Day 49. Wednesday 22nd February.  Dem Dien to Phat Diem. 100km.  Flat. 

Today was a complete contrast to yesterday.  Apart from cycling off Cat Ba island, all of yesterday was through urban areas.  Today was all rural or small towns and villages. 

We were heading South West across the Red River delta but this time we clocked that there were some ferry crossings across some of the large rivers.  This meant we did not have to have a route dictated by bridges and main roads.  The ferries were small boats for local traffic, with fewer lorries or buses.  The brilliant Kamoot app plotted us a route between the ferries (but couldn’t cope with the ferry crossings themselves so David divided the route up.)

From the off we were cycling on tiny roads. The area is a mass of rivers and canals so most of the day we were cycling by water. Venice has nothing on this web of waterways (apart from the fantastic buildings and a bit more of a chequered history – and more money of course). Sometimes we were on tiny tracks weaving through paddy fields, sometimes passing through small towns and villages.  Judging by the reactions of those we passed, foreigners were not often seen in these parts and perhaps never on trikes.

The one disadvantage of being so rural was the lack of coffee shops! We have found it impossible to find instant coffee, only the 3 in 1 mixes, so although we had a kettle in our room we had to stick to tea.  After an hour and a half I was gasping for a cup of coffee and miraculously as we passed through a slightly larger town, David spotted a coffee shop.  Truth be told, the coffee was not very nice but it gave us the caffeine boost we craved!

In one village we created a bit of a stir when we stopped to buy tomatoes and some fresh mint from a tiny shop.  Soon people were gathered round admiring the trikes, smiling and laughing.  David invited a young man to sit on the trike for a photo, and his smile was as wide as the street.  We like to think we spread a bit of joy as we go along.

We reached the first ferry and were relieved that it did exist. The ferry was loading with a couple of cars and a small lorry as we arrived, and we bumped straight on up the ramp. A few moments later we were bumping off. Cost – less than 50p for both of us.

The ferry was powered by a boat straight out of the war in the 19960s and 1970s – probably ex US army issue.

We came across few coffee shops and very few open restaurants but today we were prepared on the food front.  I can confirm that cheese triangles (the nearest we found to real cheese) with tomatoes and fresh mint in a baguette are delicious. We had these for second breakfast alongside one canal and also for lunch,along with a lovely orange.  The oranges here are very tasty – easy to peel and full of flavour.  Not the same as at home.

Impromptu lunch seats

As we set off after lunch streams of teenagers appeared on bikes and motorbikes (some electric, some petrol) making their way to afternoon school.  Teenagers the world over see the world differently to everyone else.  They can, on occasion, be delightful but they have the capacity to be a touch irritating and this remains the same in Vietnam. Groups of motorbikes hung on our shoulder while teenagers giggled and laughed and cut in front and behind us calling ‘hello’ and ‘what is your name’. We tried to remain smiley but eventually, after one group of girls almost ploughed into me, I jammed on the brakes and waved them away.  In fairness, they did all then move on! 

The road wove between large waterways and, on one stretch, we saw rusted ship after rusted ship.  This was a ship cemetery – or a breakers yard to be more exact.  There must be access to the sea and this is where ships end up after their final voyage.  The sound of hulls being broken up filled the air – this is difficult and dangerous work, with a high possibly of releasing pollutants and so it only happens in the developing world.

Ships ready for breaking and a church in the background

Legs were beginning to tire as the afternoon wore on but we were also blessed that there was a fair wind behind us much of the time. We crossed one river on an enormous bridge that seemed to go straight up then straight down (fun going down the other side) and soon after that we came to our second river ferry.  Again we arrived just as it was setting off and this time there was no charge (or maybe they just let us off because we weren’t a car or a motorbike). This one disgorged onto a road that was barely paved so was definitely just for local traffic!

It was then just 7.5km to Phat Diem. We had read in the guidebook about a large cathedral here. This whole area of coastal northern vietnam is something of a Christian enclave, as a result of the Portuguese who came here in the C17.  98% of the population here is said to be Christian, and to be regular attenders at church.   All day we had seen huge churches sprouting above the paddy fields. The cathedral at Phat Diem is meant to be the pinnacle of them all so we decided it should be worth seeing – we weren’t disappointed. It was an amazing building. To the front was a large stone bell tower in Vietnamese style, which in turn was in front of a lake – much more like a temple than a church.  Behind this the cathedral proper through huge wooden doors.  The nave had huge wooden pillars and an ornately carved wooden ceiling.  There was a glittering altarpiece at the far end of the nave, and the priests were just setting up for mass. Wooden doors opened up the length of the walls to allow cool air to circulate in the summer months. It was stunningly beautiful and unlike any cathedral we’ve ever seen. 

We then set out to find somewhere to stay.  Not being a tourist area there was not much choice but in a toss up between a grotty but reasonably priced hotel and an expensive hotel with nice rooms we opted for the latter. For dinner we found a ‘buffet’  – here you sat on the floor with a low table where there was a round heated plate on which to cook a variety of meats, topped off with a large bowl of salad. We probably ate more meat this evening than we have in total for the last month! Good to have topped up our protein quotient!

1 thought on “Day 49. Wednesday 22nd February.  Dem Dien to Phat Diem. 100km.  Flat. 

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