Around the world by bike
(2 720km - 53days)
25 June - Svay Rieng Cambodia - Cu Chi Vietnam - 87km
Under scores of “Hellos” we left Cambodia and entered Vietnam. The border crossing was as smooth as anyone can wish for (of course, we already had visa’s). It was well organized and it was just a case of showing your passport, getting it stamped, and walking through.
Once on the road we immediately experienced more traffic. The road was in good condition but extremely busy. Once we reached Cu Chi we decided to find a room and check out our new environment a bit, change money, and check on prices. The local currency is Dong and equates to 17 or 18 thousand dong to one US Doller. So going to the bank leaves you coming out with a bag full of money (not really, one note may be for 100 000 Dong).
The idea of first going to visit the Cu Chi tunnels went out the window as it didn’t look as exciting as I’d initially thought
I could soon tell that the language was going to be a huge problem here. We tried a local restaurant down the road, but with the menu was only in Vietnamese, it was a huge task. It ended up with the restaurant owner phoning a friend who could speak a little English - still we did not manage to get simple meal like fried rice with vegetables (we got shrimp rice, but I was so hungry I guzzled my fair share, vegetarian or not).
26 June - Cu Chi - Saigon - 38km
With over 3 million motorcycles in Saigon, I have never in my life seen so many motorcycles! Saigon is a vast sprawling area, spreading nearly all the way from the Cambodian border to the South China Sea. Needless to say it was a short but stressful ride. Once in the city centre it was still the task of finding accommodation. There were hundreds of hotels, but finding a specific one was quite a task.
We took a walk to the market to stock up with the normal essentials. Ernest bought some new underwear/pajamas at a road stall, thank goodness for that (and not just any old shorts, but Kalvin Klein – the price seems to suggest it may be a reject, so we’ll have to see if it lasts).
Saigon is a modern buzzing city were one can find tall slick skyscrapers next to ramshackle eateries and motorbike repair shops. The strange thing is also that everyone refers to the city by its old name Saigon instead of T.P. Ho Chi Ming city, but the only one’s who refer to it by it’s proper name seems to be the officaldom.
27 June - Saigon
It is most interesting to watch the thousands of motorbikes zooting through town. Their balance on these bikes is quite extraordinary as they seem to carry on with their daily life whilst driving. From smoking, talking on cellphones, feeding their babies and delivering bowls of noodle soup balancing on one hand. It is also not uncommon to see someone just released from hospital, on the back of a bike with drip still attached to the arm.
We spent most of the day in our hotel room. Ernest discovered super sport one on TV and lo and behold would we not see South Africa playing the British Lions. What a good thing we won, it would have been pretty sad sitting here and watching them loose. Ernest, needless to say, celebrated with the local brew.
28 June - Saigon - Cia Ray - 72km
We cycled through the traffic for close to fifty km - the city just carried on and on. There was little to see besides highway and traffic. Fortunately there is a motorbike lane, which appears busier than the car lane. There are indeed more motorbikes than cars on the road, but at least one is out of the way of the trucks and busses.
The language remains a big problem, just as you thought you had figured out the word for hotel or vegetables; you discover that the same word also means something else. One word can mean up to five different things it all depends on how you pronounce it.
29 June - Cia Ray - Phan Thiet - 96 km
Another day of nothing spectacular on the road, there appears to be little of whatever I expected of Vietnam here. Although may children shout “hello”, we even had the occasional “F….k You” shouted at us. Along the way we stopped to enjoy some of the local green guava which they eat with salt and chilly.
We stopped in Phan Thiet so I could see if I could have my laptop fixed. It is, however, very difficult to explain what I want done if no one speaks English. Just to find out what number to dial in order to get the balance on my cell phone took about half an hour.
Phan Thiet is a rather smelly town, I understand that they produce some seventeen million litres of fish sauce per annum, no wonder there is a bit of a smell in the air. It has however quite a pretty river harbor with all the fishing boats.
30 June - 1 July - Phan Thiet - Mui Ne Beach - 37 km
It was a short ride up the coast to the seaside village of Mui Ne. It is such a small place that we even overshot it and only discovered about 6km later that we have already past it. We turned around and found a room right on the beach.
I had my first swim in the South China Sea, and it was not as warm as expected.
2 July - Mui Ne Beach
We spent 2 days at Mui Ne Beach as we discovered a problem with the bottom bracket on my bike when we were about to leave. Ernest managed to do a makeshift job at fixing the problematic BB, but what’s needed is a new one. In the mean time I enjoyed the beach and the excellent Vietnamese coffee. Fortunately they serve it with extra hot water as traditionally they drink their coffee very strong with loads of condensed milk.
3 July - Mui Ne Beach - Ca Na - 134 km
We set off again, me on my ageing bike, and the road lay flat and wide in front of us. The bike squeaked and rattled and with every turn of the peddle there was a clacking sound. So all clacketing we went down the road. The climate was more arid around here, and much of the cultivated vegetation consisted of cactus type plants (devil fruit) - meaning less rain and more heat.
4 July - Ca Na - Nha Trang - 140km
It appears that people here sleep a lot especially during the heat of the day (siesta). Everywhere there are people sleeping in hammocks. Even in shops a person first has to wake up the shopkeeper to get any service. Another long day on the bike, my legs just went around and around, I was quite tired by the time we found a room. After Ernest had cooked, I just ate my noodles and went to bed.
5 July - Nha Trang
As there was quite a bit to see in Nha Trang we stayed another day and took a walk down the beach and had a swim. I walked to the historic Cham towers on a little outcrop just outside the centre of town, and also took a motorbike taxi to the White Buddha on top a little hill.
6 July - Nha Trang
I took the famous Mama Linh’s Boat Tours (more a party boat than anything else) to some of the nearby islands. The trip included, snorkeling, music, dancing and a floating bar, lunch and loads of fruit. Needless to say it was a good day out. That night I splashed out on a pizza, after months of instant noodles it went down very, very well.
7 July - Nha Trang - Tuy Hoa - 130 km
I felt strong after my pizza the previous night. The most beautiful and scenic day on the road so far in Vietnam. The road followed the coast for most of the day and it was a day of color with turquoise sea, blue mountains and a cloudless sky. The times when the road ran away from the coast, we cycled amongst emerald-green rice paddies tended by grass-hatted peasants. Now it felt that I was definitely in Vietnam.
8 July - Tuy Hoa - Quy Nhon - 102 km
A very hilly but stunning day again. These views definitely do not come without hard work, cycling up some very steep hills. It was incredibly hot and we sweated buckets. Past small villages, with people drying their rice, coconut, and cassava on the road, and past picturesque fishing harbours.
There were plenty of food stalls next to the road, with people sitting on kindergarden plastic chairs, eating their noodle soup. The people here are very tiny and these chairs are far too small for me, my knees come up past my ears when I try and sit on them.
With our arrival in Quy Nhon, we found that all budget accommodation was fully booked, due to university entrance exams taking place at this time – relating to fifty thousand additional people in the city. We ended up in a very fancy and expensive hotel, the smartest and most expense I have every stayed in on this trip. At least the price included a buffet breakfast, and that’s where they lost all their profit. Never ever give a cyclist a buffet breakfast, or for that matter any kind of buffet.
9 July - Quy Nhon - Sa Huynh - 118 km
The road left the coast and headed inland over the hills; it was a very, very hot day again and combined with an equally hot wind, it made the going rather tough. Many times on this trip I have been asked the question, “Why are you doing this?” Today I doubted my sanity again. Only mad dogs and two South Africans were out in the midday heat. Even the locals take shelter and rest in hammocks under the trees.
But we carried on, up and over the hills until in the gathering dusk we finally arrived at Sa Huynh where we found a room right on the beach. The room had seen better days but at the price it was a bargain, it even came with air con and a bathtub. The hot water system must have been faulty, as the water from the tap was so hot that it burned a huge blister on my arm.
Sa Huynh is a small village with a beautiful stretch of beach without any tourists, so it’s heaven.
10 July - Sa Huynh - My Khe Beach - 79km
I was up early to catch the sunrise over the South China Sea. Even at that early hour I could feel it was going to be another scorcher of a day. I was not wrong about that either, so what else is there to do, but do like the locals and rest in the shade in a hammock at a little roadside café.
Along the way Ernest bought himself a new saddle and was keen to get to the end of the day to fit it on the bike. His old saddle had done service for the duration of the trip, and was being held together by duct tape.
We turned off the highway at Quang Ngai to visit Son My Memorial site. This is the site where more than five hundred villagers were massacred by American GI’s on 16 March 1968 (known as the My Lai Massacre). The soldiers involved were sworn to secrecy, but the news eventually leaked out - after which the area was bombed and plowed over to erase the evidence. The event was photographed by a US military photographer, and some of these photos are now on display in a museum on site.
On a somber note we set off for the beach just 2km down the road and found an ageing wooden bungalow on stilts, just across the road from the beach. We found the sea water to be luke warm, and as it was a Friday evening there were thousands of locals at the beach, mostly from nearby Quang Ngai, enjoying the start of the weekend.
11 July - My Khe Beach - Vinh Dien - 125 km
A long hard day on the bike, again very, very hot, this time it was only two South Africans out in the midday heat - even the mad dogs took cover. If there was a thing like spontaneous combustion, I’m sure I would have burst into flames. We finally reached the town of Vinh Dien, the turnoff for Hoi An. We decided to sleep there and carry on to Hoi An in the morning as it was already getting dark. We found a little café with rooms at the back at a reasonable price (according to the motorcycle taxi who pointed the place out to us).
12-15 July - Hoi An
It was a short ride to Hoi An, but we found the price of accommodation had risen somewhat since our guide book was published. In the search for a cheap room Ernest and I lost each other in the chaos of tourists, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians in the narrow streets. About half of the distance this day was cycled in the search before we managed to get together again. Hoi An is mentioned as a “must visit” on a trip to Vietnam, and has a historic Old Town which is the major attraction. About 55 km away is the My Son ancient Cham ruins (the bit which was left was partly destroyed by the Americans during the war), but I decided not to go there. I was coming down with flu, so decided to rest for another day before heading North again.
My flu got worse and worse, so we stayed another day. I hate being in the same place for such a long time, but there was nothing to do but wait until I feel better. I spent the rest of the day in bed, watching the gecko’s running up and down the wall and listening to Vietnamese TV of which we don’t understand a single word.
Hoi An is incredibly touristy and one is constantly harrassed by touts, grabbing hold of you “come see my shop”, “special price for you”, “I make nice shirt for you”, “you buy something “, “very cheap manicure, pedicure, hair removal, foot massage” - it drives me crazy!
16 July - Hoi An - Phu Bai - 122km
I was eager to get out the room and on the road again, even although I still felt rotten from my cold, which I hoped would get better. Ha. Ha get better while cycling, no change. On a day I least needed it the road threw three mountain passes at us. I huffed and puffed and coughed up the passes and when the weather came in at around half past four we found a room instead of cycling the last km’s in the rain to Hue. At least the view up the Hai Van Pass was great.
Along the way the Vietnamese stare openly at us, even calling friends and family to come have a look at this spectacle. On more than one occasion local women has pointed at my arms and pulled up their noses in disgust for me not covering up. They think we craze for being out in the midday sun getting frazzled.
17-19 July - Phu Bai - Hue - 14km
We cycled the short distance into Hue. I have no idea how to pronounce it; none of the ways I’ve tried seems to be the correct one. We handed in our passports for our visa renewal which cost quite a bit of money but what must be done must be done.
While waiting for the visas, I spent the next day walking around the citadel where most of the interesting sights in Hue are located and half its population still lives within its 2 meter thick outside walls. Inside the citadel is the imperial enclosure as well as a 37 meter high flagpole, some beautiful temples and pagodas, which survived the American/Vietnamese war.
Hue is located on both banks of the Perfume River and just across the river from where I’m staying is Hue’s largest market, the Dong Ba Market. If you can’t find it here you won’t find it anywhere.
The Trang Tien Bridge over the river is quite spectacular at night as it is lit up with ever changing colorful lights. Dragonboat look-alikes are moored along the side, begging to take anyone with cash for a sightseeing tour along the river. Ernest also started suffering from flu here, so now there were two of us.
20 July - Hue - Dong Ha - 73km
Vietnam had so many wars, first the Chinese, then the French and then the Americans, with the result that even the smallest village has a war memorial. Dong Ha is situated on the border of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone - strip of land on each side of the river which was the border between North and South Vietnam). Ironically it became one of the most militarized areas in Vietnam during the American/Vietnamese war. There’s therefore no lack of war memorials and graveyards in this area. What a waste of lives.
Another sad part is that the local people, in spite of large warning signs, dig around the area for leftover metal to sell as scrap. The result being, that even now, 40 years later, people are still being killed by left over mines and unexploded bombs, etc.
21 July - Dong Ha - Dong Hoi - 97km
It was a boiling hot morning again as we left. The sun baked down on us and dried and shriveled our skins from above, while the black tarred road radiated heat upwards leaving us drenched in sweat.
We crossed the DMZ area, to Dong Hoi, which is situated on the northern side of the Zone. Today this is a peaceful area, with plenty of rice paddies. The area is littered with bomb craters which has now filled up with water and which the locals use as fish ponds. Hay, why not, make the best of what you have.
Along the way we stopped for a cup of coffee, which they serve in a glass, only about three quarters full, but as strong as hell and served with a bowl of ice and a straw.
Before midday the rain came down, and as there was still a long way to go, we decided to brave the rain and continue cycling instead of taking shelter. Luckily the showers were over in less than 2 hours, and some of the sweat was rinsed off us.
Dong Hoi is blessed with a great location right on the river, but even here one gets reminded of the war as you enter the town and see the ruins of a church, bombed by the Americans. We found a room right on the riverfront with beautiful views of the river for seven dollars. It only had a fan and even lying under the fan sweat was still running down me.
22 June - Dong Hoi - Ky Anh - 107km
I was up early to catch the sunrise over the river, what a sight. What a hard day it was, although fairly short the sun beat down relentlessly. Neither Ernest nor I had recovered from the flu and we felt weak and tired. The map and distance markers along the road varied and we could not figure out which the correct one was, until we discovered that a new tunnel had been built. To our relief we did not have to climb up and over the pass. We zooted the 500 m through the tunnel in no time and emerged on the other side where we could see the road, winding over the mountain. It did not only cut out the pass but cut about twelve km off the distance. Exhausted we arrived in Ky Anh and found a room, I felt weak and dizzy and had no energy so I just ate my noodles and went to bed.
Few people have a concept of cycling long distance, and mostly just glaze over when you tell them where you’re from and where you’re going. It truly baffles them that one can cycle from one country to the next. Why not take a bus or a motorbike, surely if you’re a foreigner you must have loads of money? I’ve given up trying to explain, I don’t have a decent answer for it anyhow.
Ice is a big business here, early morning one can see ice sellers on bicycles with huge slabs of ice going from business to business. The ice is then put in polystyrene cooler boxes and needless to say, one pays extra for everything coming out of that box.
23-24 July - Ky Anh - Vinh - 107km
The morning ritual is always the same, first some coffee and biscuits, pack the panniers and load the bikes up. My prized possession is the electric element for making a quick cup of coffee in the morning. At least it’s a lot less trouble than having Ernest start up his MSR stove.
Another boiling hot day on the road, with trucks blowing warm diesel fumes and road dust in our faces. If the going got tough all you had to do was look up and see the beautiful scenery.
I felt dizzy and nauseous all day, must have been the heat, but I stuck the ipod in my ears and battled on. Must have gone through the whole lot Creedence, Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Queen, the works.
We decided to stay another day in Vinh and recover from our flue, so we stayed in bed and we spend the day eating. Ernest made a real great fruit salad for lunch as well as a good green salad for supper
25 July - Vinh - Tinh Gia - 115km
I had a much better day on the road, I must be better from the flu, or it was not as hot as the previous days, what ever it was, it was a great and easy day on the road. Listened to more great music, Eric Clapton, Jeff Buckley, Pink Floyd and Bob Marley.
Although the road is not that busy with cars there was still a great number of trucks and busses, all hooting like crazy when they come up behind you, loud enough to blow you off the bike. They also seem to drive on, what is more commonly known as, the Egyptian brake, just hoot and go. Early morning we also witnessed a young lady on a bicycle killed by a truck, with her family sitting weeping around the body in the road. This put me in a very pensive mood, it’s so final, no take two, no replay, its game over.
It took a long time to find a suitable room at the right price in the small town of Tinh Gia - even turning off to the nearby beach in the process. The room which we eventually found came with the compulsory comb and toothbrushes.
Here one can buy “Bia Hoi”, draft beer; in a liter plastic bottle or 8000 dong - about 4 SA Rands (1USD is 18000 dong), not bad. The saying goes that if you can order a beer in the local lingo you’ve mastered the language. Well, in that case I’m doing just fine here.
26 July - Tinh Gia - Ninh Binh
With Bia Hoi”, draft beer; being sold at all the stalls along the road, drinking and driving doesn’t seem to be a major offence. It’s rather easy to spot a Vietnamese who has been drinking as their faces go bright red. So when a red faced Vietnamese on a motorbike pulls up next to you, sending an sms with the one hand and having a cigarette in the other, watch out.
In this region of the world one can buy MSG by the box load at the market; I must admit that it is totally necessary on the noodles.
27-28 July - Ninh Binh - Hanoi - 96km
We stayed in Ninh Binh an extra day, relaxing and doing laundry, etc. That evening we did some pleasant socializing with two other cyclists, James and Tracey from the UK, whom we’d previously met in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The 28th was a flat, scenic and easy ride into Hanoi, but came with its usual problems of flat tires and heavy traffic. At least we had a cooler day on the road with a bit of a drizzle which is way better that the heat. Once in the city the rain came down, and it took us forever to find a room in the narrow streets of the old city area, where street names change every few blocks. This old quarter of Hanoi is a maze of narrow streets with many tourists, and the locals live their lives on the streets. There are also many peasant peddlers in conical hats selling a variety of goods and nibbles.
29 July - 4 August - Hanoi
There is not a single day on this trip without a surprise. On the first morning in Hanoi we were off to the Chinese embassy to apply for our onward visas. It came as a total shock to us to find out that the Chinese don’t issue visas to South Africans here in Vietnam. We were so stunned that we were quite speechless. So it’s back to the map to plot a new route (most likely over the mountains to Laos).
In the meantime I organized for my sister to send me a new bottom bracket for my bike and some other spares, which would take a few days to arrive. In the subsequent few days which we spent in Hanoi I had my laptop fixed and we spent the rest of the time eating, drinking, and exploring.
On one of the days in Hanoi we met up with Marc, a Canadian cyclist who we’d previously met in Nepal and last seen in Bangkok. That evening the 3 of us went down to a pizza restaurant which had a special on - “eat as much as you can”. Now that’s not what you tell a cyclist if you are planning on making a profit!
Early one moring Ernest locked himself in the bathroom, as the door-handle decided to malfunction. What a good thing this did not happen when he was on his own, as he could have been in there for a hell of a long time. In the end I passed him his cycle tools through the air vent, and he forced the door open with a tyre lever.
5 August - Hanoi – Hai Phong - 109 km
At last we were on our way again, well fed and well rested. It was not a very scenic day as we stuck to the main road to the coast. Nearly the entire way the area was built up with loads of traffic. Most of the way there was a cycle track alongside the highway, but this part of the road was sometimes used as a market, and was clogged by local loaded bicycles and various other forms of transport. At least there were many fruit stalls (mostly peaches) along the way, which again they eat here unripe and sprinkled with a mixture of salt and chillie-powder.
6 - 7 August - Hai Phong – Cat Ba Island - By ferry (cycled 14 km)
After a little tour d’Hai Phong, we cycled to the pier to catch a ferry to Cat Ba Island. We were totally ripped off and were charged and astronomical amount for the ferry. The ferry turned out to be a real rust bucket and not a car ferry at all (which we were led to believe). It was a local ferry where our bikes had to go on the roof with bags of rice, crates of noodles, and casks of the local Bia Hoi (draught beer – certainly the cheapest in the world, sometimes less than 2 SA Rand per glass). What can I say Communism is truly dead, long live Capitalism!
The 2hr ferry trip to Cat Ba Island was however spectacular. Cat Ba Island is a nature reserve with a craggy and rocky coastline. The island is sparsely populated with just a few small villages. We found a room in the main town for 8 dollars overlooking the “hotel strip” and fishing harbour - what a view it was! We also stayed the following day as it was a raining - and storming complete with a display of thunder and lighting.
This place is popular with local and international tourists, and as is the case at other holiday venues in Vietnam, Kareoke and Massage is advertised everywhere (also known as “singing and sex”). Every time Ernest went out on his own the “girls” were trying to drag him into some place for “massage boom-boom”.
8 August - Cat Ba Island – Ha Long City - By ferry (cycled 37 km)
It was a hilly and very scenic 22 km ride from Cat Ba town to the harbour at the Northern end of the island. We were lucky to be just in time for the car ferry which took us across Ha Long Bay to Ha Long City. Words cannot describe the scenery and photographs cannot capture the beauty of the rocky island cliffs and absurd rock pinnacles jutting out of the sea.
After cycling from the ferry port to “hotel alley”, we found a room in Ha Long City for the night, and went to the market to find some vegetables to eat with our noodles. I also found some freshly grilled tofu to add into the pot.
Then it was time to do the dreaded laundry (again!) which I did in the bathroom waste-bin. If there is one thing that going to get me down it’s the laundry thing!
9 August - Ha Long City – Bieu Nghi - 27km
We hardly left the city when we spotted a small roadside hotel with rooms on the ground floor. This is not something you see every day in Vietnam, as most of the buildings here are long, narrow and straight up, like matchboxes on their side.
We immediately pulled in as this was the best place we’d seen yet where Ernest could do some necessary work on my bike and fit the new parts which I’d ordered. I don’t think the people at this establishment have ever had a foreign visitor before, and Ernest had a constant audience as well as willing helpers.
10 August - Bieu Nghi – Nam Dinh - 127km
My bike was running like a dream with all the new parts installed. Although hot, it was an easy day on the road and we reached Nam Dinh earlier that expected. To find a room was, however, more difficult. This is not a touristy place and we could only find a house of ill repute and one expensive hotel. There was not even an ATM. With me being out of money, the only option was to stay in the expensive hotel where we could pay with a credit card.
It was a very nice hotel with all the mod cons (even a bath tub) so we made good use of it. We soaked in the bath, used their shampoo and soap and like any good budget traveler, I nicked the toilet paper.
11 August - Nam Dinh – Tinh Gia - 135km
When we took off on this morning it was already raining, and the rain intensified by the minute. By mid-morning the sky was so dark it seemed like dusk. It was clear that one of the feared off-shore typhoons (gloomily advertised on the TV weather report) had crept ashore. We’d already started to figure out how to use our tents as spinnakers if the real winds arrived – luckily the wind was mostly from behind! Our Vietnam visas were valid only for a few more days, and we were pushing for the Laos border – we had to proceed, regardless. The relentless rain accompanied by thunder and lightning, complicated by the heavy traffic, road works, and flooded roads didn’t make the task any easier. Just for good measure Ernest hit a flooded pothole, puncturing his front tyre – lots of fun unpacking tools and doing repairs in those conditions.
Somehow, by 5 pm we’d arrived at our target destination. After a shower and a hot cup of soup I was happy again. It was quite a task cycling 135km under those conditions – what can I say, give me that dog that digs up the garden any day!
12 August - Tinh Gia – Vinh - 102km
No storms or flat tyres today. Back tracking is never much fun but at least it was a fairly short day. Only another 3 days of backtracking and then we can turn off for the Laos boarder. Had plenty time to talk to the locals and enjoy their version of Red Bull. We also did the necessary shopping at the market before finding a room, bread, noodles, salad and veg. Watching one of the 3 Vietnamese channels on TV, or rather just staring at it, we don’t understand a word.
Finding a bush to use as a toilet is really hard in this country. The total land area of Vietnam is 329,569 sq km, and the population 84 million, compared to South Africa with 1,219,912 sq km, and (I think) about 50 million people. There’s just no private place to go without being watched, but when you have to go you have to go!!
13 August - Vinh - Ky Anh - 103km
Backtracking is never much fun; I could not find my rhythm, my legs felt weak and my backside was sore. This, I’m sure, is all mental, or maybe it’s the fact that I went to bed so late or that instant noodles is maybe just not enough to see me through the day. I had to dig deep and had to call in the help of the i-Pod. Even here I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel (Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles). We arrived in Ky Anh early, found a room and called it a day. Only in Vietnam do you have a village around a rice paddy.
Ernest, as usual, went to the market to get some food stuff and I did my long overdue laundry (I wonder just how many days one can cycle in the same clothes)
14 August- Ky Anh – Dong Hoi - 94km
Another flat tyre (this time my bike – which thankfully Ernest repaired in the presence of infatuated spectators). I can’t believe this, one can go for months and months without so much as a little leak and then suddenly its one flat tyre after the other. We battled into the wind all day long (at least we wern’t the only ones battling into the wind) but eventually reached Dong Hoi at around 15h00, leaving plenty time for the shopping etc.
I was p-d off with the room as the air-con did not work and there was no Wi-Fi, (all this after we had already paid and that we were assured there was both). It’s just not a good day, but neither was it for the pig (she’s suffering in the heat while the driver guzzles cold beer – and then it only gets worse –slaugher!)
15 August - Dong Hai - Dong Ha - 97km
Still we back tracked, back across the DMZ with its old bomb craters and on to Dong Ha. At least there’s the ever present sugarcane juice to be had along the road, served with lemon juice and salt over ice, just what a weary cyclist needs. Fortunately this was our last day of backtracking; tomorrow we head West into the hills for the border.
16 August - Dong Ha - Lao Bao - 83km
At last we turned off for the Laos border. We followed the road West past many war time relics including Camp Carroll and the well known Khe Sanh Combat base, crossed numerous paths all known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We climbed and climbed up hills and over passes with beautiful valleys and fields. The hill tribes are quite different from the Vietnamese we have seen so far, they seem to live in bamboo woven huts on stilts and even dress differently in a sarong like skirt and carry their goods in woven baskets on their backs (instead of the bamboo pole with the 2 baskets dangling form each end).
Eventually we reached the border town of Lao Bao and decided to stay for the night and cross the border in the morning. It was Sunday and at least the banks would be open the following day in case we needed to change money for the visas.
Ernest went off to the market again and returned just in time before another storm broke.