Riding my bicycle across Vietnam
I truly owe quite a bit of gratitude to Kan. He wanted to meet me at the hotel at eight to go for breakfast. He was really excited about eating frog noodles at a popular restaurant. We drove past the restaurant and after a brief exchange with the owner, he exclaimed that they were out.
The result was worthwhile - one of the best meals I’ve had here. A skillet with a fried egg, bacon, cucumbers, butter, beef strips, and warm pate served with French bread to make little pockets out of. Spectacular. It was actually surprising how good Kan’s English was. He said he was self-taught, watching YouTube and TV shows. But I rarely had times where I struggled to make myself understood (or vice-versa). What was the most spectacular, though, was being able to connect so fundamentally with someone over food. He informed me that in Kon Tum, “Jollibee”, which is a knockoff of KFC, just opened.
The difference is in the freshness, Kan told me, explaining that all of the various foods in front of us had been bough this morning, the owners of the shop waking up incredibly early to make it to the street market. Food culture in Vietnam will be something I spend a more significant amount of time with in a stand-alone post, keep your eyes... peeled.
After breakfast and coffee, Kan drove me out of the town to a small ethnic minority town of the Ba Na people. It was really fascinating how quickly the urban hustle peels away to dirt roads and a broiling sun. I’ve remarked on this many times on the bicycle, but these roads were even more remote, potholed dirt strips that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen (the smooth pavement keeps me satisfied). The town was really just a hamlet, people going about their day. Behind everything, a fairly large river served as a hard boundary. Even with only thirty miles on the agenda for the day, it was getting late, hot, and time to go.
The riding was, again, nothing exceedingly spectacular. I’m happy to report that I seem to have a pretty good handle on how to deal with the heat. Lots of sunscreen, obviously, but also lots of water. I have four liters of capacity, although I rarely fill all the way up (three liters in my hydration pack and one liter on the bike). Buying water here is no problem at any of the small convenience stores. Come to think of it, I’ve never actually bought water on the road, only filling up in the morning. Sadly, I’ve cut back a bit on coffee consumption in pursuits of maximum hydration and safety. Riding when its 85 degrees, humid, and full sun is no joke. But the real trick is these rehydration salt chews that I bought before I left. They’re kind of like Tums, and have a brief lemon flavor before an uncomfortable saltiness. They seem to have really taken the edge off.
Pleiku is the capital of the province. Unexcitingly urban is how I would describe it. Decent hotel. Dinner was a bowl of chicken pho and a street kebab (popular here), before heading to a coffee shop, and then a large bakery, where I splurged. One slice of tiramisu, chocolate mousse, one small flan, two small egg custards, and a small chocolate croissant. Sitting on the back of a Grab scooter on the way back to the hotel, I felt truly present, and really lucky. It was a cool night, my rolled up lightweight khakis keeping my legs cool. A lot of noise, still, from other trucks, cars, and motorbikes, and lights from the storefronts and neon arches (a fixture of most mid-sized to larger towns) on the main thoroughfare. Back at the hotel I tucked into some well-earned dessert and tucked myself into bed, closing one more day of the trip, of which the biking portion, at least, is starting to come to an end.