Around Halong bay. 10th to 13th March.

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Our home for 3 days.

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Mill pond flat.

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Going through a ‘hole’.

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A real one. Sadly we can’t keep it. Unless we give $’s.

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Home for fisher folk.

Ha Long bay. For some people the whole reason for going to Vietnam. UNESCO world heritage sight. Some people go to Halong Bay for the day.  A 4 hour bus ride,as much fun as root canal work with no local anaesthetic. 4  hours around the bay, and then repeat the dental work.  The area is huge, beautiful, quiet and needs exploring. 4 hours just is, well, crazy.  We opted for a 3 day, 2 night aboard the Halong Phoenix Cruiser.  In between sort of weather.  A few days ago the area was covered in mist, and it would have been difficult to see much at all. We had mostly dry but rather grey, none of the bright sunshine in the adverts.  Still, the scenery is spectacular with the vast limestone rocks rearing up out of the sea.  Ha Long means ‘Dragon teeth’, or, rather, it may mean that. Our guide thought that loads of things meant all sorts of stuff. Sounds good, though. There are vast stalactite and stalagmite caves to visit, along with all the other tourists.  Would be easy to spend longer and take some time to look around the largest island, Cat Ba.

It’s all very orderly in the Bay with all the cruisers and ferries stopping in the same places.  Off-piste is strictly forbidden.  However, with a kayak, we were able to explore  the hidden coves and lagoons, away from the boats. We did manage one lunch with not another boat in sight, well away from the crowds. Exceptionally quiet and peaceful.  We were amazed to see some wild monkeys.  Maybe macaque monkeys. Our guide wasn’t sure. On Cat Ba they do have langurs, but are very rare and endangered. We were keen to support their conservation project.

Treated to some very good food with lots of fresh squid.  Paul tried to catch some. Failed, but had a bit of fun with synchronised fishing with three Germans.

Would love to revisit the area again for even longer. Ideally when the sun is out and 10 degrees warmer.

Back to Hanoi. 9.3.16.

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Too much cycling, not enough food.

Our train was better than we thought it might be. Good chat with Arturo, bottle of wine and a pretty good night’s sleep. Even better, when we arrived in Hanoi, only 1/2 hour to get our bikes, in good condition and hadn’t been knicked. Phew! Happy Paul and Linda.

Then to our old friends at Hong Ngoc Hotel, wander around Fine Art’s museum and met up with Simon and Ha for supper, times 2. Thank you both for your hospitality. Great to see you.

Then to Halong bay tomorrow.

Around Hue. 8th March 2016

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Scary.

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Impressive.

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Great trees.

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Lovely

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Our train. Luxury.

The day started with some sadness, or rather anxiety. We are planning on a train journey back to Hanoi, some 550km. The bikes have to go on a separate train, or at least in the guards carriage. We have to trust the Vietnam Railway. Hmmm. Not sure this is a wise / good idea, but most people say it should be no problem. Admittedly, these are usually Vietnam Railway employees, and they don’t actually speak english other than to say ‘No problem’. We will see.

Back to the hotel for breakfast and pack up. We left the trip around the Imperial Citadel for today, although neither of us have much energy for another old building, especially as it’s not that old. 1820’s at the earliest.

Having arrived there it was interesting. The Emperor was treated as god. The whole building complex, which is huge, was devoted to his pleasure. Housing for 104 wives, more concubines, eunuchs and officials. A grand place, but we kept comparing with Angkor Wat, even though we really tried not to. Angkor was over 1,000 years older and seemed to have more magic about it. Glad we saw it, as it represented the most powerful dynasty in Vietnam from around 1820 to 1945. Doesn’t surprise us that there was a revolution.

Nice lunch, and Paul decided it was too hot and had a haircut. Always interesting having haircuts in different countries. This one was 40mins, of which 25 mins was a head massage. Great fun, although the results are, um, a bit Vietnamese. They will grow out.

Supper was lovely but the food took for ever to arrive. A bit stressful as we needed to buy important food for the train journey. A bottle of wine.

Boarded the train, found our sleeper carriage, and better than expected. Clean, comfortable, a bit slow, but all good. We hope our bikes are being treated as well.

Met Arthuro, Mexican travelling around on his bike for a year. Jealous, although $20/ day might be a bit little for us. Finished the wine, sleep and hope tomorrow is kind to our bikes.

Around Hue. 7th March 2016

Happy Birthday Linda!! xx

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Tomb cycling.

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A lovely roof

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Great carrot decoration. And yummy food.

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A Garlic bird.

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Cycling, with no effort from us.

A birthday in Vietnam.  Pretty special.  Took the bikes out for a little tour around the temples dotted around out of town alongside the Perfume River. Nice name for a river, but not accurate. Sun shining and a glorious day, if a little humid.

Discovered the large market selling anything and everything and after some firm bartering from Paul, managed to spend many thousands of dong on a crap lacoste copy shirt for him and a flimsy half a dress for Linda.  Our posh togs for a birthday night out on the town.

Back in time for massages at the hotel.  First massage on our trip and jolly nice too.  Paul’s neck, back and shoulders sent him to sleep.  An hour massage is never long enough, especially when it only costs around £15.

Dinner at Le Jardin de la Carambole, next door to the Imperial Palace, in a French colonial building.  For a french restaurant, unusual that the menu listed pizza and pasta as well as vietnamese and western food.  Opted for the vietnamese beef steak in peppercorn sauce with fries. Great detail with the use of garlic on top of the veggies. Very yummy. Wine an unusual treat.

We managed to be outrageously overcharged for a cyclo ride back to our hotel. We even knew at the time, but it was such fun, and as cyclists, we felt a bit of empathy towards the cyclo rider.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to our trusted bikes. They have been great. Hope we don’t  loose them.

 

To Hue,6th March 16.

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To Hue, over Hai Van pass.

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Hai Van Pass. Great road.

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Great views, except for cloud. At least it’s cool.

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Salangane’s home. All for bird’s nest soup. Yuk.

Top marks to Orange Hotel.  Only a 3 star but really nice little touches, like, astonishingly, complimentary beers.  Wow.  Really comfy bed, always appreciated and the most attentive, friendly and helpful staff ever.    We were recommended a great local Thai restaurant and to hang out downtown to see the dragon bridge breathe fire.  Danang is an interesting town, definitely on the up with its smart riverfront and lots of coffee shops.

Headed for the Hai Van pass.  A 10 km, 500 m climb up and 10 km down.  We had anticipated it to be harder based on reviews we had read.  It does give the most glorious views of the coastline below as you wind your way up the beautifully noiseless road.  Cars and buses take the tunnel, thank goodness.  As we slowly pedalled up we sort of expected the smell of wild thyme or mint? Pine trees? Maybe exotic lemongrass? No. The all pervasive smell from the common pastime of peeing on the side of the road. Took the edge off it. Probably better after a good rainstorm.

A great route, down the hill and off the awful Highway 1 onto the coastal road, skirting around the lagoons and peninsular of land.  Quiet and lovely.  And, more and more tombs in the sand.  They go on forever.  There are more dead than alive here. And they take up so much space.

Finally, we understand about the loud bird calls from the concrete buildings.  There is fierce competition to attract the salanganes,  a local swift-like bird that builds its nest from saliva.  The nests command $1,000 per kilo.  Historically, the nests are collected from the steep sides of the islands off-shore, accessed from bamboo scaffolding towers.  Hazardous.  A young Vietnamese graduate having studied the birds, came up with the design of the concrete house.  It has been hugely successful and without any current legislation, it appears that residents in town are attaching towers to their homes then turning up the volume for the bird calls.  Very lucrative.

Have to say that the approach to Hue was disappointing.  Had anticipated another Hoi An, which is delightful.  maps.me and Paul’s dexterity manipulating his phone whilst cycling took us to the door of The Serene Shining Hotel after our last full day of cycling on this trip. Feel quite sad.

To Da Nang,Fri 5th March. 2016.

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To Da Nang.

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Dragon bridge, with fire.

A gentle day, only 25Km needed so we decided to have lunch at An Bang beach before our fairly brief bike ride. We needed one more fix of Hoi An’s coffee house so a brief wander around looking for nice coffee. Too many to choose, but settled on a great place. Same as yesterday, in fact. Met a nice Dutch chap, who promised us that his next trip would be on a bike. Great to inspire the next generation. Linda bought our only physical souvenir so far – 4 small paintings. Hope they survive the trip home.

Cycled the coast strip to Da Nang. We are getting used to great white beaches, partially developed massive resorts and topiary. This trip was a bit different as many of the resorts were actually finished. Some names we recognised, Sheraton, Vinpearl, Hilton. Didn’t stop. Our hotel, The Orange, particularly lovely. Small and perfect. Da Nang is much bigger than we expected. A brief thought about cycling up monkey mountain, but tomorrow will be a hard day, so a beer instead.

Nice Thai restaurant in the city, recommended by the staff at the hotel. Busy, a bit crazy but the food was great. We got back about 8.30 and a girl on the reception said ‘Are you not watching the dragon?’ Told us about the dragon  bridge which spits out fire and water on sat and sun eve. A great way to end the day.

Big day tomorrow and we have pre-ordered our breakfast for an early start. Usually the pre-orders get lost. We will see.

Around Hoi An. 3/4.3.16

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Tourist day to Hoi An.

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Hoi An old town

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The peddlers need to swap with their passengers?

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Fishing, nets.

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It really is this colourful

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It’s good, but is it art? No.

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I can swim!!

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Oops, no I can’t.

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Am Bang beach. The tourist end. Still jolly nice.

We like An Bang, a lot.  We also like Hoi An, a lot.

The weather is perfect, high 20’s, a soft breeze and the most gorgeous, stretching forever beach.  What a difference the sun makes.  Today the little suburb of An Bang is glorious, with lots of interesting little cafes and restaurants.  Have had more variety of food in these 2 days that the last few weeks in Vietnam.  We are trusting the salads now as there are many tourists here. Might be a mistake. Time will tell. And the loo.  A delicious shrimp and mango salad one day for lunch and a very interesting chat to the 24 yr old “bead lady”.  She reaffirms all that we have noticed and already been told.  The men spend a lot of time “thinking and drinking” and the girls do all the work.  However, to get the girl the men have to “make the money, or no honey”. Only lasts until the girl is ‘hooked’, then they return to drinking and thinking. And chain smoking, and playing cards. Sounds a good life.

Hoi An, completely unexpected.  Really interesting architecture in a faded, colonial sort of way.  It’s clean with an overwhelming variety of great restaurants to choose from.  It reminds us, a little, of Luang Prabang in Laos.  An oasis in a fairly desolate desert of gastronomy.  Cycling up this coastline, we have travelled many kms through villages and struggled to find water, let alone any food.  Some villages have had 2 mobile phone shops but still nowhere to buy anything to eat.  It’s such a pleasure to drink Italian coffee and to eat chocolate cheesecake.

Tonight we will be eating BBQ fish, fresh from the ocean, pre-ordered yesterday, in a lovely little restaurant around the corner from our homestay.  Everyone knows everyone here.  The owner of our homestay is a young Vietnamese who used to work with the owner of the seafood restaurant and is great friends with her younger brother.  Even the lady on the beach selling trinkets knows Duc from the An Bang Homestay.  A great little community and a much easier lifestyle for those prepared to work rather than being a fisherman or working in the paddy fields.

Tourism is on the way up here with huge cranes on the horizon constructing an enormous resort complex. We probably couldn’t afford to stay here, when it opens. Come and see An Bang Beach soon! It’s lovely.

Now a fish with our name on it. Hope it isn’t fried in salt. (see photos).

To Hoi An, Wed 2nd March,

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Big day, less wind, yea! Then the rain….

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Great market, aggressively patrolled.

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Natural rubber.

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Even the fishermen use the same kit as us.

We left early, just after dawn. Even by then there were a group of people fishing on the coast. The really great news is that the wind has died down a bit, and, no rain. Sooo happy.

We started going on one of Paul’s ‘tracks’, which looked like a short cut, but might have been longer. However it took us through a very remote village with a great market. Linda started taking a few photos, and an old chap who looked ‘ex-military’ told us very firmly ‘No photo’. Maybe because we were close to My Son, and people were still raw? Maybe he was a grumpy chap? Who knows. The only words of English he seemed to know were ‘No photo’, which he was keen to practice. We respected his wish, which was a shame. Hey ho.

The coast road was great, lovely intermittent views of the rolling East China Sea, and small villages. Constant ‘Hellos’ from children, kept us smiling. Even the odd ‘Good morning, how are you?” from slightly older people. No more ‘no photo’ people. Sadly only 20km until we reached the main highway again.

Lunch was in a roadside cafe, having cycled 40km on the dreaded Highway 1. Nice, friendly, clean and £4 including 2 coke’s. We can afford that.

After lunch, life changed. Firstly the coast road again.Small tracks, friendly villages, sand and sea. So nice compared with Highway 1. We also came across 100’s, no, probably 1,000’s of tombs. They seem dotted randomly along the coast, some grand and some just sand with a small headstone. We guess in death as in life. Rich folk have grand graves, poorer ones a mound of sand.  These were interesting. The other thing that changed was …. rain. And lots of it. We became totally drenched. As often the case, in adversity comes great moments. We had stopped by the road side and a moped came past. This was unusual as the road was so quiet. What was also unusual was the driver stopped and asked us if we were OK? Good English! Had a chat and said we were fine. She was on her way to Hoi An for a job as an Hotel receptionist having done a degree in English. Said goodbye. 10 minutes later she was back with waterproof ponchos! How lovely! We both realise they don’t look great but they made us smile – in fact it made Linda laugh. A lot. She nearly fell off her bike.

Arrived in Hoi An, couldn’t find the homestay. Another random good moment. A local chap asked us where we wanted to go. We said ‘Am Bang Beach homestay”. He said ‘I own that, come with me. Are you Paul and Linda?”. Yippee!!

We tried to dry out, failed, and just went for food and beer. Even then there was an issue. The local Cham Islands were due a power test so Hoi An had had no power all day, but it was due to come on around 5.30 pm. It did. Then went off again. And on,and off, and on … you guessed. However, the restaurant coped well. Great food, cool beer.  It worked.

126Km successfully done. Worries over. We both agreed rain is (slightly) better than strong wind on the nose. Only slightly, mind you. Overall, a really good day’s cycle.  One to remember.

Now we hope for a few days of no wind, no rain, even sun would be probably too much to ask. But beer we can almost guarantee. Phew.

To My Son, Tues 1st March

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To My Son, of My Lai Massacre ‘fame’. Shortish day.

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How lovely is this beach?

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My Lai Massacre Memorial.

Left our Iffy resort hotel but superb location at the relaxed time of 9:30 am, after Paul had his photo shoot with the holidaying Vietnamese.  Oddly, they thought  he was rather cute.  A surprising breakfast with the addition of the most deliciously cooked chips with our everyday omlette and bread roll.

Same ol’ wind in the face as we battled up the coastline on Highway 1 together with the blaring horns of all the trucks and coaches.  Not much fun, but no other route.

Linda chose lunch, badly, in the town of Quang Ngai.  At the later time of 1:30, most stalls are pretty empty.  After a bleak trawl up and down the main street, elected for the corner shop with cold rice, cold stewed greens and cold slice of omlette.  The addition of a chilli or two didn’t improve the flavour much.  Fingers were crossed all evening, anticipating worse than mild indigestion.

Last 15km towards My Son, such a relief to lose the wind.  Stopped at the museum which tells of the history of the My Lai massacre.  Another horrid tragedy inflicted on the Vietnamese by the Americans. Interesting use of the swastika symbol. We didn’t realise that it has been used for centuries by Buddhists, before being stolen by German’s.

Room booked at an empty resort hotel along the coast.  Surprisingly large open air restaurants  hosted a large group of policemen for supper and, we think, a wedding party, karaokiying while we enjoyed a very tasty piece of seafood.  The beaches along this coastline are unimaginably vast, beautiful, and exceptionally clean.  They haven’t been destroyed, yet, with hotels. Or any buildings at all.

Tomorrow a bit of a worry, as we are planning a big day, 130km, and it may just not be possible into this ferocious wind. Plan B is stay in another rubbish cheap ‘Hotel’ on the way. Hey ho.

To Long Thanh, Free day! 29th Feb.

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To Long Thanh. Wind strong and on our nose all day, groan.

 

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Lovely rainbow, oops, its raining. 6.15am.

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Sun rays. 6.45am.

My oh my, a jolly hard day.  Getting wiser and grab cheap buffet breakfast from the nearest smart hotel as our guest house doesn’t offer anything, not even a bottle of water in the room.  Surreptitiously sneak a couple of bread rolls and some ham for morning snacks into our pockets.

Onto the highway at 7:00am and into the full face-on strong wind.  It doesn’t relent for the next 132 km heading north.  It saps our energy, completely.  The route is interesting, trying to stay off the noisy main road and taking the coastal route through the small fishing villages.  This area is all sand, beautiful fine, white sand.  We pass by colourful tombstones and shrines dotted in amongst the sand dunes and mile after mile of fish farms and shrimp hatcheries.  We feel buffeted and wind burnt.  Fortunately, as we are heading north it has become much cooler.

11:30 am is lunch stop.  All the kids are cycling out of school and a bunch of chaps appear on their mopeds and head for one of the street side eateries.  We follow them, reassured that the food must be ok.  Another pantomime of pointing and gesticulating and we are served some more pho bo (beef noodle soup), with the accompanying chillies and limes.  The table of chaps are served something far more interesting looking and drink lots and lots of cans of beer.  A tough day at the office.

Refuelled, we top up with water supplies and carry on.  Some of our route takes us on narrow sandy paths through the pine forest.  Eventually, we find an undulating tarmac road again, and head down we battle on against the wind.  We have a brief respite on some steep uphills before rounding a bend and getting a full blast that even going downhill almost blows us backwards.

The hours do slip by as we stop for frequent breaks for a piece of fruit and a chance to stretch our legs.  After 9 hours of replying to every yelled “hello”, we are becoming less cheerful and more irritated by all the loud horns and the loudspeakers in the towns broadcasting a cacophony of bird noises.  We still haven’t figured out quite why the Vietnamese do this.  It’s hardly as though there is a population of birds trying to roost on their buildings.

Linda is sickened by the continuous stream of trucks transporting live pigs that are hideously crammed in together with legs and snouts poking out through the sides.  See a couple of trucks pull over and the pigs hosed down or being given a drink  Couldn’t quite tell, only the lucky few on the sides were able to get any benefit.

Roll into the Sa Huynh Resort at 5:30pm, very thankful to be finding our bed for the night before dark, absolutely shattered.