Day 48: Tuesday 21st  February:  Cat Ba to Dem Dien: 95km and 300m of climbing

So what happened today?  Well quite a lot really, starting with 20km going north on Cat Ba Island to get to the ferry across to the mainland.  It was a lovely cycle along the island coastal road, with lots of small hills (some quite steep) and sweeping descents on good roads where we picked up speed.  We arrived not knowing when the next ferry would arrive but there was one within about 15 minutes.

Children arriving for school – all on motorbikes

We met up with a multi-national group on an adventure holiday (kayaking, walking, cycling and generally having a good time).  There were Brits, Aussies and an American.  We worked hard to try not to give the impression that their highly organised and managed adventures were any less exciting than our totally disorganised and unpredictable adventures, but they were clearly slightly amazed, a little worried and a touch in awe that we could set off not having booked accommodation in advance, or that we just made up our own routes for cycling. Having done this for so many years we are perhaps immune to the way our trips seem to others.  They have a point of course, and it was made very gently, but since we have often been the only guest occupying a room in a hotel, having nowhere to stay seems low down on the list of our problems.  One of the party was an Australian OT who specialised in burns, and could not resist asking if she could give me some advice about my burns, and it was very good advice indeed.  She also said they were healing very, very well and that I must have a strong immune system.  I agreed saying that I was indeed immune to most human emotions.

The port was not the mainland but another island, which had a deep water port for massive container ships.  There are a series of container ports in the Haiphong area, hence all the lorries carrying containers we have seen in recent weeks.   There was also a series of yards where containers were stored, presumably ready for the next ship to Rotterdam, Harwich or wherever or empty and waiting to go to a factory to be filled with more stuff “Made in Vietnam”.  The lines of containers went on for mile after mile.  

There was a massive bridge from Dao Cat Hai (Hai Island) to the mainland, and also a cable car running all the way from the mainland to Cat Ba island.  This was not working today but it must be at least 100m high and we were told that it was a very popular attraction in the summer, with views across to Halong Bay.  The road then took us in a loop to the north of Haiphong city – which is the third largest city in Vietnam, with a population of over 2 million.  It was busy, dusty and had the usual jumble of motorbikes, cycles, cars and lorries as well as polluted air.  Having said that, the city had a pleasant feel to it and was not as frantic as Hanoi.

We stopped for coffee and the young woman who served us made a huge fuss – we were her only customers at that point.  Sadly, the coffee was not quite up to the welcome but was still drinkable.  We then posed for pictures outside on our trikes (no doubt for a Facebook page) and bid our farewells – as if we had stayed with her for weeks.

Urban roads

We then struck South – and will carry on going South until we give up and get a bus to the airport on 12 March.  Being a delta area, it was flat but our route was dictated by the presence of non-motorway bridges which we could use to get across the rivers.  

The road was busy and mostly urban, so one part felt like another.  At one point a young man on a motorbike followed us closely and rode beside us, filming us on his phone.  That is not too unusual but he kept going for a long time and caused traffic chaos.  Trucks overtook him (and us) and were forced onto the other side of the road causing motorbikes coming the other way to cling to the side of the road.  We were very worried that a combination of our presence and his response would lead to an accident but eventually he waved and rode off.  We breathed a sigh of relief and pulled in for a rest beside a strange looking building that could have been a church, a hotel or a setting for a gothic horror show.  It was boarded up so you can make up your own mind what it is – my vote is for the last option.

French C19 style but what was it built for?

But then the young man arrived again – he had gone to buy bottled drinking water for us.  We had plenty but accepted his gifts.  He spoke no English and we spoke no Vietnamese – so we exchanged smiles, he took selfies and off he went.  Just another small encounter in the day.

We had toyed with going further but stopped at the town of Dem Dien, found a hotel and arranged a room for less than £10 for the night.  Then out to a lovely supper of fried rice, beef and vegetables and back to the room to read (and write this blog).  It feels good to be back on the trikes.

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