Riding my bicycle across Vietnam
My stomach sickness has converted itself into sniffles and a little cough - just as annoying, but much less debilitating. This morning was one of the first proper loafing times of the trip. I slept in and took some time to relax in the room this morning. It was fantastic. I also had a breakfast voucher for the resort, which, I should now describe in more detail. It is a complex, with a small network of roads between palatial different building - the hotel, restaurant, cafe, and event center were the few I saw, all separated by large ponds, connected by walkways. I wouldn’t call the place dirty, but it is definitely a bit rundown. The concrete is in need of a good power wash, and strangely, almost every single brick paver in the roundabout in front of the restaurant building was loose. Riding a bike over it felt like the ground was shifting beneath the wheels, which is one thing that the ground should not do!
On the little breakfast menu it said “omelette with bread” - which both Lyle and I ordered. Minutes later, a slightly warmed French bread, accompanied by two plain fried eggs and two slices of cucumber arrived. No salt or pepper in sight, I was delighted when I found a red bottle of the sweet and sour sauce that is very popular here. The breakfast was tolerable, but certainly nothing to get excited about.
Lyle and I headed out around 11, planning to have lunch in our destination own of Houng Khe. I stopped only to discreetly use the bathroom in some bushes, eat a gu shot or an Altoid, and take pictures. Today, the ravages of logging and new infrastructure were the most astounding of the scenery, other than expansive river views and distant, horizon-cloaked mountains. In one place, it looked as if they were building a dam. This country does not stop building. Other than the public works, I am trying to figure out where all of this money for real estate is coming from. New houses are being erected next to farmers truly humble living shacks. But one thing remains the same, men and women, cigarettes often dangling from lips, dirt-stained toes often dangling out of flip-flops.
I arrived in Houng Khe around 3:00 this afternoon, and after showering and washing my riding clothes in the sink (a true art), I spent some time walking around the city. There is a nicely sized lake right in the middle, with a truly eclectic mix of newly-constructed big box stores and mom-and-pop street vendors lining the streets. In all cases, pedestrians must take to the streets. Motorbikes festoon the would-be generously sized sidewalks, as does piles of sand or gravel for the next days construction. It’s incredible. I got to walking in this back alley behind some train tracks. It was a good reminder for today that not everything is roses in Vietnam. Looking at the street-market buildings from behind, it is actually just a dirty cluster of tarps carefully suspended to make some kind of building. But it was the garbage that was really astonishing. Piles of plastic char and fresh refuse on top rose to meet the tracks from the ground five feet below. A few old women traipsed on top of the rubble holding flaming plastic bags, trying to get more of fresh plastic mass to catch. It was a firm reminder that Vietnam’s trash disposal system leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s often polluting the air that we are all breathing.
But on a happier note, Lyle and I took an early dinner at a Bun Bo Hue restaurant with a few locals inside (always a good sign toward the quality of the food). Bun Bo Hue is a noodle soup dish flavored with lemongrass, rice vermicelli, pork, beef, fresh bean sprouts and basil (which we avoided to hedge bets against getting sick) and congealed pig’s blood. The latter is served in a cube. I tried some, it had a texture resembling tofu, and not much of a discernible flavor - nothing to go out of one’s way for. On Google Maps, I found an intriguing coffee shop, one reviewer described it as a perfect blend of Western and Vietnamese coffee shops coming together in one building. There are Vietnamese books on the wall, fairy lights everywhere, and motorcycle helmets, gloves, backpacks, cameras, and burlap coffee bags hanging from the walls. And thank god for no Karaoke. Instead, I was delighted to listen to this kin of Vietnamese easy listening pop stuff - it’s really nice! Of course, the coffee is outstanding: just a bit of condensed milk in the bottom of the with a filter on top. The coffee goes drip drip. Mix, and enjoy. As I was hanging out with Lyle, I saw a guy wearing technical looking clothes and a small backpack wandering around on his phone across the street. It was dusk, and I couldn’t really tell if it was a Westerner or not. I kept plugging away on the blog, and a few minutes later the guy wandered in front of the coffee shop. And that is how we met Michael, a Californian bicycling a similar route down to Saigon.
He’s retired and in great shape with a healthy moustache and a thinning tussle of hair. Thick glasses with a thick lanyard indicate “sophisticated traveler”. Over a cup of coffee, Michael told us that he lives in Berkeley, and does two big trips per year. He’s been traveling by bike since 2000, and, it would seem, has seen much of the world on two wheels. Way cool. He hadn’t eaten yet. At around 7:00, we all went for dinner (for Lyle and I, second dinner). We found a Korean barbecue place across the street. Pork belly, pork loin, beef, shrimp, noodles, and rice commenced, all wrapped up in fragile sheets of rice paper. Struggling to keep the components in the wrap, juices dribbled onto hands and the table. Used napkins were everywhere - our best effort to maintain the mess. We laughed and smiled in between bites of pork belly, mopping up fingers in between rolls. This is what it’s about.
Time spent riding: 2:31
Avg. Speed: 13.4mph