5th MARCH 2019
Considering the state I was in a couple of days ago, I wake up this morning with my insides feeling quite settled. Even my morning crap is a bit more solid today, despite its grotesque, yellow baby poo colour. Breakfast is the usual yoghurt, ‘froosh’ and cereal option, before I finally get all my gear together for an 11.00am departure. I say Goodbye to the hotel’s long term residents and their peculiar brand of semi-alcoholic, expat lifestyle. They all seem happy enough, but I don’t think it’s the life for me. Even with no money worries, I’d find it too boring to be stuck in the one place just getting drunk most nights. When I do leave, I only trundle as far as Madame Trinh’s restaurant for some lunch, where I have my prawns, veggies and rice combo, washed down by a fresh papaya milkshake.
I’ve given myself a simple 30km ride today, still slightly nervous about my guts after the ‘inconveniences’ of the last few days. I stick to the coast, past sparkling new tourist developments with reams of litter and rubbish strewn on the unused land between them. The road splits, giving me the choice of a high, exposed route through sand dunes or a slower plod through the touristy town of Phan Thiet. I choose the latter, and quickly realise it’s another destination that has been over-run with Russian holidaymakers. For a while it seems like every roadside building is either accommodation or a restaurant, until I finally emerge through the crowds to overlook the bustling fishing harbour at Mui Ne. Looking from above, the small bay is absolutely rammed with colourful wooden fishing boats as well as dozens of the round coracle ‘tubs’ used to ferry fishermen from the shore to their vessels.
Sticking to the coast I pass yet more resorts, before a final climb transports me up to join the inland road. I’ve not long joined this road when a walloping, fast downhill speeds me all the way back down to my destination of Puy Thuy. I even overtake a couple of scooters and motorbikes on this rapid descent, which leads to me grinning like a lunatic as I shoot past them. My accommodation is on the main road into town and seems to be a cross between a hotel and a Homestay. The owners live on the ground floor, while the two floors above are for guests. I’m told it will be alright to leave my bike unlocked in the large, open reception area, although I still feed my lock through the frame and back wheel as a deterrent. To be fair though, I have found Vietnam to be an incredibly safe country so far. People always say I might have my bike stolen in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, but it would be unlikely to happen anywhere else. It helps that on any given street the roadside businesses seem to form a little community, all looking out for each other and all aware of what’s going on around them.
At night I eat at a food stall across from my hotel that is situated unsettlingly close to the busy main road. My old favourite Mi Quang is on the menu, and I’m given the choice of having it with pork or duck. I choose pork, but have to eat it with my hands like a caveman to prize any meat off the fatty chunks. The stall appears to be a family run business, with an old mother and her twenty-something son serving me. The bloke speaks a bit of English and is friendly enough, however the grumpy old mother is a different matter. She makes it quite clear that she’s not my biggest fan, simply staring at me coldly when she plonks a salad bowl down in front of me. I’m mid-way through my meal when she pops her head out again to have another good look. I just smile and nod, which only serves to make her look even more annoyed. Screw her. The food itself is no more than pork noodle soup and salad, but at eighty-two pence I suppose you get what you pay for.
I’m slightly relieved the next morning to find my bike still sitting in reception, even though a passer-by could have picked it up and walked away if they’d really wanted to. For breakfast I get stuck into baguette, two fried eggs, halved vine tomatoes and some sort of salami slices. I split the baguette in half and pop all the ingredients on top, giving me a pair of open sandwiches that are tasty, but not all that filling. Happily, the guesthouse owner also gives me a couple of bananas for the road to help make up my calories. As I’m about to leave I get talking to an older couple who are Vietnamese, but now live in Lyon in France. They speak French for the most part, interspersed with snippets of Vietnamese and English, which is a confusing mixture for my brain to deal with first thing in the morning.
On departure I notice two ATM’s across from the guesthouse, one of which won’t authorise my bank card, and one of which declines it. This sends me into a fleeting panic in case my bank has frozen the card due to all the withdrawals I’ve been making from foreign banks. I have to ride into the town centre to find a greater choice of cash machines and am mightily relieved when an Agribank ATM spits out a wad of Vietnamese Dong. Then I cycle back through town and join up with the main QL1A road again, which is now turning inland towards Ho Chi Minh City after following the coast all the way from Hanoi. Being back on this road isn’t much fun though, with a crazy amount of trucks and buses, and enough roadside debris to give me a year’s worth of punctures.
There’s not much that will tempt me into crossing this hectic road, but a Plastic Chair Cafe on the opposite side displaying a Mi Quang sign does the job. When I go over I find the woman who runs the cafe asleep in a hammock, clearly in the midst of her afternoon siesta. She wakes up when she hears me faffing about and says I can have Mi Quang as long as I don’t mind it with rice instead of noodles. This is fine by me, although it’s probably akin to having carbonara with rice rather than pasta. I sit down in the shade with a bottle of iced tea, relieved to be cooling off as I wait for my meal. When the owner brings my food she also pulls up a chair and sits next to me whilst watching American wrestling on her phone. She prods my arm, points to one of the wrestlers and then points to me. What ? Am I a wrestler ? Do I look like him ? Does she want to wrestle me ? I just shake my head and laugh because I’ve absolutely no idea what’s she’s on about. She’s obviously been watching my chopstick skills too, as she wanders off after a few minutes and returns with a fork for me to use. It’s always a bit demoralising when the locals think you’re rubbish with chopsticks, especially when I know I’ve been improving.
The temperature is creeping towards an oppressive mid-thirties by the time I finish lunch. I leave the wrestling lady, slap on more sunscreen and careen straight into another bizarre meeting within a few kilometres. A motorcyclist with one of those pollution-stopping mouth masks pulls up and rides alongside me for a while. This isn’t unusual in itself, as passing riders will quite often join me for a chat or just to say Hello. This bloke, however, is slightly different. He puts his hand up to his mouth mask and at first I think he’s asking if I want food which, once again, isn’t all that uncommon. On this trip I’ve had plenty of passing motorcyclists ask if I want to visit a cafe owned by one of their friends or family. I tell him via sign language that I’m OK and don’t need any food.
The chap is persistent though, continuing with his hand to mouth gestures. It almost looks like he’s simulating oral sex. Then he removes his mouth mask and rolls his tongue lasciviously round his mouth. For Fuck Sake. He’s either offering oral sex or wanting a blowjob. I make the Vietnamese gesture for ‘No’, where you cup your hand as if you’re unscrewing a lightbulb and move it from side to side, but then realise that might look slightly sexual in itself. To make it clear I shake my head, accompany that with a definite ‘No’ and carry on pedalling. I’ll try the tactic of just ignoring him for a while. He falls behind and I think he must have stopped at his village.
Two minutes later he’s back again and carrying on with his grim cock-sucking gestures. This is starting to get annoying and feel a bit uncomfortable. He’s a scrawny little bloke in his forties, so I’m not unduly worried, but I’d still rather he weren’t there. I motion the dismissive ‘Hop It’ thumb signal, accompanied by a very clear and unambiguous ‘Fuck Off’.
He drops back once again so I think maybe he’s taken the hint, but no, he’s still there in my shadow. I’m starting to get really pissed off with him by now. I slow down and surprise him (and myself) by pushing his shoulder so hard that he swerves out into the middle of the road. I follow this up with an aggressive ‘Piss Off Or I’ll Fucking Kill You !’ tirade, and throw in a throat-slitting action for good measure. He looks suitably shocked. He pulls way ahead this time and I stop to make it look like I’m popping his bike registration down on my phone. That’ll hopefully put the shits up him even more. He pulls into a village up ahead, which I scan carefully on the way past, but that’s the last I see of him.
I’m left wondering why someone would pull that kind of stunt, especially when the other party clearly isn’t interested. I’m certain he must have copped a few punches in his time if he indulges in this behaviour on a regular basis. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience and I’m glad that he pissed off in the end, otherwise I might have been forced to live up to my threats, and that really isn’t me. The only upside to this encounter is that both time and kilometres fly past, which means I’m checking in to my accommodation at Tan Nghia by mid-afternoon.
The site is a large, dusty square set back from the main road by around two hundred metres. What looks to be twenty tiny houses surrounding this square turn out to be individual single rooms. At only £6 per night they are almost hostel-cheap, although that price does seem to reflect the shoddy cleaning regime. My room has cobwebs, damp ceiling patches and a bin full of empty bottles and take-away containers left by the previous guests. Still, I have a flat screen TV and air-conditioning, so I’m not complaining too much.
For dinner I walk back to a Plastic Chair Cafe I’d noticed on the way into town this afternoon. I remember seeing their signs for rice meals, but when I get there it happens that the Rice Cafe have, rather implausably, run out of rice. They also appear to have run out of nearly everything else too. The owner lady says she can make me some Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) instead, so I have to make do with that.
I spend the evening writing Warm Showers requests and also creating a Couchsurfing Public Trip for when I reach Phnom Penh in Cambodia. I’ve given up writing separate Couchsurfing requests as it’s a lot of effort, and usually garners very little in the way of responses. I’ll just try my luck with a Public Trip and see if anyone bites. Even if I get no replies, the mere act of writing out these requests still helps to fill me with enthusiasm for the road ahead. Suddenly, the excitement and promise of a new country is becoming very real.