Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 24 and 25 - Nha Trang

Nha Trang had changed quite a lot since the last time we had visited. Dive shops and restaurants have been knocked down and left as empty space- waiting to be replaced by lavish 5* hotels. Definitely Vietnam for you- always continual development and change! When we come back in 5 years or so to visit we’ll be lucky to recognise anything!

Unfortunately the bike had a small problem today- the kick start pedal broke off which would have been OK if the electric starter was working (but this had gone kaput earlier in the journey!) We took it to a mechanic to fix and then relaxed on the beach before having to pick the bike up again. While we were waiting Abby suggested going on some inflatable playground objects which had been anchored close to the shore. We had much fun jumping, sliding and falling off them! J We acted like big kids for a few hours!

The next day we made it out to the mud baths and experienced some relaxation in a small mud tub with both of us in it! The process then required us to sit in the sun for a short while as the mud dried on our skin. We then washed the mud off and stood under a warm waterfall which was nice on the shoulders. Go and do it for yourselves if you make it to Nha Trang! J

One bad thing did happen in Nha Trang though- we had $160 stolen from our hotel room- $100 from Abby and $60 from Dan. We only realised the morning of our departure when Abby decided to count the dollars to see how much we had left. The kitty looked a little low which was when we knew that money had been stolen from us. We had left the money in a locked drawer, but this obviously wasn’t secure enough! We informed the receptionist who wasn’t interested in doing anything to help us- so we packed up our bags and strapped them to the bike- all ready to go if needs be!

We told the receptionist that we wanted her to phone the police so we could report the money missing. She refused and so we said that we weren’t  going to pay for the room unless she helped her guests and got the police involved. Unfortunately, she still had our passports so we couldn’t go anywhere without them ! :s She got quite angry as we repeated that we wouldn’t pay if she didn’t respect the customers wishes.

In the end, Dan grabbed the passports from behind the desk, at which point she said that she was going to call the police because we were going to leave without paying. “Fine by us!” we said. That’s what we had wanted her to do in the first place! She told us to sit down and wait while she contacted the police- which she didn’t. After a while she told us to leave and never come back! We were bad people. Of which we replied that we wouldn’t be coming anywhere near a hotel which stole our money, so she didn’t have to worry about having to see us again! What a palava! Bad people- how ridiculous! Surely the people who had stole our money were bad people- not us! Oh well. things aren’t always logical in Vietnam! We fled from Nha Trang as quickly as we could!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 23 – Kon Tum to Nha Trang

Distance: 400km
Time: 12 hours

A very early start to give us enough time for a marathon day. The cross country road was good at either end but rough in the middle. Surprisingly, some of the best scenery was on Highway 1 along the coast but there were gouges nearly 2 feet deep that could swallow you up!

On the way into Nha Trang we got a bit lost but finally made it to the hotel and sat down to some great fish and chips (the best in Nam- and maybe even in the whole world we think!)

Then we proceeded to get a bit drunk; we had something to celebrate we felt!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 22 – Hoi An to Kon Tum

Today’s drive seemed and was very long and tiring! We were planning on getting to Pleiku but didn’t make it in the end as it was getting dark and the roads weren’t so good.

We started off well from Hoi An, but then managed to take a wrong turning which us brought us behind time. Along the way were passed tall, traditional looking houses. We also saw some lovely scenery and views from the mountains while driving the bike along winding roads.

We stopped off and had a drink with a Vietnamese family. Only one spoke English so we had a conversation with him while a lot of translation was going on at the same time!

We stayed over in Kon Tum- a little town. We didn’t see much but we arrived late and left very early- around 6 am ( the earliest yet!) so as to get a good start on our 400 km target. We were bracing ourselves for a very long journey ahead of us!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 21 – Hoi An

Today we spent most of the day at An Dang beach- much nicer than Cua Dai! It was quieter with pleasant little (although expensive!) restaurants alongside. A lovely relaxing day before hitting the road again! J

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 20 – Hoi An

Hoi An is my favourite place in Vietnam so a perfect place to relax and unwind for a few days. I love the oldie world feel to it - the quaint streets, the river, lanterns, pretty lights, and of course the fabulous choice of incredibly delicious food and drinks. There is nothing better than drinking a cocktail and watching the Vietnamese world go by beside the river in Hoi An.

We spent half the day at the beach - Cua Dai - today. We had been to the beach before but last time it rained so it was good to see it in a different light. We had a nice, cheap lunch by the beach and then had a dip in the sea. We headed off when the crowds of locals started to arrive at about 5. We had never seen so many Vietnamese at a beach before! They come out when it’s cooler and when there’s no chance of getting a sun tan.

We unexpectedly met the Vietnamese guy who was in the Vietnam Top Gear episode today. It was very surreal. If anyone’s seen it he’s the guy who writes messages in the sand about the war. Anyway, he explained to us about some of the history of the area using a stick in the sand! Funnily enough he’s OK about the Americans but he hates the Koreans! He showed us pictures and news articles from the time. It was very interesting to talk to him as well as meet a celebrity in Vietnam! J

In the last afternoon we relaxed in a bar with a cocktail watching the sun set over Hoi An town from across the river on Cam Nam island. A perfect end to a perfect day! J

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 19 – Hue to Hoi An

Distance: 180km
Time: 6 hours

An early start because even though we weren’t travelling a particularly long distance, we wanted to stop off at a few places along the way and drive along the coast rather than on HW1. Once we got out of the suburbs, things got a bit quieter and we found ourselves on smaller roads running through villages- the beach on one side, rice paddies and rivers on the other. This area also had lots Buddhist temples and cemeteries.

As we neared a spit at the end of the road, we could see a bridge over the water to the other side. The mountains in the background, the water and the boats in the foreground made for an amazing view and photo. As we drove, we passed beach, water, rice paddies and mountains - all the elements that make up Vietnam. Amazing!

This road then took us onto HW1 for a few kms before we turned off to go for a quick dip at Elephant Springs. The springs were too busy for our liking and we’d had to leave our bags on our bikes and weren’t too keen on leaving them too long.

We then took a very quiet road to Danang / Hoi An which we were told about by 2 Americans who we’d had a drink with earlier in the day. Once we got to Lang Co (known as the most beautiful town in Nam) we ventured onto the Hai Van pass (as seen in Top Gear!) It was amazing- beautiful views, winding roads up the mountains and a glittering coast line. Definitely worth doing once in your lifetime and only by bike- you won’t get the same effect in a bus or car!

We cruised into Hoi An  later that afternoon to see the sun set over the paddy fields- very nice!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 18 - Hue

Today, we got the bike to the mechanic and he found the problem - the cam chain -  and replaced the part so hopefully all will be well now. Dan stayed with the bike and Abby did some exploring in the Citadel and Imperial City.

The Imperial City was quite interesting - lots of old buildings that the Emperors used to live in - with a moat surrounding the city. Interesting for someone who wants to find out more about the history of Vietnam and the way people used to live, but maybe not everyone’s cup of tea!

Once the bike was fixed (thank god!) this was a big relief off our minds and cost a mere 20 dollars!

We had a few drinks in the evening and a lovely meal in the Carambole (recommended by Ben at the Phong Nha farmstay - thanks!). Abby got the western food she was craving while Dan, as always, finished a 9 course Vietnamese set menu and then even ordered a 2nd pudding! J

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 17 – Phong Nha to Hue

Distance: 260km
Time: 7 hours

An easy ride along good roads and the bike kept on trucking. We did our usual and kept away from Highway 1; going down the coast after Dong Ha along small local roads. We got a bit lost as all the names seem to be different to what we have on the map but thanks again to the locals we found our way. At Dong Ha, we stopped at Tam’s cafe for a quick bite; a nice cafe where the owner helps and trains deaf people (and it had a bonus of having a very cute puppy!)

Despite being the coast road, we didn’t see any coast but did see lots of paddy fields, temples big and small, and ducks. We eventually saw the sea as we were going over the bridge that led to Hue where we’ll stay for 2 nights.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 16 - Phong Nha

We started the ride from the farmstay and used their bikes to give the Bonus a bit of a break! We were riding Minsks for the day; it had to be done before we left Vietnam.

So we left in a trail of smoke and set off into the jungle.

The ride took us into the Phong Nha - Khe Bang National Park along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The road we took was technically off limits to the public but they must have some agreement to use it. We then visited the “8 Lady Cave” before heading to “Paradise Cave” which was far more impressive than the cave the day before. It is vast in every dimension; only the first km is open to the public but it goes in another 13km!

Then, what better to do after a hot days driving than cool off in a pristine spring. The water surfaces from underground 100m upstream and so is very clean. The water comes from somewhere but the source is unknown, however, they think it comes from Laos. After a nice ride back to the farmstay, we tucked into some spag bol and enjoyed another sunset.

At the farmstay, we met some guys who were doing the opposite to us and heading north on their bikes, so was good to swap stories.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 15 - Phong Nha

Phong Nha has received a lot of publicity recently because they found the biggest cave in the world in the national park here. Although you can’t visit it, you can go into other surrounding caves which are still impressive. We visited the main touristy ones today; the Phong Nha caves which were just down the road from our guest house. They took us on a boat down the river and into the caves. The caves themselves are impressive but the crowds and techni-coloured lights detract from it a bit.

Next stop was over to Phong Nha Farmstay to see if they had accommodation and to enquire about doing a tour the next day. The place was booked up by a film crew but we ended staying for a while. We had a chat with some of the film crew who were a nice bunch of guys. We were definitely very envious of their jobs! Later, we saw the buffalo being herded back into the village and watched a beautiful sunset behind the mountains. Tomorrow, we’re going to do a bike tour of the area with Dave from the farmstay.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 14 – Tan Ky to Phong Nha

Distance: 280km
Time: 8 hours

We had a long drive ahead of us today - 270kms - the longest so far of the trip which meant an early start. It was quite surprising how much activity there is in the early hours of the morning - buffaloes ploughing and pulling carts with various things and farmers drying and harvesting rice.

It felt surreal eating my yoghurt (breakfast) on the back of the bike with the sun on my back and the wind blowing past us while passing farmers and water buffaloes!

We are now on the HCM trail or highway and the roads are much better and quite quiet which makes the driving easier and more pleasant. It’s flatter territory than before - lots of rice paddies, green countryside, inviting views and tea and coffee plantations.

The further we venture south, the more we see dark ominous clouds looming over us! Today it rained so we sheltered and ate a pot noodle for lunch in a roadside shop/person’s house. We’ve been doing this a lot when on the road as it’s cheap and the locals are usually friendly. They are especially interested in our map - they act as if they’ve never seen one before!

The journey felt long today. As we neared Phong Nha, the roads saw more hills and twists and turns. The scenery was pretty with many limestone karsts and greenery. The area around Phong Nha is beautiful and our hotel is within the national park which is a UNESCO world heritage site and known for its caves. However, it’s still off the beaten track and most of the visitors are Vietnamese. I’m sure in time to come this won’t be the case anymore - my advice - if you want to see Vietnam come asap as things are developing so quickly and everything is changing.

Tomorrow, the plan is to visit “Paradise Cave” (only discovered in 2010). Also, we found a farmstay that had amazing reviews on the internet so we tried to book a room. Unfortunately they were fully booked so we might pop up there for some Western food - Abby has had enough of eating rice and noodles for 2 weeks straight! And god our bums are starting to hurt!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Bike Ride Day 13 - Ninh Binh to Tan Ky

Distance: 210km
Time: 6 hours

It was a hesitant start today, hoping that the bike would be okay until we got to somewhere that could look at it or, worst case, all the way to Saigon. The start of the drive was the worst as we went down the notorious highway 1 (think buses overtaking a line of 5/6 trucks on a 2 lane road approaching you coming the other way and pushing you off the road; and add loud horns!)

Anyway, after 60km of hell, we got outa’ there and made our way to the Ho Chi Minh Highway to start heading south again. The roads, especially the HCM highway, were great and we are finally getting places at a good pace!

Bums the word!

We bought a present (in the form a big piece of foam) for our bums today; hopefully that will do the trick!