Published: May 14th 2008May 9th 2008
I finally left Hanoi today, but I'm sure the city wanted me to stay. I paid a whopping $10 for a Vietnam road atlas, which had no map of Hanoi in it. So I figured if I head east using my compass I will be able to find the road to Halong Bay. So I set of on a bearing of East, and kept going. And Going. And going... Then I saw some toursits who I had met previously clutching a map. I spoke to them and it turned out I was almost back to where I had started after riding 23km. I am coming to realise that cities are not my strong point direction wise, and that internet deals on Casio Hiking watches maybe just are too good to be true if my watch is anything to go by. I sat down at a cafe to have a strong Vietnam coffee to buoy my spirits after this show of directions retardation, and got speaking to an American tourist, sporting a beer lao t-shirt and a conical Vietnamese hat. I ordered a baguette to go with my coffee and he started on a rant, allong the lines of "How can you come to Vietnam, where there is all this great food, and eat western food?" He continued " I always eat the local food when I go somewhere, it's so much better than western food......" I felt like writing a letter to Blue Peter for him, as he obviously thought this entitled him to a Blue Peter badge, or at least some kind of medal. I eat what I feel like when I travel, and don't feel bad about eating food which I am used to, even if it isn't what the locals eat. I usually have no problem trying food, and if I like it I will eat it often. If I was going to visit a cannabilistic tribe would I be expected to eat people? A good friend of my once summed it up when he said, "when travelling, we should adapt, not adopt." I felt like telling this smarmy gap year traveller this advice but I sat in silence, also not telling him that the conical hat he was wearing is only worn by women in Vietnam.
I set off on Ark again, and this time with the aide of the aforementioned tourists map, and this time hitting the right road first time around. Just after leaving Hanoi, I crossed one of the dirtiest most polluted rivers I have ever seen in my life. This river was dirtier than any I have seen in China, which gets a bad rap for pollution in their rivers. There were matresses, polysyrene, oil drums and even a dead dog lying in this river. This river joins the ocean a mere 50km from Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island, 2 of Vietnams most famous tourist destinations and a UNESCO world heritage site. Supposedly the water is blue, the sand is white and the snorkelling is good. The Vietnamese are even trying to get it a listing on the 'New 7 wonders of the world' list.
The road was great. Even though it was national highway, there was a seperate lane for bikes and Bufallo (gulp) drawn carts. The scenery was very contrasting with stretches of rice paddies interspersed with factories. These seem to be popping up everywhere with the economic boom that Vietnam is now experiencing. I had the strnge experience of riding along the side of a huge storm all day. I never seemed to be more than 2 or 300 metres from the edge of the storm, but it was omnipresent by my side. Sometimes I would be riding in the rain, sometimes I would be dry but could see the rain 100metres away or so.
After stopping at a roadsie cafe for lunch, I set off for Hai Douc, only 30Kms from my intended overnight town of Hai Phong. Upon arrival I sat down to have a beer hoi or two, just to replenish the carbs in my system. I ended up in the company of some local guys and decided to overnight in Hai Duoc and set off early for Haiphong. I thought I would wait until dark o'clock and then go to the river and pitch my tent in the cover of the night. Nature had other plans however, as it started to pour down with rain in a fantastic lightning storm. Not sure what the protocol was on camping in a lightning storm, and unwilling to be microwaved in my tent, I decided to book myself into a hotel. The local guys showed me to a hotel which was primarily a 'Massage' complex, and secondarily a Hotel. I was a bit dubious but upon inspection the place was great, and a bargain at only $7 US a night. I just got to my room and got ready to have a relaxing shower when the electric storm knocked out the power. Just my luck. I then went downstairs to the courtyard where everyone else from the hotel was sitting, enjoying cold beers in the cool of the storm. I had a bit of a craic with the massage girls until my limited Vietnamese ran out and they had no more English to give. I was then rescued by the hotel owners daughter who spoke fantastic English and started to teach me some Vietnamese. She was a really smart kid and like most Asian school kids, very studious and hard working. She told me she goes to some kind of school 7 days a week, and on a normal schoolday she starts at 7am. When I was her age I was in high school and spending my free time getting drunk and enjoying a joint or two...
Trip Distance 84.52km
Time on Bike 5.18h
Average Speed 15.9km/h
Max Speed 31km/h