Riding down the Vietnamese Coast
For the first time on this part of the trip we set an alarm. The heat is slowing us up and 10:30 departures are taking us straight into a mid-morning inferno.
So last night we got ahead of the game and prepped the bikes and the bags as much as possible.
At 07:15 Siubhan was already awake and we busied ourselves showering and loading the bikes. Momentum was the key now and we decided to depart the villa with bikes and grab breakfast as we checked out.
By Vietnamese standard the villa had been eye-wateringly expensive but it had soooo been worth it, the dip in our private hot-tub was a delight and the living space put us in a very happy zone.
The rear half of the villa was a single story brick unit with a bedroom either side of a wide rear hall and a toilet bathroom behind. But the beauty was all in the front that was a large single room dark wood structure with a high room. It was classically South East Asian and a delight.
After a breakfast of fruit, pastries and cheese to cover the major food groups we went to reception to pick up some cold water and pay the bill.
Final packing, loading and breakfast all took about longer than intended and we were at the from desk 20 mins behind our 9am target time. But this wasn’t going to be a quick check-out; there were 5 people behind the counter all smiling and the matriarch of the group said that they had come down for photographs with. It’s impossible to decline a request like this; these interactions are what make a tour.
All photos done, hands shaken and smiles swapped, Strava tells me we finally rolled wheels at 09:41 and it was already just over 30C.
Gone were the strong tailwinds of a few days back and we rode down a beautiful coastline road in nil wind as the temperatures rose. The breeze from the downhill parts was blissful and the uphill bits were surprisingly hard work for such little incline.
As the coastline turned right and we followed it, first there was the fishing port of Mūi Né and then the resorts started.
Of variable quality and obviously various levels of success, large opulent edifices of resorts with their lush green gardens stood incongruously alongside long deserted failures.
But this was very different from any Vietnam we had see so far. We even saw our first 7-11 style mini-mart. Cheap souvenir shops and small restaurants, obviously aimed at a non-Asian market, went on for a few kilometres. We even saw many Caucasian faces when we hadn’t seen more than 5 in all of the previous week.
We even had a few words of greeting thrown at us from holidaymakers but they weren’t in English, it was exclusively Russian. Not really a surprise as all the non-Vietnamese signage was in Cyrillic text.
16km in we stopped at a small shop and bought bananas and a bottle of cold tea each. Very refreshing.
Every piece of clothing was now already soaked through and we were both overlooking. I have been wearing a checked shirt over a Merino wool base layer. That has been a revelation, who would go out in 40C+ heat in a black wool top? It sounds nuts but Merino is really good, it’s very good at wicking away the sweat, it keeps you cool when it’s hot and it doesn’t smell. Yes really, it sounds gross but I can wear a Merino too for several days in this heat and there’s not a hint of BO. One day out here in a cotton t-shirt or even a normal base layer and I’m honking!
We knew we had 2 sizeable hills today and the first came up at about 20km. Not a cloud in the sky as we climbed up very slowly. At about 5% it was far from being the steepest incline on this trip but it was just a slog up the 50m without any respite from the sun. At the top we hid behind a petrol station where there was a little shade and we poured water from our bottles over our bodies to make the most of the evaporative cooling on the downhill stretch immediately ahead.
Wheeeeeeeee that feels good.
Now we were into a series of small towns, obviously close to a tourist resort but not at the core, still some Russian signs, some resorts but more Vietnamese again.
Shortly before tacking the second hill we dropped into another shop to pick up another 3L of water and a large cup of ice each. We’ve learned the Vietnamese for ice and it’s proving to be very useful.
Outside the front was a smoothie stand and it was the lady here that had the ice, not the shop. But, with typical Asian pragmatism the store owner understood what we wanted and charged us an extra 5000VND (16p) for the ice which he handed to the stallholder. Works for everyone.
But then they all stood there quizzically wondering what these pair of sweaty cyclists were going to do with the ice.
The hydration backpacks are a real lifesaver and we can carry 3L of water each in the bladders, 2L is just about comfortable though.
As we opened the zips and withdrew the bladders, there was hooting and laughter as the plan became obvious to all now. A large tumbler of ice went into each backpack and then topped off with a 1.5L bottle of water each. The backpack has some insulating properties and that water would be deliciously cool for at least another hour.
Just before tackling the second hill we paused outside a small open fronted shop unit that didn’t seem to be selling anything. But there were 4 late middle-aged Vietnamese men in there sitting at a table.
After a couple of minutes in the shade, one of them waved at me and was making a sort of Time Out sign with his hands, like a T, and pointing down the road in the direction of our travel.
Heat frazzles your brain and it was a short while before I thought that he was telling me that the road ahead was blocked. So I pointed and did the cutthroat sign and he nodded slowly.
I wasn’t completely convinced that it would be shut but I made the decision to go around on the basis that I had already considered the alternative longer route because the incline is less aggressive but it would add a couple of km.
It turned out to be a good decision because as we intercepted our original route we could see that the steep incline wasn’t a road at all, it looked like a deeply rutted sandy dry stream bed. We wouldn’t have fancied that today.
Up the hill was just a hot slog and water down the back again for the descent.
Now that the biggest hills were out of the way we could settle down to continuing up and down a few rolling inclines along this beautiful coast.
There was now more shade and a few clouds too, that started to bring the temperature down to a reasonable level and we were happily riding along at a lower end cruise pace, more 16-18km/h rather than the 22-25 we will run at on a flat road in cooler weather.
Away from all resorts now, Siubhan led us into a roadside shack that had a Ca Phe sign on it. Partly we wanted coffee and partly we wanted a glass of iced tea that seems to be served here gratis with every black syrup that passes as Vietnamese coffee! Don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious over ice but it’s nothing you would recognise in Starbucks.
At one table was 3 older guys drinking beer and we were served by two Vietnamese ladies. It was all very jovial and informal, it’s really not like going into a coffee shop as we would recognise it, this is someone’s home where you join the family and then some money changes hands.
After several minutes of watching the small pig trying to hump the family dog at our feet as we sat again on kindergarten furniture, I got poked in the ribs by the oldest man who was making the two into one hand signals that we have been seeing all the way down and we assumed that he was asking if we were married.
We nodded and Siubhan showed her wedding ring. There’s something about the importance of marriage in Vietnam that we’re not fully understanding as it seems to have a much greater import here. But i don’t wear my wedding ring in hot climates and I’m not sure that he understood that we were married to each other because he seemed to go into a full-on Mrs Bennett and was offering me who we now believed to be his daughter. Lots of pointing at me, pointing at her, pointing at us both then nodding and laughing.
Then the other girl joined in and we noticed a resemblance between them and we assumed them to be sisters. The second sister wasn’t helping and was now keen to tell me in fluent Vietnamese that sister number 1 fancied me. It was all very youth club behaviour á la 1980.
Father would poke me in the ribs again and again point at us both. He offered me a can of beer which I declined with a laugh and telling him with sign language that I would be asleep if I had beer.
And then he had a new idea, I should take both daughters! More whoops, sister 1 rolling her eyes and sister 2 now going very shy. But she didn’t move away, in face she was now laying in the hammock beside my seat that had me wedged between her and sister 1.
Oh yes, Siubhan was enjoying all of this.
And still the pig was trying to jump and increasingly irritable dog.
It was all very good natured and more than a little surreal proving that the trials and tribulations of Mrs Bennett in Pride & Prejudice is a worldwide and timeless tale.
I stood up to signify our intent to leave and I headed off any further discussion or potential insult by walking around with my phone taking selfies with everyone as my new best friends and Siubhan handed over the 20,000VND (67p) that was asked for the coffees.
Our physical issues have been, thankfully, minor but still been a bit niggling. The colds are nearly gone, I’m still coughing a lot but that’s normal for me at the tail end of a cold. My ribs are still annoyingly painful and they are painful every time I twist and they cramp late in the afternoon but each day is a little better. The pot of Tylenol is starting to look low though.
Siubhan has most issues with temperature control. It’s a simple issue of biology but she also gets occasional prickly heat from sealing pores with factor 50 sun cream. Today was one of those days so when we got to about 60km and she was uncomfortable, then we had to find a place fairly close.
63km and were all done in a beach bungalow. Nice enough but as we creep down the coast towards Saigon and the tourist areas that serve the wealthy of the city then prices are rising and value for money is falling.