4 January 2012
My first dorm night of the trip, and probably the last. Not the best of sleep, but the price was right. I'm slow off the mark, but take time for a sturdy breakfast of chips, eggs, bacon, toast and coffee.
The ride begins with some climbing as I leave Quy Nhon on QL1D, which gives great sea views. There are islands out to sea, waves smash into rocky shores, I see the occasional beach, sea mist hangs between me and the horizon. It's drizzling, but it dries once I come off the sea-facing hillside.
There's 100km on the slate today, the wind is on my side again, and the first 20km go down in 50 minutes dead. The next 20km are faster still. It's all going to be alright.
A key time in every day is that moment when it becomes clear, that barring the advent of Very Bad Things, I know I'll reach my destination before nightfall. Today's strong start made this breakthrough time come early.
After a more pleasant section of riding on QL1D, I rejoin QL1 and remain on it for the rest of the day. The surface isn't as good today, but the biggest issue is the rice harvest. I've seen this on previous days: the road's shoulder being used to dry grain. It means I need to pop out into the vehicle lane, where I don't really want to be.
QL1 is one lane in each direction, and ships everything from cars to tourists to fishsauce up and down the country. It can be busy at the best of times, and a right mess at others. Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to be any active expansion plan - if Vietnam and its population of 90 million can grow its economy at even a quarter of the rate China has, the road system is going to crumble.
Later in the ride, I see the grassy rice stalks being dried too. Threshing machines are parked on the shoulder, farmers coming by to process their harvest. I theorise that as I go south, the warmer weather will mean the harvest is already dealt with, and the shoulder will be clear once again. We'll see.
Today was a good food day. After the Western breakfast, I follow it at around 55km with a bowl of noodles and a black coffee. The restaurant is tidy, clean, and some thought's clearly gone into its layout. The coffee drips slowly through one of the Vietnamese cup-top filters into a glass. I stir in sugar then dump it all onto a glassful of ice to let it sit. Then,after my noodles, straw in hand, I slurp it in one go. Right! Caffeine! Bike! Go, go, go! I pause enough to get two banh my and a carton of milk for the road.
Shortly after, a truck nearly ran me off the road. I'm riding on the shoulder up a steady climb. A girl is pushing a bike towards me, so I move towards the car lane to give her space. A big truck carrying sugar cane, despite having fat squishy tyres and suspension, can't bear to go over a few bumps in the surface, so it's veering gradually into the smoother shoulder. Into me. I don't want to hit the girl with the bike, so I hold my line. 30 centimetres, 20 centimetres, ten... that's enough. I bang hard twice on the nearside door of the truck cab, accelerate a little and deploy a few choice words, both visual and verbal. The truck backs off.
I stop for a snack to collect myself. The road surface on the other side of the road from where I stop is torn up - so vehicles just ride wholesale in the wrong lane, around a bend. This will end in tears.
The remaining kilometres pass fast and I pull into Tuy Hoa at around 4pm. The first hotel I stop at fits the bill - it seems newly refitted and is one of the better hotels of the trip so far, for about 4 quid.
Dinner is another highlight. I go looking for rice, but the restaurant I stumble into doesn't have any. I'm learning that the sign for not having something involves raising both hands to head level, fingers upwards, and then rotating the hands back and forth, with the forearm as axis. It's funny to watch and communicates well.
So, no rice, and I don't really want noodles. I cast about in my limited vocabulary. Meat... pork. I get offered 'banh' pork. This banh word usually means cake/bread things, such as banh my for baguettes or banh kem for cream cakes. Maybe this is another banh, but out comes a plate of warm roast pork, a plate of cold rice noodles - some really wide like pancakes, and some bundles of thin strands, and a plate of salad. Warm and cold spicy dips come out too. Some of the pork is crunchy, like Cantonese siu yuk, similar to a roast with crackling. Nothing goes uneaten.
Tuy Hoa marks the point farthest east of the whole trip. I start gradually veering west over the next week or so on the road. I'm going to make some itinerary changes to stay on the coast, as I've decided heading back to the highlands only increases the chance of having to endure more rain. I'm also enjoying the sight and smells of the sea.
99km, 26.1km/h, 3hr48min, 3295km