Hello. Again I have left it a while since my last post. So yet again I am thinking back to over a month ago, on the road with Coco. We stayed riding together and enjoyed the hills of the Ho Chi Minh road preceding Hoi An. At Hoi An after a rest we parted ways as he rode on towards Hanoi and I waited and waited for over a week for my passport to come back with an extension stamp allowing me to stay another month.
Hoi An was very pretty, but it didn’t feel ‘real’ to me. It is famous for being an ancient city, but most of the buildings appeared to be modern concrete ones but in an old style. It was a bubble of tourism that felt separate from the rest of Vietnam, a bit like Venice felt to me. That being said I enjoyed the beach, the cheap fresh beer (10 pence a glass) and my rest from the saddle.
I rode North on the main highway that follows the coast the length of the country. From Da Nang there was an especially nice stretch of road over a pass that gave great coastal views and the following couple of hundred kilometers with the smell of the sea in the air were good too. The closer I got to Hanoi the busier the road got and 300km away in Vinh I hopped on a night bus to the capital in order to save some time and rest my sore buttocks (both pairs cycling shorts were coming apart in different places so I would alternate the chaffing day by day. It only worked for so long.)
In Hanoi I saw Coco again for a few days (before he went to Laos) and managed to meet up with Chelle, a friend from Manchester, along with her 2 pals. While they went to Ha Long Bay on a tour boat I went to Cat Ba island. Cat Ba is the biggest island of the area and is surrounded by limestone karsts jutting out of the sea and covered in greenery. I stayed with a couple of girls I met in Hanoi who were embarking on a ride South on motorbikes. And to the smirks of Vietnamese men I got chauffeured around on the back of ‘Old Greg’, Clare’s bike while we explored the island. The highlight has to be taking kayaks out round the bay for a day, exploring the karsts and finding a private beach to relax on. (It definately confirmed in me that I want to go an a kayak tour at some point, floating all day, fishing and finding secluded camp spots. Maybe Sweden sometime.)
After heading back to Hanoi for a few more days and saying bye to Chelle and the other lovely ladies it was time to get back on my bike and head to Laos before my visa expired. The ride was a bit of an ordeal due to getting ill the day I left. Which meant I lost my breakfast a couple of days on hot long climbs in the morning and was surviving on sugary drinks, motivational music and what body fat I have left. Some of those days have to up there with my most testing so far.
After leaving Vietnam (on time) I hoped to climb into the first bed I found in Laos, but once over the border there was nothing but tiny villages with a handful of wooden huts in them. I was forced to camp as night fell at a spot inhabited by lots of mosquitoes, frogs and leeches (I woke up with my feet covered in dry blood and not enough water to wash properly). Luckily the I had emergency food supplies and stocked up on plenty of water earlier. Anyway, after another 50 km of lung burning uphills and cooling downhills I finally made it to Sam Neua the day before yesterday and savored the air conditioned room and comfy bed. I spent yesterday reading, eating and stocking up on emergency food with the plan to leave this morning, but the urge to stay in bed drinking coffee and finishing my book proved to great to leave. Tomorrow I will.
I was sad to leave Vietnam, the friendly people, excellent food and interesting scenery. But after 2 months I was ready to go and experience something new. Laos so far has been spectacular. Hard work but the views of cliffs and lush green paddy fields have made it worthwhile. It is nice to be on small roads through sleepy villages once more.
I have uploaded a few more photos but realise that I have been very un-snap-happy in Vietnam and didn’t take anywhere near enough photos. No even a single one from Cat Ba or Hanoi. Oh well, next time…