April 28, 2014 by melcogger
We planned to take it easy along the Vietnamese coastline as we edged towards Dong Ha where we would turn westwards towards Laos. Highway One was traffic-filled, flat and ultimately uneventful so naturally we took every chance we could to veer off it. Unless loud honking buses and deep road-side excavation is your idea of getting to the next stop, small side roads is simply the only way to enjoy the experience. One such detour took us over the breathtaking Hai Van mountain pass, famously traversed by Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear gang on their Vietnam motorcycle tour. It was a small victory as the Hai Van tunnel clearly presented the easier route. It was here that we met our first other tour cyclists in three months. Two Thai men on a four day trip from Hoi An to Thakhet in Laos. We shared some lunch at the summit of the pass and enthusiastically shared in the joys of tour cycling. For us it was a long time coming so I hope we didn’t come across as too weird.
A huge part of our bicycle adventure, as we have proclaimed before, is the journey. This means taking every opportunity to ensure that we find back roads to truly enjoy slowly pedaling past small villages along the way, even if this means extending our daily kilometers from 80 to 100. Sometimes detours can be strange and unexpected. While cycling towards Hue, there was literally 30km of graves and tombs (sometimes broken into and left untouched). Other graves are simply over the top, like large well furnished and beautifully decorated mansions. They just went on and on. I’ve never seen the logic in graves since they occupy so much space. In Vietnam it seems that some of the most lucrative property along the coastline are reserved for kilometers of graves. I guess the dead also need ocean views and can enjoy the sounds of crashing waves. There are times, however, where the luxury of an alternative side road doesn’t exists and we are forced to brave the monstrous buses and heavy dust. When this happens, we hold our breaths and turn our iPods on. It took us four days (319km) to reach Lao Bao on the Laos / Vietnam border, stopping at Lang Co, Hue and Cam Lo.
We didn’t know it but we unexpectedly happened upon the 2014 Hue Arts Festival and during the three days that we were there we casually wandered around this small, pleasant city. Although we unfortunately couldn’t afford any of the shows or even any of the entrance fees to the tombs, we took advantage of the free events when we could. This included experiencing the candle lit bridge and the stilt-walkers. Our highlight, however, was feasting on free beer and sauté vegetable noodles amongst the craziest traffic we have ever seen.
Oh yes, Melissa has decided to turn veggie because of the appalling treatment of animals we have witnessed. It’s disgraceful how badly pigs, ducks and dogs are treated. Yes, DOGS! On a number of occasions we’ve seen trucks full of our fluffy tailed friends, some of them dead after days without food or water en route to the north of Vietnam. You may say: “Ja, but why not just try eat some dog. It’ll be a once in a lifetime experience.” That’s what I thought before I came here and saw just how bad it feels when you see the cages. You may then ask: “But what’s the difference between the treatment of dogs and cattle, chickens or goats?” And that’ll be a valid question, which is why we should probably all investigate for ourselves what exactly happens before our tender steak reaches our plates. It’s far too easy to disassociate ourselves from these type of things precisely because of the nature of our microwave society. Ironically, the decision not to eat meat has drastically increased the difficulty in our communication saga. Squawking like a chicken, mooing like a cow and barking like a dog has understandably caused more confusion than it was intended to. Anyways, our time in Hue was relaxing and enjoyable. We spent most of the time wandering around the old town, eating baguettes and drinking coffee. We thoroughly enjoy the pleasures of simple living. Perhaps it’s a symptom of the repetitious movements of pedaling for five hours a day every day. Sometimes our best thing when we get to a new town is to cycle around simply to enjoy the freedom of less weight of our panniers. And then when we try to walk, everything takes forever to accomplish. In essence, our bums are mostly glued to our saddles, if you needed an image for your morning coffee!
We have resolved that because of the copious amounts of time we enjoy in solemn thought while on the road that we need to share this others. Because of the therapeutic nature of cycling that we have explained in earlier posts, we feel that should you require someone to think on your behalf, we will gladly offer our services. So, any problems that you need thinking about, please contact us. Thought deposits can be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s no secret that we haven’t exactly enjoyed our time in Vietnam. This is a summary:
Road conditions – The inland route we chose gave us a pretty good insight into life in Vietnam. There were positives and negatives about this decision. Vietnam is a country on the move. Everywhere you look there’s construction. Be it road construction or home renovations. Noise is a constant part of life. Not exactly the best conditions for bicycling. That said, there were pockets of sheer bliss that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. Despite no shoulder and heavy road works, at least there was scenery on either side of the road to distract our fear of death. This cannot be said about highway one which was boring as hell. So despite near death, we do not regret our inland decision. That’s not to say that we’ll do it again.
People – Although we met some extremely nice people who befriended and welcomed us, unfortunately they were far too few in between a generally hostile and arrogant people. We had to constantly resist the tendency to generalize but with incidents everyday, it was difficult not to paint the entire nation with the same brush. This hostility and general selfish behavior was endured to the bitter end. Even at the Laos border we had to fight off a group of guys that tried to mount my bike for a spin. Thankfully the Laos border officials reprimanded them and we gave a mouth full as well. The night before we were also forced to leave a restaurant after we had ordered food because they later returned before serving us with a bill that quoted double the price ON THE MENU! A true Vietnamese send off!
Food – Apart from the questionable meat, we particular enjoyed the food, coffee and baguettes. In between all the hype it seems that there is always time for a lazy coffee at the plethora of cafés littered on the pavements. If this wasn’t enough, when hammocks are thrown into the mix the result creates an awfully pleasant ambiance to socialize and waste away the day’s heat. These became the perfect places for us too during the numerous rest and snack stops.
Language – We won’t harp on about this bemusing saga but for future travelers: be warned! Get a Vietnamese translation app or at least have more patience than us and try be better humans. We didn’t know what had hit us. Then again, isn’t that one of the reasons for world travel? Even if you meet Vietnamese people…
Hotels (Nha Ngi) – we found some of the cheapest, cleanest and comfortable accommodation during our stay in Vietnam. We regularly enjoyed cable tv, soft beds, aircon, and big windows. The people here are incredibly strict about cleanliness. Our cheapest guesthouse was R60 and it wasn’t a shit-hole.
Cycling – We cycled a total of 1380km in Vietnam and were able to reach our 2000km on a dusty half built road along highway one. It marked a quarter of our slow proposed journey to New Dehli in India so obviously we are elated with the achievement.
Laos here we come!