Category Archives: Vietnam

Mui Ne to Phnom Penh 9 – 18 June

This blogpost’s highlights include: two very different capital cities (one former, one current), an easily-refused offer to shine Keith’s toes, a comical border crossing, two split tyres, quite a lot of rain, and a tent full of holes (nibbled by sparkling green beetles). As we cross from Vietnam into Cambodia Southeast Asia continues to surprise us.

Keith, surfin' the wind in Mui Ne.

Keith, surfin’ the wind in Mui Ne.

At the end of the last post we’d reached Mui Ne, where we were about to enjoy a day off from pedaling and blogging. Well, we couldn’t quite stay off the bike and used it to pedal around the non-tourist fishing village (Mui Ne proper and about 10-15km from the main tourist drag). It was a hell of a lot nippier without all the luggage. After we returned to the beach Keith hired a windsurf board for an hour, and reported that was harder than he remembered. We also had a lovely time chatting with a Russian-Kyrgyz woman working at the surf shop. It was quite an emotional conversation for both parties as we have such fond memories of Russia and Kyrgyzstan and she was missing her homeland a little. As well as windsurfing, Mui Ne is really popular for kitesurfing so we also had a nice chat with Drew, a Welsh kitesurf instructor, about expat life and the technical challenges of kitesurfing. It sounds like fun.

Catch of the day drying in the sun.

Catch of the day drying in the sun in Mui Ne village.

From Mui Ne we headed inland and picked up route 1 again, following it through field after field of dragon fruit all the way to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Along the roadside stalls sold nothing but dragon fruit, which at 5,000dong (about 15p) a kilo, immediately overtook lychees as our favourite snack.

Dragon Fruit - our new favourite food.

Dragon Fruit – our new favourite food.

A dragon fruit plant.

A dragon fruit plant.

Dragon fruit on the move.

Dragon fruit on the move.

Manfully navigating the Pino through narrow, crowded alleys in Ho Chi Minh City.

Manfully navigating the Pino through narrow, crowded alleys in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Saigon we headed for the cheap guesthouse area, which is a maze of tiny alleyways packed with hostels, guesthouses, noodle stalls, convenience stores, trinket stores, laundries, parked motorbikes and local people’s houses. It was practically impossible to avoid looking straight into living rooms that open right out onto the alleyway, which made us feel a little uncomfortable, but I guess the locals are used to it. Tourists and locals wove their way around each other, their lives criss-crossing but rarely meeting unless to conduct some pecuniary transaction. Washing was draped over any suitable post or pillar, saleswomen touted everything from cheap fans and bracelets to books and hammocks. Out on the main street, vendors cooked and sold a variety of foods from mobile kitchens precariously perched on the back of bicycles and motorbikes, and around it all, a thousand motorbikes beeped and honked and swerved and somehow avoided colliding with each other or the milling tourists. You could spot the new tourists in town by their frozen postures and ‘rabbit in headlights’ panic on their faces. Old hands just strolled casually into the melee and prayed that the bike riders were paying attention. Honestly, motorcycle display teams don’t come half as close to each other as the average bike rider on a Saigon street.

Oh, and a quick aside, if you’re wondering why the blog started by referring to Ho Chi Minh City but then swiftly lapsed into using Saigon, it’s because it’s quicker to type. We saw both names being used (usually HCMC on road signs, and Saigon on business premises) and asked a local which was preferred. He said using either was fine, so there you have it.

Reunification Palace.

Reunification Palace.

We did the usual tourist sightseeing, including a visit to Reunification Palace (a 1960’s architectural delight frozen as it was in April ’75 when the tanks of the communist north Vietnam troops drove through its gates), a gruelling afternoon at the War Remnants museum, a traditional water puppets show, and a stroll round the bustling market, where we met Lynn from LA who joined us for beers later that evening. Her boyfriend arrived the next day and they invited us to see a Cuban band that evening and treated us to a beer – thanks JJ, very much appreciated. It was one of the few relaxing moments we had in Saigon, which is a rather ‘in-your-face’ city. When walking around, or even sitting at a bar having a ‘quiet’ drink, you’re constantly having to fend off offers of a motorbike ride, a massage, crappy trinkets, hammocks, books or a shoe-shine. The last one particularly amused us as Keith was wearing fabric sandals. The guy wouldn’t give up even when we pointed out the incongruity of his offer, in the end Keith asked him to buff up his left toe a bit and we walked away laughing.

Water puppetry in Saigon's History Museum.

Water puppetry in Saigon’s History Museum.

One of the many moving exhibits at the War Remnants Museum.  An American vet presented his war medals to the museum, mounted with an inscription reading: To the people of united Vietnam, I was wrong, I am sorry.

One of the many moving exhibits at the War Remnants Museum. An American vet presented his war medals to the museum.

We left Saigon on the day our visa expired, and the plan had been to try to squeeze in a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels en route to the border, 80km away, but a slightly late start, and also the realization that the tunnels are actually about a 20km detour from Cu Chi meant that we ran out of time. We meandered down little lanes trying to work out where we were in relation to the appalling map on the tunnels leaflet, but after having detoured for almost an hour with the tunnel sites still some distance away we decided to scratch that plan and return to route 1 to head for the border.

We’d allowed plenty of time for the border crossing as they can be unpredictable affairs – sometimes you breeze through in 20 minutes, sometimes you queue for hours and are shunted from pillar to post before being released into fresh touring territory. As it happened, the Moc Bai/Bavet crossing was pretty straight forward. The Vietnamese side was pretty hilarious to be honest. We entered a large building (via what was marked as the exit but was clearly the entrance) and were confronted by four desks, surrounded by glass, and with metal railings dividing the queuing area in front of them. There seemed to be little structure to the actual queuing though and after a few moments spent studying the process we worked it out. Step one, pick a desk, it doesn’t matter which. Step two, barge your way through the ‘queue’ of people packed in between the metal railings and deposit your passports on the pile of passports already on the desk. Step three, try to find somewhere to stand either between the railings or immediately in front of the desk so you can keep an eye on your passport but also allow other people through to deposit their passports. Step four, by the time your passport has been checked the constant movement of people to the front means you’re now a bit further back (it’s a bit like emperor penguins in the Antarctic winter, constantly moving from the cold outside to the warmer interior of the huddled colony and displacing those in the middle until they find themselves on the edge again), so you have to barge your way through the crowds to reclaim your passport and then pop like a cork from a champagne bottle out of the small gap beside the glass-surrounded counter. Show your stamped passport to the man lounging near the (real) exit and then off you go – Cambodia awaits!

The Cambodian system is a bit more organized. A small office outside the main buildings is marked as a visa service – fill in a form, hand over $20 dollars and get a visa. Nice and easy. Proceed into the main building and queue in an orderly fashion. When we got to the front we were told we needed to fill in an entry/exit card, which we’re not sure if we could have got outside when we were getting our visa – it would have been handy if we had. After filling in the entry/exit form we rejoined the queue (which was very short and moving quickly) and within a few minutes were stamped into Cambodia. We were waved through customs and that was that. Hello Cambodia!

The roads are quieter than in busy Vietnam, and although there are many things that common to SE Asia in general (noodle stalls and extraordinary things attached to motorbikes), a few sights and practices have struck us as particularly Cambodian:

Outrageously large trailers towed behind feebly straining motorbikes;

Outrageously large trailers towed behind feebly straining motorbikes;

Passengers sitting Buddha-like on the mini-bus roof;

Passengers sitting Buddha-like on the mini-bus roof;

Cattle truck buses;

Cattle truck buses;

Gloriously pointy rooflines;

Gloriously pointy rooflines;

A curious mix of currencies.

A curious mix of currencies.

This last one needs a bit of explanation. The official currency of Cambodia is the Riel (exchange rate currently around 6,000R to the British pound, or 4,000R to the US dollar). However, you cannot get Riel from ATMs, they only dispense USD. To get Riel, you have to look for a shop advertising a money-changing service (often by sticking some photocopied dollar bills in the window, or just look for stacks of cash sitting around in elastic-banded bundles). Jewelers are a good bet, but some convenience stores and market stalls also do it. You can now change you dollars into riel…..but don’t get rid of all your dollars, you’ll need them!

Prices for small items (lunch at a market stall, a can of fizzy drink, some fruit from the market) are usually, but not always, quoted in riel. Larger items (hotels and restaurant meals) are usually, but not always, quoted in dollars. Sometimes the menu can be in dollars but the bill comes in riel. You can often pay in either currency, but it depends on the vendor, and if you are given change then don’t be surprised if it comes in a mix of currencies. For instance, if lunch for two comes to $3.50, you might hand over $5 and be owed $1.50, in which case you will receive either $1 and 2000 riel as change (there are no coins here, only notes), or perhaps 6,000 riel. Our heads are aching as we try to get a sense of how much we’re paying for things and work out if we’re being ripped off or not. Is that item more than it would have been in Laos or Vietnam because we’re now in Cambodia or is it because we’re tourists and look like easy marks. Are those lychees more expensive because the season is changing? How many dollars to the pound? Or riel to the dollar? What did we pay for that in dong back in Vietnam (30,000dong to the pound). Arrrrgh!!! Luckily, Cambodia is not as frenetic as Vietnam so even in the capital, Phnom Penh, we have a little more thinking time when conducting transactions, but it’s still a struggle.

It was only a three day ride from Saigon to Phnom Penh so it seems quite soon to be in a hotel again, but we’re spending 4 nights here waiting for our Thai visas. If we’d flown into Thailand we could have had 30 days visa-free, but crossing a land border you’re only allowed a paltry 15 days visa-free entry (which you can only extend by a further 7 days once in Thailand). So we’ve applied for a 60 day tourist visa in advance, which we can extend once in Thailand by a further 30 days if needed. The form is fairly standard: name, address, passport details, reason for visit, date of entry etc. You must also put a proposed address in Thailand – we just picked a hotel at random from the Lonely Planet, much as we did when applying for our Kazakh visa back in Omsk. Our biggest problem came when we had to put our mode of entry: bus/plane/car etc. We, of course, put bicycle. Oh dear. “What do you mean you’re crossing on a bicycle? That means we need to see your most recent bank statements.” We just hoped they’d be less stringent than the Russian visa authorities who, when we applied back in the UK at the start of the trip, needed to see original statements stamped by our bank. Photocopies would not do! Now we’re itinerant cyclists we don’t even have any recent paper records outside the UK…all our banking is done on line. Luckily Keith’s own handwritten transaction record and balance details seemed to suffice. We pedaled around a few streets until we found a photocopy service (the embassy wouldn’t do it for us) and then returned to the embassy and got our applications in by the 11am deadline. Any later than that and we’d have to return the next morning (Tuesday) to hand in our applications, and we’d already been told it would be Friday before we’d get our visas. We’d really hoped for a faster turnaround as we’re meeting a friend in Bangkok (700 km away) on 28 June, and to be honest we’d really like to take a slightly longer route and see Angkor Wat on the way, so we smiled our best smiles at the embassy lady and despite them being ‘very busy’ at the moment she eventually said she could get the visas done by Thursday. We think if we leave here on Thursday afternoon as soon as the visas are in our sticky mitts then we can just about squeeze in a day at Angkor. Fingers crossed for good roads and not too much wind.

In the meantime we’re enjoying the sights and sounds of Phnom Penh. Today we strolled round the beautiful Royal Palace and tomorrow we’re going to pedal out to the rather less relaxing site of the Killing Fields. We’ve also been forced into doing some repairs, both to the bike and our tent.

As we approached Phnom Penh we stopped to investigate a strange noise (the trailer had come unhitched on one side as we’d somehow managed to lose the retaining pin, possibly at the jet-wash earlier in the day) and whilst sorting out the trailer we noticed that the rear tyre was bulging and starting to split where it meets the rim. This is a fairly standard problem for a loaded tandem. If we pump the tyres hard (eg 90+psi, for improved rolling resistance) we find they can split near the bead very quickly indeed (within 1,000km!) so we try to keep them at around 70psi, which gives us around 6,000km….and we’ve done over 6,000km since the last change so it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but hey, time flies, who’d’ve thought we’ve come that far. Of course, the god of cycle inconveniences dictates that most problems will occur at the most inconvenient times, and having left the micro-climate of the Vietnamese coastline and come inland, we‘re now in the grip of the tropical rainy season and were being drenched by a torrential downpour at that point. Rather than change the tyre we just let a little air out and rolled on, dripping, towards Phnom Penh.

On the city outskirts the front tyre began to go soft, and whaddaya know…the tyre wall had split on that too! We sheltered from the rain on a garage forecourt and changed both tyres and the front tube (twice because the first spare promptly deflated with a duff valve….grrr.). Fellow cycle-tourist, Ian, who we met on the road back in Vietnam, recommended a bike shop in Phnom Penh so we headed there today (Giant bike shop #23 on street 169) and bought a new inner tube, a new chain and a large can of lube (which we’re going through rapidly in the rain). They didn’t have any Schwalbe Marathon tyres so we’ll have a look for those when we reach Bangkok. We’re not worried about that though as barring disaster we’ve got about 6,000km before we need to start to worry about replacing tyres. Another bit of bike fixing has been some work on our stand. A spring usually holds the stand folded away when not using it, but a week or so ago the weld holding one of the spring’s attachment points failed, so we’ve been having to laboriously bungee the stand in place every time we move off, which has been pretty annoying. To our great relief (it’s the little things like that that can really bug you) Keith got that re-welded today whilst I’ve been typing this blog.

More frustrating have been the repairs required on our tent. Because it packs away all-in-one (flysheet, inner and footprint remain attached to each other), we sometimes get the odd insect trapped between the layers. It’s never been a problem before and we’ve just flicked out the carcass the next time the tent’s out. This time though, twenty or so beautiful, sparkling-green beetles found their way inside, and rather than quietly dying they set about munching a series of holes in both our flysheet and inner tent. We are not impressed. I’ve sewed some patches of spare mesh over the holes in the inner tent, but we’re not sure yet if we’ve got enough tent-patch and seam-grip with us to repair all of the flysheet holes….we keep putting the job off. We’ve got to get it done though as the last two nights of camping were in torrential rain and we won’t be happy with a holey tent.

Some of the many holes in  our tent.

Some of the many holes in our tent.

The tent-muching culprit.

The tent-munching culprit.

And finally….a few pics from Phnom Penh:

Ice at Phnom Penh's Central Market - it was fed into machines that crushed and bagged it, and it was then sold on to bars and restaurants for putting in drinks.

Ice at Phnom Penh’s Central Market – it was fed into machines that crushed and bagged it, and it was then sold on to bars and restaurants for putting in drinks.

In the grounds of the Royal Palace.

In the grounds of the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace.

A stupa in the grounds of the Royal Palace.

A stupa in the grounds of the Royal Palace.

Lotus seed pods.

Lotus seed pods.

Pop the seeds out and skin them.  Taste OK but a lot of work for not much reward.

Pop the seeds out and skin them. Taste OK but a lot of work for not much reward.

Hue to Mui Ne 28 May – 8 June 2013

Long days on the bike, sticky nights in the tent (frustratingly the wind that dogs us all afternoon disappears at sundown), an impressive imperial palace at Hue, beautifully restored merchants’ houses in Hoi An (not to mention shopping opportunities galore and no damn space in the panniers)….and the extraordinary variety of things simply happening in every day Vietnamese life alongside Route One.

It’s been a tough few days. We usually cover around 80km a day. In the last 6 days we’ve ridden over 780. Our shortest day was 5hrs 45min pedaling (107km) and our longest was 8hrs 36min (160km). These long days have been partly due to the fact that we’re getting up at the crack of dawn to beat the heat but then cycling through the heat anyway as it’s really hard to find anywhere to camp so we tend to leave it until near sun-down to reduce the chance of discovery, and partly due to the fact that we wanted to ‘buy’ ourselves a couple of extra days sightseeing when we get to Ho Chi Minh City as we don’t think the single day our previous itinerary allowed would be nearly enough.

Here’s a run-through of a typical day since leaving Hue: the alarm goes off at 5am and we’re on the road a bit after 6 (having reduced breakfast to a hastily assembled and scoffed mashed banana baguette, or in Keith’s case two baguettes with mashed banana and brown sugar……and I thought I was meant to have the sweet tooth!). We try to get 20-30km done before stopping for breakfast number 2 (noodle soup, or rice and meat). Sometimes, if we’re peckish, we have a third breakfast of snacky things bought in the market whilst shopping for vegetables for our evening meal. Bananas and lychees keep us going until lunchtime (more noodle soup or rice & meat) and then in the afternoon we have more bananas or lychees and sometimes a nice big water-melon (warm water-melon is remarkably refreshing). We also stop a couple of times during the day for either fresh coconut or fresh sugar-cane juice. It’s amazing how the hours disappear. Even though you’re enjoying long summer days back in the UK we barely get 13 hours of daylight here (although what it lacks in hours it makes up for in intensity). All of a sudden it’s 5pm and we’re starting to look for a campsite. It’s tiring riding long days but more rewarding than the relentless hills through China, Laos and Northern Vietnam…at least the flat terrain means we’re getting some good distance covered.

Lunch number two....not all that long after breakfast number three was devoured.

Lunch number two….not all that long after breakfast number three was devoured.

Before this recent stint of pedaling activity we’d had a couple of sightseeing stops in two very different but both enjoyable locations. Our last blog post saw us arriving into Hue (pronounced Hway not Hugh), the old capital of the Nguyen dynasty which ruled Vietnam for almost 150 years prior to 1945 (even though it was part of French Indochina). The city of Hue suffered considerable damage in the struggle between North and South Vietnam and after the war ended the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party had no interest in restoring what they saw as a symbol of the old feudal regime and left already damaged buildings to fall further into disrepair. More recently though, the Party has recognized the value of the citadel as a national treasure and renovation work is underway to restore this UNESCO World Heritage Site to its former glory. Even semi-restored the site is impressive. Contained within walls 10km in circumference the citadel includes a forbidden city where only the Emporer, his concubines and some eunuchs were allowed to tread – on pain of death.

Inside the Citadel grounds in Hue.

Inside the Citadel grounds in Hue.

Beautifully renovated doors in Hue Citadel.

Beautifully renovated doors in Hue Citadel.

A couple of days ride down the coast from Hue is Hoi An, our next sightseeing stop. There’s been a trading port at Hoi An for over 2000 years, but it really saw its heyday in the 15th – 19th centuries, when Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Dutch traders settled there. The ancient town centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and packed full of beautifully restored buildings spanning 3 centuries. Old traders’ buildings jostle against Chinese assembly halls, family graves and a 16th century Japanese bridge (which has a Buddhist pagoda attached to it) nestle in amongst French colonial houses.

In keeping with its trading history, Hoi An today is packed with shops. Any one of the hundreds of tailors can whip you up a made-to-measure shirt or dress in an afternoon. Suits may take a little longer. As well as beautiful bespoke clothes there was a plethora of other artisan offerings from gorgeous paintings to leatherware, silk lanterns, wood carvings, bone carvings and embroidery. I ummed and ahhed over a couple of gorgeous silk tops….but in the end decided they wouldn’t go with anything else in my panniers….and indeed wouldn’t fit in my panniers.

Early morning in Hoi An, before the tourist hordes descend.

Early morning in historic Hoi An, before the tourist hordes descend.

The old Japanese bridge.

The 16th century covered Japanese bridge.

Traditional Hoi An musicians.

Traditional Hoi An musicians.

Huge incense cones hanging from the ceiling in the Fukien Assembly Hall.

Huge incense cones hanging from the ceiling in the Fukien Assembly Hall.

After Hoi An came our six days of hard pedaling effort down to Mui Ne. We were originally going to stop in Nha Trang, but another traveler recommended Mui Ne instead, two days further on from Nha Trang.

The temperature cooled a little (down to 30 degrees instead of 40) as we left Hoi An under overcast skies, but our reprieve didn’t last more than a couple of days. We’ve come up with some new strategies for coping with the relentless sunshine. Keith has invested in some sandals as his sweat-soaked feet and trainers were beginning to rot. He’s had to revert to wearing socks with these though as it didn’t take long for his white feet to turn pink. I have bought some thin off-white gloves (increasingly off-white as the days go by) to protect my hands and wrists and wrap a thin cotton scarf over my helmet to keep the sun off the sides of my face and neck. Very fetching doncha think?

Hot, but not too sunburnt.

Hot, but not too sunburnt.

Route 1 (marked on maps and kilometre markers as either QL1 or AH1) is the main north-south artery in Vietnam. It isn’t generally recommended as a cycling route due to the relatively heavy traffic levels….and an approach to driving that rivals the Chinese for sheer breathtaking stupidity.

A typical example of the traffic using route 1.

A typical example of the traffic using route 1.

Vietnamese Driving Test:

Q1 – You’re driving on busy Route 1, where trucks and coaches slow for no-one. As you approach the brow of a hill you spot a Pino proceeding slowly along on the narrow hard shoulder. Do you:
a) Pull safely into the layby at the top of the hill and wait for the Pino to reach you whilst giving a cheery thumbs-up of encouragement.
b) Blare your horn loudly as you pass the laboring tandemists.
c) Stop in the middle of the road (with car straddling the white line) to let your passenger out, who then stands, camera in hand, blocking the hard shoulder whilst you block the road, ignoring the blaring horn of the large lorry which is now determinedly overtaking you on entirely the wrong side of the road just before the brow of the hill. (Luckily he’s got a magic horn so anything approaching on the other side of the hill will instantly de-materialize…or at least this is what the truck driver appears to believe.)

Q2 – You’re on a motorbike or a pushbike and want to turn left onto Route 1. Do you:
a) Wait for a safe gap in the traffic to cross to the opposite lane and proceed with the traffic, suffering a momentary inconvenience whilst waiting for a gap.
b) Swing immediately and with gay abandon into the oncoming traffic, thus inconveniencing everyone else (this is a particularly effective manoeuvre if you have a 2.5m wide aviary strapped across the back of your motorbike).

Q3 – You see an interesting tandem on the road ahead of you and wish to express your approval of their chosen mode of transport. Do you:
a) Make eye-contact as you pass and give a grin and a thumbs up.
b) Ride/drive next to them beeping your horn and screaming “Hey! Oy!” almost loudly enough to drown out the scream of the airhorn on the massive juggernaut that’s also trying to overtake you.
c) Quickly overtake them and then pull in and drop your speed forcing the Pino to pull out and overtake you, which lets you take another look at them without risking your own ass out with the lorries. This works best if you repeat the sequence a few times, giving you and your family plenty of opportunity to point and stare at the increasingly irritated Westerners on the funny bike.

If you have answered A to any of the above you have just failed your Vietnamese driving test. (Actually, I’m exaggerating just a bit with Q3. Most people here do grin and stick their thumbs up, but there have also been rather too many who scream, shout and get in the way a lot.)

Thankfully though, aside from a couple of days which were particularly noisy and stressful (most notably between Hoi An and Quy Nhon) where the above behaviours were frequently observed, it’s actually not been too bad a road. It’s got a pretty good surface, avoids hills (OK, there are a few notable lumps, but it’s a lot flatter than the Ho Chi Minh road, which is the only other north-south route) and it goes through loads of towns and villages so you’re never far from a snack stop. It’s also really interesting. On the couple of occasions when we’ve slipped away to ride along the coast, our initial relief at being on a quiet road often degenerated into stultifying boredom as we’ve trundled along empty roads next to unfinished beach resorts with unchanging kilometers merging into the heat haze. Swinging back onto route 1 the noise hits you like a physical insult, but there’s something really exciting about the hustle and bustle of life along route 1 that helps the long days pass quickly. Here are some of the sights we’ve seen:

Eucalyptus oil being produced (metal drums in background) and sold (bottles in foreground).

Eucalyptus oil being produced (metal drums in background) and sold (bottles in foreground).

Incense sticks drying on racks.

Incense sticks drying on racks.

Crispy rice cakes.

Crispy rice cakes.

Rice paddies being leveled prior to sowing

Rice paddies being leveled prior to sowing

Rice being sowed.

Rice being sowed.

Reeds...

Reeds…

...being dried...

…being dried…

...dyed...

…dyed…

...and made into mats.

…and made into mats.

Jamie, running 240km in 8 days for the STV Appeal.  Just found out he made it in 7 days - well done! http://jamieinthejungle.blogspot.com/

Jamie, running 240km in 8 days for the STV Appeal. Just found out he made it in 7.  Well done!
http://jamieinthejungle.blogspot.com/

 

Fishing nets.

Fishing nets.

Several dozen unhappy chickens.

Several dozen unhappy chickens.

A strong contender in this year's How Many Mattresses Can You Fit On A Motorbike contest.

A strong contender in this year’s How Many Mattresses Can You Fit On A Motorbike contest.

Rainbow brushes.

Rainbow brushes.

The iceman cometh.

The iceman cometh.

Cham temples at dusk - an unexpected treat in an otherwise non-descript little town.

Cham temples at dusk – an unexpected treat in an otherwise non-descript little town.

Aside from the traffic, the only other downside to route 1 is the paucity of good camping spots. We’ve struck lucky most of the time, but gave up about 10km before Nha Trang and got a guesthouse (aircon, wifi, shower, for a fiver….what a hardship!). We have had to be less picky than usual though with our choice of campsite and spent one rather disturbed night in a small plantation between two houses almost 6km down a side road off route 1 (that we then had to ride back along the following morning) listening to a dog barking for hours. We’d arrived at dusk and were soon hidden by darkness, but as expected were discovered by the plantation owner at 5am. I have to make sure I get up really early if I want to have a pee unobserved. A few nights later we were surrounded by endless acres of waterlogged rice paddies and ended up having to make do on a small dirt trail linking a handful of houses dotted across the watery landscape. After about 2km the trail widened just enough to get our tent on and leave room for a motorbike to get past. It was right next to a house so we said hello to the occupants and asked their permission to camp, which was readily granted. I have to say it’s not our usual strategy – I like to be well away from habitation and curious locals – but it turned out fine so maybe we’ll do it more readily in future.

We’re currently enjoying a two day break in Mui Ne, a lengthy strip of sand, sea and Russian tourists about two days ride from Ho Chi Minh City. Today’s been blogging, admin and odd-jobs day. Tomorrow is our relaxing day. We can’t wait!