back down to sea-level. Now I’m cycling through an area of salt mining fields, essentially large pools of sea water that dry in the blazing sun to leave only the salt. I’m still benefitting from a strong tailwind this morning, and flying along so quickly that I’m going to be early for a 1.00pm check in. To kill time I just stop under a beachside palm tree, look out to sea and finish my remaining bananas. I can see my destination of Phan Rang across a small bay, and before long I’m making my way into town over a long bridge with a gentle slope at either side.

At my accommodation the owner says the person in my room hasn’t checked out yet and asks if I would mind a four bed dorm to myself. Hey, why not ? I have a shower, bang my head on the low door frame on the way out and get bitten by a mosquito. As per normal, my first hour involves an afternoon siesta. I’ve found myself tremendously tired in the last couple of days, which I’m hoping is just due to the heat. When I do wake I manage to squish the mossie that had been annoying and biting me earlier. There’s now a black and red stain on the wall, which is half mosquito and half my sucked blood.

I’m one street behind the beach, so wander down around tea time to find a rather clean stretch of sand by Vietnamese standards. The sun is setting over trees at the South end of the beach, and I sit there watching locals jogging, fishing and kicking footballs. On the way back I stop at a Plastic Chair Cafe across from my hotel. Communication problems abound, but I think I manage to order a rice meal at the very least. Although, what it’s going to be accompanied by is anybody’s guess. In Vietnamese, Fish is ‘Ca’ and Chicken is ‘Ga’, so with my pronunciation skills I could end up with either. Or something else altogether.

When my food arrives I’m not exactly sure what it is. It looks like it might be a tiny bird or a fish with most of its head removed, apart from the eyes, creepily. I think it’s a fish. I pull a piece of flesh off and it’s definitely a fish. To my slight relief, it turns out to be a bit like a sardine and tastes pretty good. Through a convoluted series of mimes I think I’ve just about managed to arrange breakfast for tomorrow morning as well.

The next day doesn’t start well. I go for a morning poo and, much to my surprise, it comes out more liquid than solid. I’m really hoping that isn’t a result of yesterday’s off-tasting water. On a brighter note, I do indeed get breakfast at last night’s Plastic Chair Cafe. It’s not gourmet, basically just fried eggs and sliced cucumber in a couple of baguettes, but it does the job. When I leave I take a bottle of water from the shelf, but the owners make sure they swap it with one from the fridge, which is always a nice touch.

Today I have the choice of a straight 64km down the QL1A or a longer 77km round a quiet coastal route. I choose the latter, even if that extra 13km means being out in the heat for longer. I’m not going to experience anything different on the big main road, just the usual noisy traffic and a greater chance of punctures. Heading South out of town I pass a succession of smelly fish sauce factories, before climbing up into a dry, desert landscape strewn with hundreds of large round boulders. Some of these rocks are the size of cars and are perched at precarious, almost impossible angles. The road continually twists in towards the interior, then back out towards the coast, but never gets too hilly to be strenuous. The biggest bonus for me today is that there’s cloud cover for most of my trek round this coastal route. It would have been a hot, tough ride in direct sunlight.

The coast road ends with a downhill that takes me onto flat land and past more brilliantly white salt pools. This straight road and a change of direction slows me right down, putting me into a headwind for the last few kilometres before the town of Ca Na. I stop a couple of times on this section as I’m starting to feel a little woozy, a sensation that’s no doubt related to my runny poo this morning. When I do reach the junction with the QL1A there’s a big roadsign saying left to Ho Chi Minh City and right to Hanoi. According to this sign there’s over 1,400km between here and Hanoi. I’ve come a long way.

Once I’m back on the big road, I stop almost immediately at a Plastic Chair Cafe as I feel a pressing need to eat and rest. The menu in this place is written in both Vietnamese and English, which means I can go crazy and order without fear for once. It turns out they don’t have my first two choices and suggest that I order ‘Grilled Squid in Sour’, which is probably the same meal I would have received if I’d just ordered blindly. The owners two daughters are about ten years old and go out of their way to be helpful. They show me to my seat, keep topping up my jug of iced tea and, of course, keep asking me questions to practice their English. When my meal arrives it is delicious, although something has obviously been lost in translation between ‘Sour’ and ‘Spicy.’ I’ve also found that any dish described as ‘Squid’ will be sure to have a couple of baby octopus hiding in there as well.

Feeling much better after a sit down and some food, I speed along the QL1A to Tuy Phong. I turn off the main road, then follow a stony track and go through a bustling market before finding my accommodation for tonight. I’ve arrived just before my 2.00pm check in, having covered today’s 77km in a respectable time with the aid of a helpful tailwind. I pop out for a simple dinner of Banh Mi in what I discover is quite a dusty, non-descript town. My plan was to possibly spend a Rest Day here tomorrow, but I think I’ll move on to somewhere more pleasant. At night I apply online for my Cambodian e-visa, which I’m hoping gets granted in the next ten days before my Vietnamese visa runs out.


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