So we have arrived at our final cycling destination, the modern city of Nha Trang. It was 50km, mostly along our “friend” the QL1 – or the “one and only” as we have christened it. We have now covered about 3,140km since we left Bangkok on 8 January, some 10 weeks ago. Our longest day was 112km and the shortest cycling day was 23km (on Cat Ba island), but we have had plenty of days off the trikes.
Coming down the one and only we had the usual range of lorries coming a bit closer than we would have liked (but never too close) and motorbikes going the wrong way along the hard shoulder for no apparent reason (irritating but that is how things work here so bury the irritation). We also had our fair share of motorbike gawpers – people who ride along side us looking at the trikes (or possibly us) in wonderment, saying nothing but getting so close to be a complete pain to both us and anyone trying to overtake. None have caused an accident as the traffic here mysteriously weaves around anything in its way, and we have nearly got used to these inspections. But when I reacted to a particularly irritating gawper, Bernie accused me (justifiably) of being “Mr Grumpy”. She was right – it is their country and they are entitled to gawp if they want, andI resolved to do better – even if I don’t quite make it to being Mr Cheerful.
At one point we stopped at a place titled “Motel and Coffee Land” and asked for coffee – but were told no, we don’t do coffee! The fact that the title is “Coffee Land” is sort of irrelevant because everyone knows that we don’t do coffee! Andfor all manner of reasons, that sums up part of Vietnam.
So what are my reflections on the past few months? We are both significantly stronger and slimmer than we were on 6 January. The trikes have been tricky to maintain at times but overall a real success; we cannot imagine touring now on conventional bikes. They can be a bit slower when climbing, do attract a bit more attention and the gawpers can be irritating (there is me being Mr Grumpy again) but this is far outweighed by the comfort, the smiles, the thumbs up and general expressions of approval. They are great on the flat, fast downhill, stable and the scenic view is far better for most of the time than on a bike. However, perhaps the biggest benefit for those of us who reluctantly admit that we are nearer the finish line of life’s race than the starting blocks, is that they are kinder on the body. Fewer muscle aches, no neck aches and a more comfortable seat.
We have not camped a great deal on this trip and done no wild camping. This is not surprising given how many hotel rooms we have secured for less than £10 per night, but perhaps we are getting a little soft or maybe a tad less hardy in our 60s. I still love waking up in our little tent with the dawn streaming in, but real wild camping only works where there are long light evenings. When it gets dark by 6pm, it can be a very long time without light before dawn and a tent is a small place to spend those hours!
The best book I have read on this journey is, without doubt, “A history of loneliness” by John Boyne, which is a study into the mindset of those who closed their eyes and minds to clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church Ireland in the period from the 1960s. It is not so much about the mindset of the abusers or even those who directly covered up known abuse (evil as both groups are), but focuses on those who sort of knew but put their heads in the sand to ignore the obvious signs amongst their colleagues and said nothing. The book is about those in the priesthood in Ireland, but as a lawyer I have seen the same behaviour in teachers, those working in other contexts with children and in relation to other forms of sexual abuse in other contexts. It is not an easy read but wonderfully written. Perhaps, trips give us the time to read books which are not an easy read and the cycling gives us time to dwell on the insights of others, be it in literature, in politics or in art.
There are so many fantastic places we have been that it would be invidious to single out any one place and say that this was the highlight of the trip. The Gibbon Experience will live long in the memory, as will the fantastic rock shapes of Halong Bay. But one of my strongest memories of this trip will be the loud laughter of the nurses on that terrible evening when they were putting stitches into Bernie’s head wound after the stove exploded. That memory sticks out because, applying our British (or even European) approach, it was so inappropriate. Laughing at pain is inimical to our way of thinking but equally it was so typical of the approach in Laos. Our experience is that the Lao people laugh at virtually everything, are masters of the practical joke and see the funny side of any tradegy. They are a poor people who objectively one would have thought do not have a great deal to laugh about. But happiness, jokes and fun are hard wired into the national psyche and come out all the time – even when stitching up a head wound in hospital. It is a great way to tackle adversity and reminds us of the importance of laughter – and we have done a great deal of that in the last 10 weeks. We have laughed a lot – between ourselves and in company. It is a habit we must not loose when we get back to the UK.
Some of the temples – largely in Thailand – were also trip highlights, mainly because they were places of calm contemplation and beautiful artwork in the middle of frenetic cities. They were soulful in places where we struggled to find souls! We were also suprised by the extent to which Vietnam is a catholic country – there are churches everywhere but we have not seen a single mosque. That seems astonishing given that it is so close to other countries that are deeply Islamic.
We also noted that there are virtually no Vietnamese men with beards. We wondered why and the internet provided two answers. First, the genetic makeup of most men here means they do not grow extensive facial hair but just in the chin area and upper lip – hence a more modest confusian type of beard. However a better answer is the Vietnamese saying “ram rau sau mat” which roughly translated means women see men with beards and deep eyes as “barbaric, cruel, uneducated and likely criminals”.
This has been a different trip to previous cycle tours because my work as a working barrister (like a trial lawyer) has come to an end, and so I have not been worrying about cases and answering emails as I have gone along as been the case with all previous trips. This has given me an intellectual freedom to read, think and write which I have not had before. I come back to the UK with the yoke of practice removed from me – like having the albatross taken off my neck. Day to day life will certainly be different when I get back. I will just be a part time Judge now – not a full time barrister and part time judicial office holder – so not quite a pensioner but on the way there.
One of the things which always astonishes me is the fact that, almost however uninteresting the landscape is, we rarely if ever get bored during the long hours in the saddle. It is partly the need for physical effort the whole time, partly that there is always something to see and partly because we both, to an extent, live in our heads when we are cycling. By that I mean that our minds freewheel whilst our bodies are doing the work. This produces an effect that Bernie and I have observed on far too many occasions for it to be a coincidence – one of us will say “I was just thinking X” only for the other to confess to having a near identical train of thought. It can often be about something pretty obscure, but it happens at some point most days. So I think what is happening is that we are thinking pretty solidly for much of the time when we are cycling, but not just about the passing scenery but about our children, family, friends and wider issues in our lives. And yes, we are going to explore getting a treehouse when we get home!
The trip has had ups and downs of course – physical, emotional and psychological. The exploding stove was a low point but we were just (if not more) as affected by seeing Bien and his wife grappling with the terrible consequences for their son of developing a serious and difficult to treat autoimmune disease which developed quickly and came from nowhere – but for the luck of the draw (or the grace of God), their anguish could be any parent in any part of the world. We continue to hope for the best for them. If we were people of faith, they would be in our prayers but we are not so we can just have hope for them.
So we come to an end of another fantastic journey, and hope you have enjoyed following us on this blog. We write it for multiple reasons. In one sense, it is selfishly for us – capturing memories so we can re-read it at home and it will bring great times back to life when the bikes are packed away and the flabbiness has returned. But it is also for our family and friends – to persuade them we are still going, share thoughts and persuade them that, whatever the hardships, we are enjoying ourselves.
And the blog is also for people we have never met but who might get some benefit from reading about our travels. We hope that Jack and Kiera – who of course we have met – will find it useful for their trip – they are the lovely couple we met yesterday who are battling the winds to cycle north – doing much of our trip in reverse. Maybe it is also of interest to people who have never packed a pannier or cycled off into the unknown, but who just fancy the idea of it or want to follow someone’s travels from an armchair. This blog is for you too.
I am signing off now – hasta la vista until the next trip.
27 thoughts on “Day 67: Doc Let beach to Nha Trang: 53km and postscript.”
Oh no… not the end !! I feel tearful.
I have loved having a cup of and reading your posts each day.
It’s given me lots to think about, I’ve talked to people about, not just what you are doing, but your perceptions of life along the way. Interesting.
I backpacked Thailand with my daughter 15 years ago, I felt very happy there.
Safe travels home and thank you.
Thanks Sue. Look forward to seeing you when we are back.
Thanks for some entertaining and interesting travel tales. Well done for staying and enjoying the course. Looking forward to seeing you again soon, on three or even on two wheels! Safe journey home. Malcolm xx
Thanks. Looking forward to seeing you too.
A lasting memory of Nha Trang was a line of old French villas along the lovely beach (mostly occupied by the CIA) none of which probably exist any longer. They were the product of the era when the town was a “French only” ghetto – Vietnamese were only allowed in to work. There were no tall buildings at all in 1972.
Sorry you won’t be making it past my old stamping ground from 50 years ago. Dong Ba Thin is a ‘mere’ 40km south of Nha Trang, but looking at Google Earth there’s no longer any trace of our buildings – an old French Army parachute school – it’s now a Vietnamese army HQ of some sort.
Your fabulous trip has produced an equally fabulous blog. From a cool England (it’s snowing here today in Surrey) I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending the past 67 days, following your trials and tribs. Thank you both once again for my marvellous digital hol. Wishing you an enjoyable journey home.
Don’t know if this’ll work – DBT:
Fascinating- no sign of those villas and now Nha Trang is very modern and high rise. The whole idea of a place from which Vietnamese people were excluded in their own country makes my hair curl. But it was a different world then. Great we gave given small pleasures and maybe see you in person at some point.
Coffee or lunch when you’re up in London would be great.
Thank you for your informative, lively and honest blog. My husband and I are planning g our first ‘big trip’, although not as ambitious as yours, and your blog has been inspirational.
Thanks and good luck with your trip. Contact us if you have questions where we might be able to assist.
Thanks so much for sharing your amazing experience with us. Don’t think you need to worry about ‘going soft’ for a little while yet!
So glad the trip was a positive experience, in spite of moments of jeopardy on the way!
Love the postscript and reflection on what cycling journeys (and life?) is all about.
Hope you can enjoy an evening or two of celebration before your trip home, and looking forward to seeing you both soon.
Great for your trip success. I enjoyed traveling with you.
It has been great to join you on your amazing trip; both the highs and the lows. So glad that you both didn’t sustain a more serious injury with the exploding stove.
Be prepared for the cold weather when you return! x
Thanks for letting us share the trip with you and so glad neither of you sustained a more serious injury from the exploding stove.
Be prepared for the much colder weather back in the UK on your return!
I really enjoyed being an armchair traveler with you both and reading your daily experiences, following you on Google maps , and particularly enjoyed the videos which put me in the place . ( virtually! ) You write so well – English and communicating – so much part of the legal training. Safe home now and hopefully a few days to take it easy . Congratulations to David on “nearly” retiring from the law .( I did myself a few years ago ( solicitor) and never been happier! ) Time to do so many things and time is the most precious gift of all . Best wishes from one of your readers you have never met !!
David, Bernie, your blog has been wonderful
I am so sad it has ended
Congratulations on completing such a wonderful trip, with amazing experiences along the way. Wishing all the best for Bien’s son and his family. Enjoy your last few days away!
David and Bernie,
Thank you giving us all something enjoyable, intriguing and enchanting to read each day. What adventures you have had! Well done on completing the trip to schedule and very safe journey back.
Where to next time …..!
David thank you so much for your sharp intellect and legal knowledge when we’ve been in need (successful of course!). I’m pleased you can continue to contribute to justice – otherwise your expertise would be lost. A new adventure.
Hopefully you’re also your own book (perhaps jointly) and maybe one day others on long trips will take it with them to enjoy.
Thanks Lorna. No idea where next time but there will be one I hope.
Hello David and Bernie, this are Wil and Wilma from the netherlands.
We met each otter in cambodia in january 2019.
We have following you the whole trip and we will going to mis your stores.
Our last trip on the bicycle wad for 2 months in Albanië summer 2022.
Thanks for the stories and have a goed flght home.
With kind regards,
Wil and Wilma
With kind reg
Lovely to hear from you. Happy cycling.
Thank you, dear David and Bernie, for sharing this adventure, your observations along the way, and, not least, your final profound musings. Hope you have a safe and boring flight back!
Just a final thank you ,I have read every blog and am in total awe of you both But I have also concluded that we must all find our adventures , contemplation of life and enjoyment in different ways and my final conclusion is your way is not my way ! For
Dear Bernie and David! I have been reading your Blog daily after we met in Luang Prabang and thoroughly enjoyed following each and every segment of your trip. You are an enviable couple, following your dream (or should I say mission?) to experience the world at slow pace and just slightly above the road surface. Congratulations to another mission/dream accomplished!!! We are back home since yesterday and also spent very memorable months in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, albeit at a slightly less active pace than you. Kindest regards, Christian Unger (the retired banker from Austria)
Christian, How lovely to hear from you. We are delighted when others enjoy our musings as it gives added purpose to the writing – but it is sadly over for now. We enjoyed meeting you. Let us know if your travels take you to the UK. Dlock@landmarkchambers.co.uk should reach me.
Hello David and Bernie, aka, two coolest trike-tourers we’ve ever met (as you’re the only trike tourers we’ve met, I guess you also qualify as least coolest too) but just a quick message to say that as I sit here on a grey, dreary day in Huè, feeling slightly under the weather, and feeling slightly overwhelmed with the weight of this trip, that reading your latest blog post, has given me renewed vigour, and not a day has gone past when Keara and I haven’t spoken about you (I know it was only about 3 days ago, but days feel like weeks when you’re touring – or they do to me anyway) however, congratulations to the pair of you for completing your trip, I’m sad the live updates will come to an end, but I’m excited to start at the beginning!
Jack and Keara
P.s I’m sure Bernie is excited for a good ol’ English coffee 😜
Jack and Keara,
I am writing this on a damp, grey morning in Sussex, with fond memories of the sunny skies of Vietnam. Thanks for your comments and sorry if you are not feeing at your best. Cycle touring is tough on the mind and the body – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Hope you recover quickly and are able to squeeze the sponge of life as you travel towards and into Laos. It is the small things that make each day so brilliant – they are the things that get us over the big challenges.
And by the way – no one has ever called us “cool” before. I think we are probably the antithesis of “cool” but we can live with it!
All the best for your next section and please stay in touch.