Today was a better day than yesterday which, we felt, was not that difficult. The hotel was like lots of travellers hotels in this part of the world – clean but basic. Judging by the cars in the ground floor area, a few people had arrived late but we saw no sign of other visitors. We made porridge on the balcony, packed up and were ready to leave at 7, but were detained by a cloudburst that started just as we put the panniers on the trikes. Rain here can be proper “stair rods” rain – loads of water falling for maybe 10 minutes and then just drizzle. So we sat out the stair rods and took off in the drizzle.
Our route took us on the QL1 (main road from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh city) for about 10km. We carefully stuck to the hard shoulder, only moving out (and then gingerly) when there was a parked lorry or someone was driving the wrong way – something that is far more frequent than one would expect. The convention appears to be that the person going the right way along the road moves out and lets the person going the wrong way have the inside lane. I cannot imagine that working on the M25!
We then had a delightful 12km across flat farmland – and it would have been even more delightful if the rain had not resumed with some gusto. We stopped at a cafe and put on full raingear – with the inevitable watchers-on. One of the things we have noticed here is that people with mild (and more) learning difficulties are not hidden away. They are often part of the family running a cafe and, often having less inhibitions than others, come up to us and try to speak. Today the man who watched us put on our weather gear could not speak full words of Vietnamese and equally could not understand how we could not fully understand what he was saying – or trying to say. Language is not a complete barrier and we got some messages back and forth, mainly about how mad we were in trying to cycle in the rain! On that we tended to agree with him.
The rain did not last long but this gentle section of the route came to an end after 10km when we rejoined the QL1. We stopped for coffee in Thanh Duc, a fishing town with a good coffee shop. 10km more on the QL1 and we bare our farewell to this arterial road and went onto smaller roads for the rest of the day – some of dubious surfaces that slowed us up and others of which were fine. The route took us south, along the coast but we found that we almost never saw the sea, as there was almost continuous development or wooded areas next to the shore. At one stage we went through a fishing town, Thanh Xuan, where there were hundreds of small fishing boats in the harbour, as well as fish drying on the side of the road. Fishing is a major industry here and fishing is done at night, with the boats having a range of lights to attract the fish. To us, almost all the boats appear tiny (or at least we did not see any bigger boats).
The road took us across another major river, this time the Song Loi Giang, and we hit a section where a line of East-West mountains comes right down to the seaside. That means the road has to climb through the end of the mountains – and we needed to get out our climbing legs again. These were two tough, tough climbs. Only 150m and 120m, but the slopes were up to 17% in places and this was the heat of the middle of the day. I abandoned my helmet and even my sunglasses as the salt from the sweat was hurting my eyes. It was tough climbing but we got up them. We saw no other cyclists – what a surprise!
The section of road between the two hills was right along the sandy beach, and was totally unspoilt. We stopped and took in the sheer beauty of the surroundings. It is captured on this video and pictures.
Following the last descent, we started to look for food and found a tiny market – but with everything we needed for supper. We filled our panniers and then headed to the “homestay” we had identified as our destination for today, located on large inland lake. This had great reviews but we noted they were all pre-pandemic. We had called ahead and spoken to the owner (who spoke English) but he said he was “elsewhere” and his mother would sort us out, which she duly did – again googletranslate and the son on the phone making it all happen.
The homestay is well set up, on the shores of the silver lake, but it had a slightly run down feeling. There was some developed area for visitors, including walkways into the lake, boats which may have been for hire, places to swim and some fun structures – including an English red telephone box!
But we were the only visitors today and had the impression we may have been the only visitors for some time. It was unclear whether the business has been mothballed (possibly as a result of the pandemic) or only operated in the summer months. This is supposed to be peak tourist season at the moment but it is unseasonably cold. The rain we have cycled through is not supposed to start until May, but the climate appears to be changing, and it does not give the appearance of a place for peak “winter sun” tourism. Anyway, we arrived early enough to relax in the light, walk to the lake, take some silly pictures and then Bernie cooked a lovely meal.
This time next week we are due to be in HCM airport, waiting to board our flight home. It has been an amazing trip so far but, as we go into the last week, our thoughts are starting to head for home, the family we are looking forward to seeing and our friends who we miss. However, we are determined not to wish away the last week but to make the most of everything.