To Ninh Hoa, 24.2.16

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Just blue here.

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Busy motorway.

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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

 

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Topiary Town

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Hard day’s work

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Just for tourists? Maybe but…good.

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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

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I see no ships.

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

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Pine forests for miles and miles. Smell lovely.

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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.

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Through the Jungle at 5am.

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Bamboo everywhere.

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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

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To Cat Tien National Park.

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

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Do not tread on this.

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Cat Tien, great views.

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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

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Stunning. Armless.

 

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Tet celebrations.

 

 

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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.

To HCMC (Saigon). Wed 17th Feb.

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To Saigon. Hot.

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Ice is nice.

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Morning commute to work.

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Vietnam / Cambodia border. Bavet.

 

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Linda’s choice of lunch venue.

Left our slightly upmarket $15 guesthouse, for another early start, making sure, this time to drink lots more (Water).  Long, straight, flat road, hotter and hotter as the kms roll by.  Goodbye Cambodia, we’ve learnt so much about your recent history, particularly from the biographical book by Loung  Ung , First they killed my Father.  A grisly time for the Khmer people.

Across the border without any trouble, miserable officials on both sides but, hey, at least this time, no charge.  Didn’t take long to realise we’re now in Vietnam with the first motorcycles going back with 4 or 5 dogs crammed into a cage on the back – off to the BBQ.

Haven’t seen any other cyclists or other westerners, for that matter, for a long time.  Need refuelling and choose the first place that with some tables and chairs indicates the possibility of food.  Rice, uncooked veg and chicken “bits” in a curry sauce that had been sitting on the counter.  Linda ate every scrap, Paul a little more hesitant.  Surprisingly, both of us have felt fine, so far.

The approach to HCMC heralded by an onslaught of hooting scooters and mopeds.  We squeezed in and out of the flow, avoiding the cars and buses turning in front of us.  Reached down town to discover the hotel we had been recommended full.  Outside met a Welsh/Australian cyclist who had lost his passport and was stuck in town for another 5 days.  We now carry out passports everywhere.

Now for the sights of Saigon. Not a rickshaw in sight.

Mai Chau to almost Laos. 14th Jan.

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Much harder day. Hilly. Rainy. Muddy. Foggy. Could be the UK. Except for the banana trees. And loads of other stuff.

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Foggy day. Great views. There, but not seen. Spots are not serious. Does rather sum up the day.

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The Horse river.

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Millions of bamboo chop sticks.

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Welcome Break. Top of a big hill. Almost warm.

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Rice fields, with no rice as it’s winter.

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Muddy Zan. Great guide. Jolly fast up hills.

Paul with Kids

Paul with interested kids. We seem to attract this sort of attention. Must be our humour and good looks.

Banana pancakes and omelettes for breakfast, doesn’t get much better.  50% chance of rain forecast. We lose the bet and it’s wet for our 8:00 am kick off.  Gentle off-roading through the beautiful village and paddy fields before our first big climb.  Thai minority villagers are so friendly, and expert at weaving colourful clothes. No space on the bikes, sadly. Passed through villages processing bamboo into chopsticks. It’s a big industry. Could probably be automated, but it employs large numbers of people, although using big saws to chop up the bamboo isn’t without risk to fingers. Health and safety isn’t so strong here.

14 Km to the top of the mountain, sheer drops to the side but couldn’t see them as so foggy.  Very little traffic or sounds as we pedalled upwards.   Lunch before our downhill cruise, perched on stools in a roadside shop where we were provided  with a thermos of hot water to make our coffee. Grand.  Added a couple more layers before heading down through the fog.  Feel we’re missing out on some amazing scenery but the cool temps make the cycling so much easier than in the summer heat and humidity.

Huge stretches of newly tarmac’d road make for some great cycling in between the construction lorries.  Final transfer on the bus, close to the border to a big new hotel.  Bit worried about the wedding party next door but were reassured they would be finished by 9pm.  Hadn’t anticipated the karaoke across the road, right outside our hotel window (think of the worst of  X factor contestants, amplified. A lot).

It’s now 9.30 and the Karaoke is getting noisier, and even less tuneful, if possible.

Hey ho. Might go and join them. Probably not.

Nam Coc to Cuc Phuong national park. 12th Jan.

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Tam Cuc to Cuc Phuong national park. Harder day, but lovely park. Some birds. Yea.

 

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There be dragons.

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Exit of a 10C Pagoda. Used to be the capital of Vietnam.

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One fat, two thin.

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Big tree, the sign said so.

Breakfast at Yen Nhi hotel, definitely not The Marriott.  Paul’s very accurate description of the coffee – ground up burnt varnished door steeped in warm water (tea, marginally better).   Topped off with cold fried egg, sweet bread and sour pineapple.

On the bikes at 8:00 am for short cycle to the 10C pagoda, capital of Vietnam for 40 years until moved to Hanoi cos the King saw a vision of a dragon rearing out of the Red River.  Strong drugs, but a big decision. Hanoi celebrated it’s millenium as the capital in 2014.  It’s spent it’s history defending itself mainly from the Chinese.  The Vietnamese like the French and Americans, now, but seem to deeply mistrust China. Odd that.

A 50 km ride to Cuc Phuong national park, a grey day and slightly drizzly, temp average 15c.  Brochure promises sight of “maybe one of the 95 mammals who inhabit the park”.  Sadly, the only ones we saw were in the primate centre for the langurs, gibbons and loris.  Some of them are saved from smugglers, re-homed and occasionally released into a national park where they may be protected from the insatiable desire of the Chinese for weird medicines or questionable dishes.

Staying in a guest house in the park. A bit functional, but a warm shower. Bliss.

Now for a beer. Again.

 

 

 

 

Hanoi to Tam Coc. Mon 11th Jan

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Our route. Some by van!

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Catholicism sitting comfortably with Buddhism.

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Beautiful Karst limestone scenery, and many cement factories.

Had been keen to get to Hanoi but keener to leave.  Not sorry to escape the aggressive horns and hectic pace.  This is winter and the temperature and humidity is pleasant.  Hard to imagine what it feels like in the middle of summer.  A short transfer in our bus to reach the outskirts of the city before riding our bikes along the Red River delta.  Very flat, bordered either side with fields of vegetables and fruits.  The road is very quiet but dusty with no tourist traffic, only the occasional truck or moped.  After 50 km, another transfer along the main highway to reach Tam Coc.  Followed narrow country lanes leading to the river and the entrance to the limestone caves on our boat ride.  Still sad to see so little wildlife, only spotted a few kingfishers in the park and one or two egrets.

Zan, our guide is great. Good English and looks like a cyclist should – ie not at all like Paul. He may well be dragging us up the hills in coming days. We are sure he can. Hung, the driver is also great. Stopped at motorway service for lunch. Loads of rice and tasty pork. Beer warm but welcome. Ice offered, er, no, ta.

Tomorrow is a bigger day. So to prepare: beer!