In an adventurous 2006, a good friend of mine and I decided to cycle through Vietnam. The tour took us basically from top to bottom. We cycled around 550km of the route, the whole experience was an eye-opener into another culture.
This was a typical day:
- Wake up early
- Have a big brekkie
- Ride for a few hours, often to a point of interest
- Have a big lunch
- Hop on the bus for a bit to make up some of the k’s needed, plus it was during the heat of the day so was a welcome break
- Ride for a few more hours into the next town we would sleep in
- Have a big dinner, visit a bia hơi and have a look around town
- Crash out for the night and get ready to do it all over again
Each day we experienced an amazing view of the country, a look in to how the people of Vietnam lived and a taste of their delicious food. All the while averaging 70km days, dressed in lycra and soaking up the 30 degree sunshine.
A major part of the trip was raising money for CARE Vietnam. Each of us raised $5,000 before we started. It was great to go and visit a village in the North of Vietnam. Projects like this, use funds to help local women learn agricultural skills so they can generate their own money. The philosophy was more about providing sustainable income rather then giving temporary aid.
I can’t remember all of the villages we cycled through, but during the two weeks we went through the following:
- Started in Hanoi
- Caught the Reunification Express to Hue
- Hue to Hoi An (70km) including the Hai Van Pass
- Hoi An – Quang Nai via My Lai (30km)
- Quang Nai – Kontum (60km)
- Kontum – Buon Me Thuot (100km)
- Buon Me Thuot – Dalat (100km)
- Around Dalat (50km)
- Dalat – Nha Trang (100km)
- Fly to Ho Chi Minh City
It was my first trip to an Asian country and I quickly realised that two-wheeled transport was the method of choice:
The Reunification Express runs from Hanoi to Saigon, but we just took it 690km to Hue. Fairly basic sleepers, but a fun experience getting to know the other people in our group. May or may not have included drinking (it did).
The next day was probably the most gruelling ride I’d ever done – the Hai Van Pass aka Ocean Cloud Pass (which gives you an idea of how tall the mountain is). The incline would have been at least 10% and turning the tight hairpin corners felt like you were going backwards.
Hoi An looks like it came straight out of an ancient history book. Set along the Thu Bồn River, we took advantage of the thousands of tailors and had some clothes and shoes made. I remember having a pair of boots made, but they didn’t quite fit, so they made some adjustments. The lady then offered to take me back to the hotel on her own moped… such generosity. I knew they don’t earn a lot so I gave her some petrol money. They accepted US dollars, but I didn’t convert properly in my head and I think I gave her a week’s wages! But that’s ok, what wasn’t a lot to me, would have meant the world to her and her family.
From Hoi An to Quang Ngai, we went via My Lai, a seaside village that was the site of a horrific massacre during the Vietnam War. This little village was a powerful and emotional reminder of the impact of the controversial war. I couldn’t bear to take photos of the village that had been left as is with bullet holes in the trees, huts half destroyed and fibreglass recreations of people and livestock slaughtered. The grand daughter of one of the nine survivors of the village spoke to us and it was hard to keep back the tears.
But the “undulating” hills beckoned and we moved on through the highlands staying at Quang Ngai, Kontum, Bhon Me Thuot and Dalat. Each night we would try and find a massage place to help our tired muscles. In one of those villages, possibly Kontum, I think the venue we chose was not used to sports massage. The little rooms set amongst the “day spa” were all tiny with a single bed and pictures of beautiful women on the wall. My massage was fine, but some of the guys on the trip were propositioned for a little more than a back rub.
We also visited a water amusement park. Quite an experience. You really begin to understand why Australia has such strict safety standards. It was nice of them to open the park especially for us (given there was only 18 in the group, so we felt like VIP’s). We started in the wave pool. The water was quite warm and some of the locals took advantage of the park being opened and joined us. Then we went to the slides, but first they needed to turn off the wave pool so they could turn on the water for the slides. Hilarious. Not as much fun for a couple of girls in our group who received a concussion after riding in one of the enclosed tube slides. Lucky we had a doctor travelling with us and after a good lay down, they were ok (albeit with a couple of bruises).
The only other medical help we needed on the trip was when about six of us (including me) ate something a bit iffy and spent the night in the bathroom. I’d never had a stomach bug before and thought I was going to die in the mountains of Vietnam. But I survived, tried to stomach a bit of toast and literally got back on the bike. Those of us who were a little impaired took it slow, but it was a super hot day and by lunch I took a nap in a hammock. When I woke up, I was on the bus with another lady who also didn’t feel too great. The next day I felt fine and got on with the ride.
We finished in Nha Trang. After a few celebratory hugs and photos we moved on to the important part… celebratory drinks! Along the way, we also visited a few “Ba hơi’s” – road side bars, serving home made beer… actually bar is an overstatement, they were a few plastic tables and chairs serving the light brews in two-litre milk jugs.
The cycling was over, but the holiday wasn’t. We flew to Ho Chi Minh City, did a spot of shopping then a few of us went of to the beachside town of Mui Ne.
All in all, a wonderful experience that gave me the travel bug (no bathrooms required for this kind of bug) and a sense of adventure.
Do you like to explore by bike? If so, Walking On Travels has a special feature for National Bike Month.