Sun, sea and the 17th Parallel

27 July 2019

The Vietnamese day starts very early and no matter what time we are on the road (5-6am) there are always loads of people already out and about and a lot of activity. In particular there are lots of small cafes open with customers eating noodle soup etc for their breakfast. Come 10am, however, nearly all of these places are closing and by 11am it’s actually difficult to find somewhere to eat that’s open. As we try to finish our cycling day just before midday it has been difficult at times for us to find somewhere open for us to eat at what we would call lunchtime. We don’t really want to stop to eat at 10am as this delays the end of our cycling and therefore means we get hot! The whole country comes to a standstill until past 2pm and even then it only slowly wakes back up again. We can understand that this is because of the heat, but it has made it difficult for us to find food.

Monday 22 – Tuesday 23 July 19 – Vinh – 10km

We now think that Martina was probably fighting some sort of lurgy as she hadn’t been feeling too well so we put down roots for a couple of days in Vinh so that she could get better. It certainly make a change from me being the sickie around here!

Vinh is a reasonably sized city and though it’s not really a tourist destination it was a good place to put down roots for two important reasons – firstly, the accommodation we booked into was good quality, clean and unbelievably cheap (£6 per night) and secondly, it has a Big C supermarket!

Though Martina still wasn’t feeling 100% we did manage a short ride around Vinh on Tuesday and it did confirm that we hadn’t been missing much by being holed up in our accommodation because there just wasn’t much to Vinh. We did find a rather grand statue of Uncle Ho in the middle of the city and that was about it. His birthplace is not far from Vinh.

We also had a bowl each of Chao Ga – my new favourite meal, which is a sort of sloppy risotto made with chicken (Ga). We have had it before but it’s only now that I’ve realised that it’s probably my favourite Vietnamese dish so far.

Wednesday 24 July 19 – Vinh to Thien Cam – 79km

So, after a couple of days off we were back on the road again. The weather was mercifully overcast and therefore cooler than it has been recently, which meant for nicer riding. Our exit from Vinh was easy and we managed to stay off the main highway all day and found some rural roads that weren’t exactly exciting, but nice enough to cycle on…

We were having a snack at the side of the road about 10:30am when a scooter stopped next to us. A girl hopped off and introduced herself as an English teacher.  We had a lovely conversation about the area and what to do and see in Vietnam and at one stage we thought that she was going invite us to her school, but it never happened, which was a shame. About 20 minutes later when we were back on the road she returned and gave us some fruit straight from her garden…

Star fruit and star apple – both of which were a bit hard and sour unfortunately.

When we arrived at our destination, Thiem Cam, we came to the conclusion that is is a fishing village that is trying to become a tourist resort. It’s still in its infancy, but there were a couple of accommodation and eating options and there’s quite a bit of construction going on in the area. After a false start with accommodation we lucked in at a hotel right on the beach, which we’d assumed was beyond our budget but it was actually cheaper than our first option and we even got a corner room with lovely sea views…

As we were by the seaside we decided to go for a dip, so we unloaded our bikes, changed and went straight to the beach…

Almost felt like we were on holiday, which I suppose we sort of are! Note Martina’s crazy cycling tan lines.

One observation of the day.  As we were unloading our bikes we heard a local church ringing its one bell. Religion is relatively quiet in these parts and I reckon that this is the first church bell I’ve heard since Mizoram in North East India.

After our mandatory snooze we ventured out to have a look at the local town and went via the shore, which had more really nice views. By this time there were quite a lot of people out swimming, many of which we reckon were locals rather than tourists…

Once again we felt a bit like celebrities as just about everyone we passed said hello or waved! We stumbled upon a very pretty local temple (which we think is a Confucius temple with lots of Chinese writing and no Buddha)…

We found a nice restaurant along the seafront for a lovely meal overlooking the beach,  which just added to our feeling of being on holiday!

Thursday 25 July 19 – Thien Cam to Da Nhay Beach – 110km

A long day in the saddle ahead so we were up and out even earlier than normal and were rewarded with a fantastic sunrise…

We were quickly onto the main highway where we stayed for most of the day. It really wasn’t as bad as we expected and at one point not only was the road fairly quiet, but it also skirted some quite spectacular mountains…

The remainder of the cycling was uneventful and reasonably dull and we made it to destination just before 1pm – slightly later than we like but thankfully it was cool and overcast for much of the morning so the temperature was very manageable. After sorting our stuff out we went to find Da Nhay Beach, which we were told was through the forest opposite our hotel. It took a bit of finding as there wasn’t a recognisable path, but we got there in the end. It’s a beautiful beach and obviously fairly unknown as there were only about half a dozen people around…

So, for the second day running we went for a post-cycling dip…

Our evening meal was rather dull as there weren’t many eating options nearby.  We had a bowl of Pho Bo, beef noodle soup – but as we’d already had one of these for lunch it was a bit boring to have the same thing again, but there was nothing else available.  And we were served by a rather mardy sullen woman who obviously didn’t want to be interrupted whilst her favourite soap was on…she kept the TV going on full volume and ignored us completely other than to serve us and take our money.  Charming!

Friday 26 July 19 – Da Nhay Beach to Ho Xa – 95km

Visiting the beach at the end of cycling over the past couple of days has been a real bonus as we are really in a period of getting some miles in. We are already a month in northern Vietnam and we need to get south reasonably quickly as it’s a long way to Singapore! Today was a functional cycling day, but we still managed to detour through Dong Hoi for supplies (no Big C supermarket and Martina was very unimpressed with the Coop!) and even managed to top-up our mobiles in the process. It was overcast for the most part which meant it was a bit cooler than it had been (34 degrees instead of 38) and the rather annoying side/head wind we’ve had for the past couple of days turned into a bit of a tail wind, which helped us along our way.

Saturday 27 July 19 – Ho Xa to Hue (pronounced H’wey) – 104km

Early in today’s route we were able to get off the main highway so that we could visit the 17th parallel – a line of latitude (a line that goes horizontally around the globe) which is 17 degrees north of the equator. This line is also the demarcation line that separated the communist north and the democratic south of Vietnam when the French left in 1954.  During 1954 and 1965 (before the full-scale Vietnam War) a demilitarised zone (DMZ) a few kilometres wide, was set up either side of the 17th parallel, to help avoid war between the North and South. However both sides set up large speaker systems to blast propaganda at each other and there are still relics on both sides to show what went on at the time. This was on the the northern side, shortly after 6am…although the fingers in my ear still are only for photo effect…..

In 1965 the DMZ became the line between the communist NorthVietnam and the ‘opposition’, which basically mean the Americans. So, for the next 10 years the two sides fought over this piece of land – among other bits of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. They are still clearing ordinance from the area and there’s signs saying to not wander too far. There is now a flag commemorating the fallen…

…as well as the original bridge over the Song Ben Hai river with a memorial on the southern side.  We think this memorial is to the civilians lost…

The rest of our cycling was fairly uneventful with the exception of briefly meeting some friendly Vietnamese cyclists on the road.  But 25km from our end destination we heard a yell from the other side of the road from Joe and David –  two young cyclists from England. It’s been a while since we’ve seen some other long-distance cyclists, so it was great to have a break and a nice chat with them. They are in Vietnam for three weeks and were cycling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, which incidentally is a huge undertaking in 3 weeks!  We spent a good 40 minutes talking to them which was great and filled the gap in our lack of people interactions which we’ve been feeling for a week or so…

We still managed to get to base by 12:30pm which, considering it was just starting to get really hot, was good going. We had a shortened afternoon snooze and headed off to the Hue Citadel, which, back in the 1800s was the capital of the Nyugen Dynasty, and therefore the capital of Vietnam. Although it isn’t that old (built in 1804) it was still nice to walk around and see how the Vietnamese Royals of the time lived. It’s an enormous site so we only really scratched its surface in the time that we were there, but it was impressive all the same….

Unfortunately it was bombed to pieces in the Vietnam war and is still being restored but it is starting to look good again…

On our way back to our hotel  we went via the tourist area, ate some reasonable food and then sat and watched the world go by over a beer or two.  It’s  been a while since we’ve been able to do this and we really enjoyed relaxing…

The rock n roll lifestyle we lead meant we were back by 8:30 ready for bed and another early get up….!

A few more recent observations…

  • The car that most people aspire to own here appears to be a Range Rover and more specifically the Discovery. As the average wage in Vietnam is about £4,500 per year a Range Rover is way out of reach for everyone except the elite, and we have seen only a handful since we’ve been here. But for the non-elites to feel that they have a more expensive car, someone somewhere has got a job-lot of Range Rover bonnet lettering, which can be stuck onto any car. So, whether you do actually own a Discovery or not you can feel like you do…

 

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