2 – 12 April, 2013 – Time flies, whatever we are doing. By now we are more than seven months on the road, cycled in fourteen different countries and passed the 10,000km mark. We met a lot of people, made new friends and believe it or not, we still like cycling. We’ve certainly had days getting bored of it, especially if the scenery isn’t really distracting us or if it is just too much traffic but we always really look forward to continuing our journey after our rest days. The longer we are away the more we think how lucky we are to be able to do what we do, a life where the sky is the limit (of course always within our budget, but this is not about money). Often we feel like living in a bubble dreaming about all the nice things we do, the wonderful people we meet and picturesque landscapes we see and we don’t want to wake up until we realize, this isn’t a dream, it’s our reality. How blessed we are, life is wonderful as world cyclists!
The last days were a little frustrating though, as we had to cycle on highway 1 for longer than we liked it. The more North we go, the busier it gets and the many trucks, busses, motorbikes and now also cars are very tiresome. The continuous honking also gets on our nerves, as the trucks’ horns are so extremely loud that it hurts and we often flinch from the sudden and often unexpected noise. One day Johan got attacked twice: the first time a guy on the street just wanted to hit him, but missed and the second time a truck driver threw a half empty 1.5 l water bottle hitting his shoulder. About the latter we think it wasn’t meant to hurt him, but to give him water as it was a very hot day, but still. One night we spent at a hotel with our room and bathroom completely molded and when we woke up the next morning all our clothes were completely humid and smelly, disgusting! The owners were also complete weirdos. They sleep behind the reception and when I was checking something on my iPad in the lobby of the hotel (the only WiFi spot), a woman came watching me and she got closer and closer until she almost sat on top of me. When she left, an older man came doing the same thing, this time thankfully without touching me. The next morning Johan had a black bra hanging on his bike…. and the same woman was singing ‘Goodbye Hanoi, goodbye Hanoi’ after we told her where we were heading to. We could still hear her when we were again sitting on our bikes.
Another day we had lunch at a for us fancy restaurant with surprisingly moderate prices. We chose our meal from the menu and when we got the bill the amount was almost twice as high as indicated. When we asked for the reason we were told that the menu prices were just approximate prices…. LOL! Being the cheap Dutch and Swabian we of course only paid what was mentioned on the menu, which took us about 30 minutes as the owner (who is by the way driving a Porsche Cayenne) had to be called and he only gradually reduced the bill and we had him return about five times until he got it right.
Over the last week the weather changed as well. It has become very windy and one day we faced strong headwinds all day long. It’s also chilly now, with temperatures of around 20 degrees, a drop of about 20 degrees within a day. Believe it or not but I am getting goose bumps from the cold at 26 degrees now. We’ve become so adjusted to the high temperatures! But it’s great cycling and sleeping now.
On our way north we visited Ninh Binh, a little town we originally just wanted to bypass but put back on the schedule as we heard from other travelers that it is really worth visiting. The town is also called ‘Ha Long on land’ as it has limestone formations with huge caves in a small river merging with rice paddies. We did a two-hour boat trip on this river in the rain and it was stunningly beautiful. In a small canoe with a young woman effortlessly paddling in turn with her hands and her feet, it was a peaceful, enjoyable and very relaxing trip! And thanks to the rain our few photos didn’t get spoiled by other tourist boats. Ninh Binh is a gem in the area.
And we selected the right hotel in Ninh Binh as the owner is a great tour guide who convinced us to change travel plans once more and instead of going directly to Ha Long Bay making a detour via the Pu Luong Nature Reserve, a little visited area about 150km west of Ninh Binh. He is usually taking tourists on motorbikes there but we told him that we had to cycle so he made a few arrangements for us and the next day we headed off on our bikes. The more we headed west, the more beautiful the landscape became. We stopped at a little town just about 40km before the nature reserve and continued early the following morning to meet with a local tour guide and our host for the coming two nights.
The Pu Luong limestone landscape is an area of outstanding beauty. It is blessed with rich forest, limestone panoramas, magnificent rice terraces and breathtaking scenery. It is also home to some threatened species found only in this area such as the clouded leopard, the Owstnon’s civet and the Delacour’s langur. After our arrival at Minh’s house, a traditional wooden stilt-house, and the mandatory welcome tea we headed off with his wife for a walk through rice paddies, villages, forests, up and down the hills and clearly noticed after about 2.5 hours walking that by now we only have cycling muscles left in our legs! Still a wonderful walk. In the evening Minh cooked for us delicious food and we ate together with his family, drunk home-made rice spirit – 100% alcohol as he claimed 🙂 and went to bed early.
The next day would become even more challenging for us as we would walk all day long and about 20km. But it was a rewarding day and very nice to walk for a change (punishment would follow right away with extreme sore muscles the next days ;-0). The first kilometers we climbed a hill on a dirt road to a remote village where we took a turn and continued on hardly visible small paths winding through thick forest. All we could hear were the birds and insects in the trees, far away cows and buffalos. Every few kilometers we would pass even more remote houses and picturesque villages with villagers being busy walking their cows, repairing houses, cutting wood and whatever. At around lunch time we stopped at house to eat our lunch and to have a well-deserved nap before we continued the second part of our walk this time through rice paddies, more villages and more hills. We arrived in the late afternoon, tired but happy, as we spent another day enjoying wonderful Vietnamese landscapes.
2 April: Dong Hoi – Ky Anh: 99km
3 April: Ky Anh – Vinh: 110km
4 April: Rest day in Vinh
5 April: Vinh – Tinh Gia: 133km
6 April: Tinh Gia – Phat Diem: 105km (strong headwind)
7 April: Phat Diem – Ninh Binh: 31km
8/9 April: Rest days in Ninh Binh: 14km
10 April: Ninh Binh – Cam Thuy: 90km
11 April: Cam Thuy – Ban Nua: 59km
12 April: Ban Nua: 20km walking
Total distance cycled: 9,811km of which 1,733km in Vietnam