To Quy Nhon, Sun 28.2.16

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 21.05.46

To Quy Nhon. A small step. The next day will be hard.

P1120530

Linda chatting with Capt J Sparrow, aka TJ.

P1120521

Life’s a Beach. Happy here.

We kept on delaying our departure, late morning, until after lunch,  a beer… The procrastination had to stop.  Linda actually finished reading a book on kindle while Paul did some maintenance on the bikes.  Life’s a Beach is such a great place to chill and hang out.  But, we had to say our goodbyes and cycle back onto the highway heading for Quy Nhon.  We both felt quite sad to be leaving.

An easy cycle up the road, really doing it just to shorten tomorrow’s route which will be around 135km.  Not the prettiest city but sits on a beautiful part of the coastline with another gorgeous beach.  Very much a tourist town for the Vietnamese.  Not even the Russians come here, at the moment.  Cycled around the town and came across a guesthouse for the night.  We walked out to explore.  Stumbled across a local market, great for stocking up on oranges and bananas for snacks for tomorrow, but, hang on, which street is our hotel on?  Bugger, it all looks so different when the sun goes down.  Paul got lucky and remembered a temple, which probably saved another hour of wandering close, but not actually finding it. Luckily neither of us got grumpy, just understandably a tad tetchy, Linda.  Crummy pizza for supper but only around the corner, and we recognised it as a pizza, which is good. We couldn’t possibly get lost going back. Phew.  Need an early night as alarm call is for 5:30 tomorrow. Ouch.

Hanging around at Life’s a Beach. Sat 27.2.16

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spray.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s behind you!

P1120516

Stable, until its not.

P1120481

Spray, again.

IMG_3900

Beach BBQ, yum yum.

It’s really hard to leave this place.  It doesn’t matter that the sun has disappeared and it’s grey and windy.  It’s a beautiful spot.  Gavin and his partner, Steve, discovered Bai Xep in 2013 and just had to stay.  They built Life’s a Beach in one season and gradually it’s evolving with more accommodation, some private en-suite rooms and more dorm space, pebble paths and landscaping.  They have really integrated with the fishing village next door becoming involved with the community, sourcing local products and employing all local people as their staff and  offering English lessons.

Our room has been the best yet on our trip.  Simplicity is good when it’s clean and stylish.  It’ so easy when it’s done well.  Large towels and two each – wow, proper luxury.  Crisp white sheets and a really comfy bed looking straight out over the ocean.  We haven’t had better.

Almost a nasty incidence on the beach.  The sea is not to be messed with.  Some diehards, plunged into the water and one chap went out a little too far and was caught in the waves breaking and dragging him back out.  An uncomfortable few moments before he managed to make headway before the next big one pulled him back.  No speedboat here or lifeguard on duty.  You don’t see the locals in the water.

An interesting group of transient people passing through.  From Norway, Sweden, Canada, USA and Denmark.  Some long-term backpackers, some taking a career break, realising that the daily grind just doesn’t hack it and that there must be more.  A clever touch is the group early supper.  It gets everyone together and last night was BBQ using the Vietnamese method of cooking over their clay pots.

Sadly, the rich guys are moving in.  There are plans to build a super luxury resort on the beautiful little island facing our beach.  The local village have been told they have to move their boats and they will have restricted access to the beach.  How can this be fair, right or proper?  Big money always wins out. Just make sure you don’t get shot in the process.

 

 

To Quy Nhon, Fri, 26.2.16

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 12.19.48

To Quy Nhon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Great views, almost sunny for a few minutes.

IMG_1820

Free drinking water at lunch stop.

Weather still grey, grim and windy but no way are we staying at Scandia for another night.  Vietnamese tea definitely more quaffable than the Vietnamese coffee.  Poor Paul is stuck with water for breakfast with his cold fried eggs.  A quick clean of the rusting bike chains and off back down the mucky road.

At least the road is quiet.  A back road for part of the way before hooking back onto Highway 1.  As a major highway linking north and south Vietnam this is surprisingly light with traffic too.  Mostly it is trucks carrying hundreds of live pigs – lost count of how many passed us.  The smell lingers for a couple of minutes as the truck races by.  Other road users are the small minivans, the worst, with their loud persistent horn blowing and habit of overtaking on blind bends.  Second worst are the large green buses.  Heads down, against the wind we stick tight to the hard shoulder.  At least it’s not raining.

A nice detour through an unmarked fishing village.  Daily food market on the street with fresh veg on the ground, then the fresh fish and an enormous pile of shellfish being cleaned off by half a dozen women, but nowhere to eat.

Have one of our best lunch stops at a roadside stall.  Pointing and miming we manage to order large plates of rice with squid, prawn and veg on one and crackling pork and chicken on the other.  With two Pepsis the bill was only around £2.50.  Bargain and really tasty.

Wildlife watch today – Paul saw a large snake slither across the road.  Linda was busy in the bushes and missed it. Pah!

85 kms and some good hills.  We cycle down the very narrow village lanes to “Life’s a Beach”.  A brilliant spot.  An upmarket backpacker place and very well done.  A gorgeous curved sandy bay and our room upstairs is a bamboo hut with a veranda overlooking the beach.  The weather hasn’t cleared yet and still in the tail end of the big storm but the view is amazing and it is such a treat to sit watching and listening to the thundering waves crashing onto the beach.

Two days here we think, to hope the weather improves a bit.

 

To Tuy Hoa, 25.2.16

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 20.23.31

Hard work day, Heavy wind, rain and over 115Km. Hey ho.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s wetter than it looks.

P1120447

It’s still wetter than it looks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1 Ox power.

The predicted storm is officially here.  Up early to a grey day, raining and blowing a gale.  Really don’t fancy hanging around the hotel for another day, so waterproofs on and pedal off.  Did almost forget the passports being held at the front desk.  Whoops.

A cyclist we had met in Saigon had recounted his story of flying down from Hanoi to Saigon on his road bike doing 200kms per day.  This is possible because the prevailing wind is north to south.  As we discovered.  Add a storm, lashing rain and some hills and the effort was huge to do a measly 115 kms north to our “Scandia resort” hotel.

The weather was relentless for the 9 hours of our trip.  We had a break for a pretty nice lunch en route.  The usual fried rice and a couple of beers.  Just good to get out of the wind for 40 mins.

If we had known we wouldn’t get to our hotel until 6:30pm in the dark, we may have been tempted to throw in the towel earlier, and book a proper hotel.  What we didn’t know was that the hotel was 4kms north of town up an unfinished road which was now muddy and puddled.  With no directions and no signage, not quite sure how we ever found it.  But, the reviews had been tempting.  It was deserted.  We stumbled upon the open-air reception desk which was dark save for a television turned on.  We were both exhausted and the thought of having to trace our steps back to town was a tough one.  As we were about to pedal off again, a local lady arrived, speaking very good English.  She thought we weren’t coming as it was so late – 6:30?  And, the killer, it’s too late for dinner!  But, she did have cold beers and yes, we could get breakfast there, not included in the price.  She relented regarding dinner and offered up the worst Pho bo (beef noodle soup) and fried rice that we have tasted.  The beef tasted of mothballs.  It must have been bad as, despite being ravenous, Linda didn’t eat it all.

The five beers softened us a bit so we made the best of the place and climbed into the sandy sheets.  Yuck. Not cheap enough,  A review definitely going on Trip Advisor.

To Ninh Hoa, 24.2.16

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 20.06.32

P1120427

Just blue here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Busy motorway.

P1120436

Tough life, someone has to be here.

Are we odd?  It still feels good to get back on the bikes and to leave town.  Followed the coast, all rather strange as, paved carriageway, topiary median, street lamps and pavement and, nothing else.  There must be big plans for the coastline here.  Would rather see more high rises contained within one area than a strip development all along this beautiful coastline.  Lovely cycle with great views over the ocean and the fishing villages and not too much traffic.  Maps, as often,  a little vague but found our destination hotel, past the cement factory.  Very surprised, based on the price, to discover a beautiful beach, large swimming pool with rather gorgeous gardens.  Two large Russian tour groups also in town, but plenty of room on the beach for us too.

A very nice seafood lunch in the restaurant on the beach, creamy oysters, grilled prawns and squid.  Could have done with twice the size and a big bowl of rice after the cycling but managed to fill up with the buffet supper.

Planing  a bigger day for tomorrow, so early start. Weather seems to be changing, clouds coming in, getting a bit windy. As are we.

Around Nha Trang 23.2.16

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Topiary Town

P1120375

Hard day’s work

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just for tourists? Maybe but…good.

IMG_3881

Life’s a beach, got our mojo back. Or Mojito anyway.

Last day with Bobby with an 8:00 am pick up from hotel.  Quick visit to a nearby 7th C temple, built by the Cham people, before Angkor Wat. We’re getting pretty good at recognising religious influences and symbols. Historically, the middle of Vietnam was heavily influenced by India and Hinduism via the ocean trading routes.

Off to the bustling port in Nha Trang to catch a boat over to one of the numerous islands off the coast and a bit of snorkelling.  Well, Paul snorkelled and Linda had a quick dip, but didn’t actually get her hair wet.  Bobby sat and read the newspaper.  Paul says the snorkelling was good and he has captured on his camera a number of coloured spots on a murky brown background.  On the floating pontoon was a raucous group of Vietnamese lunching on some freshly caught fish with copious amounts of rice wine and a lot of “mort, hai, ba” – 1, 2, 3 and knock it back.

We motored to check out a floating fish farm where we were offered “lobster”, actually crayfish, for $100 per kilo.  Needless to say we declined.  Did get some very nicely cooked squid for lunch washed down with a couple of Saigon beers.

We are so impressed with Nha Trung beach.  It is stunning.  White sand and clean.  The beach is immaculate and the gardens very smart with lots of creative topiary interspersed with some interesting sculptures.  The first area in Vietnam we have visited with no litter all over the place.  Massive infrastructure still going on with the creation of a new marina and lots more hotels to be built.  Biggest group of tourists are Russian, in numbers and size.  Had the best mojito yet sat on beanbags on the beach with a full moon.

Nha Trang could be described like one of the big Spanish resorts, but it sort of grows on you. Smart and casual, good European with Vietnamese street food. Great combinations and very enjoyable, if brash at times.

Start cycling again tomorrow, and a $30 ‘resort’. May well be different.

Great cycling day, to Nha Trang. Mon, 22.2.16

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 17.26.10

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I see no ships.

P1120353

Exhilerating cycle, breathtaking scenery. This was an ‘up’ bit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pine forests for miles and miles. Smell lovely.

P1120354

When it’s wet….we wouldn’t be able to cycle down the road.

We left Dalat at the civilised time of 8am. Yea, a lie in. Then we were treated to a superb ride. Starting high at around 1500m, we went on a few ‘undulations’ as Bobby described them for 60km. Undulations in Vietnamese means 5km steep up then 1 km gentle down. We climbed around 1,200m in the first 40kms.  But, the last 30km made it all worth while. Sweeping bends, descending as fast as you wish on basically great roads, no trucks, and views that made us stop every few kms. Lunch was a picnic at the top of the mountains. Great, although several people had had the same idea before us. The big difference was that they had chosen to throw everything out of their cars, rather than take it home. As a result a pristine view was rather destroyed by so much plastic rubbish. We, at least, didn’t add to it.

The final push over 100kms was a bit hard into a head wind, and the ‘flat’ road wasn’t that flat.

Hey ho, we are by the sea, and the promise of fish awaits.

Supper in a seafood restaurant. Sadly the ‘pot seafood’ didn’t quite hit the spot, but easily good enough. Beer was all we really needed.

A superb day’s cycling, what its all about. Any cyclist who didn’t enjoy the route should be on very strong medicine.

To Dalat, Garden City, Sun, 21st Feb.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 18.27.00

Through the Jungle at 5am.

P1120282

Bamboo everywhere.

IMG_3867

Crazy House.

Crept out of our lodge at 5:00 am, although the croaking frogs would have drowned any noise we made.  It’s rather exciting cycling through the jungle in the dark following a pot-holed sandy trail towards the crocodile lake, as instructed by our guide last night.  Difficult to hear the subtle sounds of the jungle above the rattling of the bikes and the mutterings of Linda’s “oh bugger” as she juddered over the rocky trail.  After 8km or so, just as the sky began to lighten with the dawn we stopped to listen.  All kinds of whoops and shriekings.  We were anticipating seeing a colony of gibbons swinging through the trees.  Paul did see a rustling in one tree and a gibbon tail.  It was good just to stop and listen without anyone else around as the jungle woke up.

Raced back for early breakfast to be in time to meet our guide for 7:30 am.  We discovered that the whooping which we imitated back to our lodge guide was indeed the sound of the gibbons.  Hoorah, may not have seen them but certainly heard them.

After one of our best breakfasts so far, with proper coffee, off to Da Lat, garden city of Vietnam so-named because of its mild climate. Pedal through the jungle, again, but this time easier as we can actually see where we are going. Also fun as we can see big trees, including one named after the ex-prime minister of Vietnam, and over 700 years old. Quite extraordinary that it hasn’t been cut down and made into 1,000’s of armchairs.

Da Lat has an elevated position in the Southern Highlands where the economy thrives on growing vegetables and flowers.  A landscape of pine forests and distinctly cool air as the sun went down.  A quick visit to the Crazy House, a series of “Gaudi on acid” concrete buildings meant to give the Vietnamese an appreciation of the natural world around them which is being destroyed.  Not convinced they get it.  It’s very popular with honeymooners who like to stay in one of the number of bedrooms for rent within the weird, bizarre structures.  I think we just don’t get the Vietnamese.

 

 

 

 

 

To Cat Tien National Park. Sat 20.2.16

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 15.41.46

To Cat Tien National Park.

IMG_3809

Shooting the breeze. Our new guide. Bobby, or Treng.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Do not tread on this.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cat Tien, great views.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I see lunch.

Happy to leave Saigon and to head for the hills with “Bobby” our new guide for the next four days.  Bobby took us on a lovely route through coffee, tobacco, cashew and peppercorn plantations on a red, dusty dirt track.  The perfume from the blossom on the coffee plants is delightful, just like jasmine.  Should have learnt by now to be more cautious when spending a penny, or 2,000 dong, over here, on the side of the road.  Really hadn’t bothered to look in the dusty dirt, then spotted the black scorpion.

Overfed en-route, two pineapples, expertly carved and served with spicy, chilli salt, yum yum.  20 mins later,  a stop for Pho Bo, beef noodle soup.  30 mins later, dragon fruit. Groan.

Cat Tien National Park, Unesco recognised is at least, partly protected by its river boundary on one side, a quick ferry ride for us.  Our lodge is a charming thatched bungalow but very well equipped.  Treated to a night safari on the back of a truck with 20 others.  There are rumours of a handful of wild elephants in the park but well away from the tourists.  The last rhino was poached in 2010.  We did see a number of wild deer, a bird and possibly a civet.  Best part was our 3 km walk back to our lodge in the dark, on our own.  A swift beer before going to bed. We met one of the resident guides in the Park, an Indian guy who has been coming here for a couple of years and very knowledgeable about the area and its wildlife.  Highly recommended to get up at 5:00am to cycle 9km into the jungle to hear the gibbons wake up.  Ok, best get off to bed now then. Torches charged, phew, as no power overnight to charge them.

 

 

Around Saigon. 18/19.2.16

P1120191

Stunning. Armless.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tet celebrations.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Old and new

Crazy city.  Hot, noisy, fast, exhausting.  But, some great food. Checked out the Museum of fine arts. It’s good to get out of the sun.  Lovely building with old tiled floors, worth the visit just for that. Paintings made Linda happy, so all happy. Some really world class art.

The next museum to get our money was the National museum of Vietnamese History. Not the catchiest title but rather interesting and worth the 10,000 dong entrance fee. We thought 10,000 dong was a lot, but in fact about 30p. The artifacts are starting to make sense having visited Angkor Wat and the great museum in Siem Reap.

The streets are even trickier to cross than in Hanoi, with 4 or 5 lanes to negotiate.  Have figured out the scooters but more cars to weave between.  The face masks are to preserve the paler skin.  Hands are in gloves and feet in socks in flip flops.  We feel quite naked.

Paul’s choice for lunch and he navigated us to a great pizza spot.  Interesting toppings, seaweed and squid?  Linda had strong memory of her brother’s aquarium and the fish food.  Can’t wait to get to the coast to sample some regular seafood.

We enjoyed a refreshing coconut drink. Especially as we were only charged about 8x the going rate. We learn, sadly slowly.

The city is too busy, too loud, too much. Keen to go to the jungle.