FRIDAY 18th February
Today we enjoyed a much-needed day of relaxation by the pool in Mui Ne. The temperature was cooler than in suffocating Saigon and a sea breeze took the edge from the heat of the day. Breakfast, lunch and an evening beer were a short stroll away. We even found time for an afternoon massage accompanied by the sounds of the sea and gossiping in Vietnamese. Quite a sing-song of a conversation between our masseurs. The subject remains complete mystery to us.
We made final adjustments to the bikes ready for Day One. The hotel security guard was very keen to help me change my saddle and even fetched a spanner. He took it back five minutes later with a smile. I wasn’t finished!
A siesta, a stroll down the beach and bed.
FRIDAY 19th February
Day One: 75km
Today we woke at 5:00 to beat the heat. We wolfed-down a breakfast of sweet bread, boiled eggs, ham and yogurt with foggy heads. The swift tropical sunrise overtook us before we hit the road at 6.00. The first 15km into Phan Thiet flew by as we enjoyed the cool and watched the sunrise over the beach flit in-and-out of view. The ever-present smells of fish, cooking and the sea returned as we rode into town. By 7.00 the traffic was in full-flood. We passed a scooter scrum outside the school gates as hundreds of parents unloaded their kids. We turned and headed inland.
At each cafe, shop and street corner we were greeted with bemused expressions. Frowns, disbelieve, some laughter. Nobody cycles in Vietnam unless they’re too poor or too young to have a scooter. Our route was flat, mostly straight and animated by hundreds of businesses lining the road. Every aspect of life on display. We stopped for coffee at 09.00. It was hot already and we sought shade in a busy local cafe. The waitresses giggled at our sweaty faces and strange clothes. We had to ask for help before the percolator would drip strong, hot coffee onto sweet condensed milk and ice. More giggles.
As we continued, the traffic calmed to a trickle of farm vehicles. The road ahead was lined with fields and shacks. Through the growing heat we passed schools, rice fields and dragon fruit groves. Inquisitive looks changed to broad smiles and cries of ‘Hallo!’. As we passed one school we were greeted by a chorus of ‘Hallo’s!’ from a whole class. We smiled broadly and returned the Hallo.
At 10.00 our last water stop was under a canopy shared with Vietnamese women washing-up while nearby, men drove Oxen pulling carts of hay. The road turned up and the fields turned to forest. Blue and white flowers broke the green and brown scenery. Silent scooters passed us on the way down, engines off to save fuel. The road climbed more steeply and the heat rose. By 12.00 we had 60km under our belts but the going was tough.
Over to Louise: Alex kept promising we were near the top at every turn. The Haribo (aka Moralibo) melted into a hot sticky ball. We had to flag down a passing car for water and gulped down half a bottle from an old lady’s handbag. Later we stopped and beg some more from the indigenous farmers using sign language – you wonder why we keep having dodgy stomachs. All a good story now we know we’re OK!
After 750m of height gained and 75km later we made it to the top, and there was water! We drank Coke to counteract the farm water. We were still 50km from civilisation in the midday heat, I certainly could cycle no further that day. This was not the warm up ride I was promised!
Suddenly a gang of Aussie mountain bikers appeared for a pit stop. We sought help. Thang (Tang) was their Vietnamese leader and we explained our predicament. He called a friend who would collect us and take us to the next town. Saved! We took a siesta in a hammock while we waited for our ride. We had a local SIM card (£4) including data so we booked a hotel in the car.
We met Thang again today and he was so impressed with our mountain-climbing feat that he offered to join us on our ride to Hoi An, our destination 600km away on the coast. He also offered to throw in a support van. How kind of him! We set off afresh tomorrow. Wish us luck (mainly Louise!). Don’t worry (parents!) we are learning from our mistakes…