Paul and Rita's World Tour 2005 - Vietnam




Saigon state of the art power supply
Carrying the shopping home
Cyclist, walking
I know I dropped it around here
Women at work in the field
Men at work in the field
Carrying the shopping home
Terraced fields
Eiffel Tower. In Vietnam?
Countryside around Dalat
Dalat to Phan Rang (1)
Dalat to Phan Rang (2)
Dalat to Phan Rang (3)
Salt farm workers
Cam Ranh Bay, Ba Ngoi
Paul in the sea (middle)
Long tailed lizard
Jade ball on roof of Chinese temple
Shopping in Hoi An
Laundry for rent?
Market traders
Cao Lau - pork & noodle Hoi An speciality
Rita & Paul at My Son ruins
Come in to my parlour...
A road to nowhere?

Vietnam - the third country on our agenda for this trip. We planned to spend about three weeks here, most of which will probably be spent cycling up the coast from Phang Thiet to Hue.

Currency = Dong. 1 Pound Sterling = approx. 30000 Dong.

15/02/05 (Paul writes...)
Border crossing at Moc Bai was very quiet and straightforward. We had got our Vietnam visa in London before leaving, but still had to fill in an entry form and proceed down a line of officials, stamping our paperwork or passport, scanning our luggage, and finally apparently giving us a health inspection. Well, he gave us a piece of paper saying we were fit and healthy to enter the country, but he must have been a very clever doctor because he barely glanced at us.

We had already cycled 47 km this morning, and although it was only 10:30 it was getting very hot, so we decided to stop cycling for the day and get a lift into Saigon. Negotiated a taxi for $20 for the 90km ride for the two of us and our bikes, a bit steep by local standards, but well worth it.

We had already selected a hotel from our guide book, in the low budget Pham Ngu Lao street area. The taxi driver couldn't find it, so we paid him off and continued on our bikes. One of the best thinks about having your own bikes is that you don't get so much pestering from people trying to sell you everything from a hotel room to a 8 foot tall concrete elephant, you just zoom on buy, giving a little wave and a polite 'No thanks'.

Hotel 127, nice clean room with aircon, en-suite (excellent shower with HOT water, and luckily, cold water too) for $12 a night. Treating ourselves before we start our next ride, probably up the coastal national highway 1, but haven't decided yet.

Had a relaxing afternoon, sampling the local culinary delights and the odd beer (or two). Plenty of restaurants selling a wide variety of Asian and western foods. It's nice to eat something familiar occasionally, but some tourists seem to only get by on burgers and pizzas and lasagna. I wonder why they come here, sometimes.

16/2/05 (Paul writes...)
Nice to have a lay in, sometimes. Up at 6:30 this morning, instead of the 5am starts of the last 3 days. Pho Bo, almost the Vietnamese national dish, beef noodle soup, for breakfast. Made some plans for the next few days and got upto date with our emails, etc. Internet access very reasonably priced here at 3000 dong an hour, about 10 pence.
In the afternoon, a persuasive cyclo driver and his friend took us on a tour of the local area, down to Notra Dame cathedral and a few other choice places. He had quoted 40,000 dong for an hour long tour, but seemed to be taking the long way round and going slowly (althogh thats not too surprising as we probably weigh twice as much as him!) So after an hour and a half when he suggested we should next visit the lacquered plate factory, we asked to go back to our hotel, which took another half hour. The bill came to 80000 dong, and of course he didn't have change and thought he deserved a large tip, so it cost us 200,000 dong in the end. Nice work if you can get it!

Rita went shopping for more clothes (she says she will get rid of some others) while I read up about what else we could do in Saigon, and what routes we could cycle in the coming weeks.
Dinner at the Little Saigon Restaurant, Rita had some sort of curried beans, I had a stir fried chicken with chilli and lemongrass, and we shared some store fried vegetables. A pleasnt end to a relaxing day.

17/02/05 (Paul writes...)
We had planned to go to see the Viet Cong underground tunnel system at Cu Chi today, but a slight lack of planning yesterday meant that we forgot to book it up. Never mind, gave us time to downloaded our digital photos to CD and go to the post office to post them back to England. As a safety precaution, we are making two copies of all our digital photos, posting one set back to England and keeping the second set with us until the first has safely arrived home. On previous trips we've ended up carrying a large number of exposed films, which always worried us as if we lost them or they were exposed to too much heat or radiation (airport scanners, etc) we would lose all our photos. We were also reluctant to post them back in case they got lost or damaged. So, despite the hassle of burning two copies of the cd, all in all I think we are a lot happier having gone all digital this time.

Selected a small locals place for our breakfast this morning. They didn't have a menu or speak any English, and my dismal attempt at pronouncing Pho Bo failed to gain any recognition. So we sat back and waited to see what would turn up, and two minutes later we were served up with two plates of grilled pork slices basted in honey, with a few vegetables on a bed of rice and a side dish of chopped chillies and something green. It was very nice, and at 16000 dong for both of us, our cheapest breakfast yet.

Wandered around Saigon and took in a few more of the sights. Its a big place. Decided that the Cu Chi tunnels might not be quite our cup of tea, and don't think we can do that trip and get a bus to Dalat all in one day. Something had to give, and it was the Cu Chi tunnels. Booked on the 7:30 bus to Dalat tomorrow morning.

18/02/05 Thursday (Paul writes....)
Got up early to pack and have breakfast at our hotel, just a couple of bread rolls with excellent Vietnamese strawberry jam (from the Dalat area, I believe) and a few bananas. Stopped off at the ATM on the way to catch the bus to stock up on Dong - not sure when we'll next see an ATM and its can sometimes be a bit of a pain drawing money on a credit card from a bank.
Bus didn't turn up until after eight, and then the driver wasn't happy about the size of our bikes, even though they were folded up and in their carrying bags. The driver and the tour operator we'd bought the tickets from had a long conversation in Vietnamese, only occasionally raising their eyes from the bikes to glance at us, then back to the bikes. Eventually, the driver walked off round the corner to where the bus had pulled up, and the tour operator said the driver thought they were too big. As we were explaining that we had told them about our bikes when we had booked the tickets the previous day and had been told there would be no problem as the bus would not be full, the driver returned and gestured for us to bring our stuff. We were on. We had to pass the bikes through the back window, and they wer stacked on the back seat, along with the our panniers. The bus was almost full, turned out to be a tour group of about 20 people had booked on together, with a dozen or so independant travellers.
The large group had a guide with them, and it soon became apparent that he had been talking to the driver and added a few extra item to the days agenda. We had been told we would be arriving in Dalat a 1:30pm, with a comfort/food break about halfway. We finally disembarked at around 4:30, having made an extra 3 stops totalling 2 hours, including a visit to a floating fishing village. Even some of members of the large group were saying they would rather just get there, instead of unscheduled stops. After so many stops in the morning, we made a final stop at 12:30 for 45 minutes for food and drink, then there were no more stops until we reached Dalat over three hours later. A lot of people were sat crossed legged by that time, desperate for the toilet.

Once off the bus, we assembled our bikes and set off to find the hotel we had selected from our guide book, the Dreams Hotel. We soon found the hotel that was indicated on the Lonely Planet map as being opposite the one we wanted, but no sign of our hotel. This seems to be a frequent problem with LP maps, just when you think you've located the hotel of your dreams (or in ths case, the Dreams Hotel) and even though the rest of the map detail fits into place, you turn the corner and there it is, gone.

Gave up on the Dreams Hotel as a bad idea (nightmare? sorry, thats the last one) and made our way towards the town centre, eventually checking into the Peace Hotel. Natty names they have around here. $7 for a good size room on the first floor, small balcony, two double beds with mosquito nets, en-suite, hot water but no air-con and not even a fan. Thats because, at 1485 metres above sea level, Dalat is noticeably cooler than Saigon. Not cold, just pleasantly cooler. Of course, the Vietnamese think its's so cold they need to where jumpers and coats, some with fur lined hoods. I was very happy in my t-shirt. (Plus a few other items of clothing, like shorts and socks, of course).
The receptionist asked me to say we were paying $9 to anybody else that asked. At first I felt pleased, thinking I had got a bargain, but then though she might have just been trying to disuade me from talking to anybody else about the room rates, in case we found out we were actually paying more. Whatever, we were quite happy with the price.
There's a very pleasant, if a little small, restaurant attached to the hotel reception, run by a lady named Tu Ahn. It comes well recommended, judging by the many travellers notes inserted in the menus, singing her praises. I don't suppose many people would hang around to write a negative appraisal of the place, and if they did, I'm sure it wouldn't find its way into the pages of the menu folder anyway.

19/02/05 Saturday (Paul writes)

Started out with good intentions: cycle up to the village of Lat to visit some of the minority hill tribes. Over breakfast, found out that we needed a special permit to go there, either issued by the police, or one of the local travel agencies could provide a guide who was "permitted" to take us there, at a cost of $16. While we discussed it, both us decided that actually we didn't feel that good at the moment, and it might be best to not stray too far from a toilet in the near future. If you get my drift.
Spent the rest of the day in and around the town centre, catching up on a bit of reading and keeping in our fluids!
I'm now reading a book which Rita recently finished, First They Killed My Father. A factual account of the Khmer Rouge coming to power and the devastation they brought to the country with their Year Zero policies, as seen through the eyes of a 5 year girl. Very good book which I would recommend anyone to read.

20/2/05 Sunday (Paul Writes...)
Feeling better this morning, so going for the ride to Lat village. Made arrangements for a guide with the hotel tour advisor (every hotel hear has at lrast one) who tried to increase the price to $20, but persuaded her that yesterdays quote of $16 was far more acceptable. She agreed.

A guide turned up shortly afterwards, but as he spoke no English, his only purpose was to lead the way on his motorbike for us on our push bikes, and to be our "permit" to enter the village.

Things went quite well until after about 10km, I began to get the feeling that he didn't know the way. This feeling was reinforced by him stopping ahead of us and talking to people on the roadside, who would then point in various directions. When we arrived at the entrance to the Lang Bian Mountain, some distance beyond Lat village, we realised from his beaming smile that he didn't know where we actually wanted to go but as Lang Mountain was in the vicinity, wouldn't this be a fine opportunty to visit.
With the help of some locals, we retraced our wheel tracks for ten minutes and found the village of Lat nestled a few hundred meters down a side road.

We had a demonstration of the weaving of hand made scarves from a lovely local lady who spoke excellent English. She persuaded us to buy a couple of items from her store, something we very raely do these days, due to the limited luggage space on our bikes.
She also showed us to the only remaining long house in the village, which now appears to be used to house a small collection of interesting, some of them bemusing, musical instruments.
In the meantime, our guide/permit went off to get some breakfast. We began to feel that we had been a bit rash forking out the $16 this morning, and perhaps should have just gone on our own as originally planned. We could have found the village quite easily with the directions in our guide book, and there was nobody there checking for a permit either. Never mind, we'll think about it twice next time.
After our return cycle to Dalat and a well earned lunch, we cycled around the lake near the town centre, then negotiated posting a parcel back to the UK containing the items we bought at Lat village and some of our digital photos on CD. The scarves from the village were no prblem, but they were worried about the CDs.
Q. Whats on the CDs?
A. Photos.
Q. Photos of what?
A. Our holiday in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Q. Are there any sexy photos?
A. No. Well, it depends what you mean. There are a few photos of me, and some people might find them sexy. I did say might!

The girl behind the desk seemed satisfied with our answer, but then she said they would be inspected in Ho Chi Minh by Customs to make sure they did not break their "policy".
We left the post office 180,000 dong poorer and wondering if our photos would pass their "policy" test. We might have inadvertantly taken a snap of a strategic bridge, or some important government buildng, which the Customs take exception to and decide they must be destroyed. I'm probably being paranoid. I'm sure they'll turn up eventually. Clive - can you let me know when they do. Cheers mate.

Monday 21/02/05 (Paul writes...)
Big day ahead, 110km ride from Dalat to Phan Rang, on the coast. Set off at 7:30, nice and cool for the first 30km, which was a good job as we had 10km of uphill in that time. Spectacular views of the countryside around Dalat, with a wide variety of farming from rice and vegetables to beef. After the 30km mark, we had our first big downhill section, which, if we're honest, is one of the main reasons we selected this section of road to cycle on. We dropped 600 meters in 10km, the views were again spectacular. The road surface was sealed, but quite bumpy, making the descent that much more hazardous and making us go slower. We stopped for refreshments from road side stalls after the first big drop, then it was another 15km of fairly level going before we reached the longest downhill, a drop of 800 meters over 16km. A few hundred meters from the top of the descent there was a rest area full of tourist buses, which had stopped for the great views from the top. We joined them for a short while, looking down on the twisting road disappearing into the distance below us. I noticed a few envious looks from the bus passengers as we set off down the hill. Its great being on a bike.

The road surface on this section was a lot better, but the curves were sharper, so we still had to keep our speed down. There wasn't too much traffic, but what there was mostly consisted of buses and trucks blaring their horns at every opportunity.
On the way down we passed under two large pipes, the feed for a hydro-electric power plant at the bottom. There were guards at each point where the road and pipes met, one of their duties was to stop people taking photos of the pipes, obviously quite sensitive about them.

The road leveled out at the bottom of the hill, then we had another 50km of flat road to go to Phan Rang. There was a diverse range of farming going on in that area, we couldn't recognize some of the crops, but eventually worked out that the large green leaves we saw being grown and harvested were tobacco leaves. That also explained the mysterious square, brick built, 2 storey building that were dotted along the road, they were for drying the tobacco leaves.

Phan Rang is not a popular tourist destination, the only other tourists we saw were also cyclists who had also just arrived from Dalat. The cheapest hotel we could find was $20 a night, no extra charge for the storm cloud of mosquitoes resident in the room. Luckily there were mosquito nets fitted which kept the little perishers at bay.
Our guide book recommended two restaurants in the town, a very liberal interpretation of the word restaurant. Neither had a menu (in any language) and we didn't fancy the look of the roasted chickens in the display cabinet, so we elected to go vegetarian for the evening. I showed them the Vietnamese phrase for 'I am vegetarian' from our phrase book, at which they initially looked a bit worried, but after 10 minutes produced a small plate with a selection of very strange looking fayre, along with some plain rice. Some of it looked like deep fried arteries with small pieces of meat attached. After double checking that they were vegetable and not meat, I proceeded with caution. The 'arteries' turned out to be some type of pasta wrapped in soya pieces. The other items on the plate were either mushroom, tofu or soya based, and were actually quite nice, once you got used to the consistency and flavour.

Tues 22/02/05 (Rita writes)
Phan Rang to Ba Ngoi - 48km
This morning we started slowly and went down for breakfast included in this hotel - quite cheapy but pretending to be something better - We planned what might be possible and by about 9.30 we said "ok we can do it, we will cycle today to Ba Ngoi" despite our long cycle yesterday. - ( so glad it was half the distance of yesterday - not wanting to overdo things) I had a little tete a tete with the hotel receptionist on paying the bill before leaving - he refused to accept an old note and was rather annoying about it - we had some veggie noodles and cleared off picking up litre bottles of water as we left town. Straight on to the highway 1 which is very busy and very noisy - from the moment we started a strong headwnd directly in the face. This caused us more dehydration and we worked twice as hard cycling - almost comtemplated wearing my ear plugs - Everybody wears masks on the road on their motorcycles - of which there are thousands - including me - Paul doesnt however as he thinks it's a girly thing!! Plus the bird flu which is going round may also be a reason for the masks!!! We have stopped eating chicken.

We had several stops for liquids along the way - including coconut milk and sugarcane juice and some odd canned juices which we still cant recognise the taste of. It took us longer than expected to complete the distance - some four hours or so(with stops for beers). It was pretty barren country side and not good for the camera today - but we managed - Paul is always very strong but I wimp out at a head wind as it gives me headaches and sure enough I got one by the end of the day. Cyclists dont mind hills but they dont like headwinds - ask anyone.
As we headed into Ba Ngoi there were some interesting salt flats on on both sides of the road and I was glad to get off my bike and take some pics. The tiny vietnamese were working like little soldier ants - scraping up salt into shallow wicker trays - then walking with it to a shed about 25 yards away- balanced precariously on their shoulder at each end of a yolk across their necks. It seemed many of them were women.

The post office towers in Vietnamese towns seem ususally to be located near the town centre and we headed again for one we could see in the distance. The town looked interesting as we approached although our guide book had lead us to believe it was a dead place hardly worth the bother of visiting - but you cant believe guide books -anyway we always find something good about a place, usually the food!!!

We located a pretty good place to stay in the centre and rooms air con - they wanted 150,000 dong but we bartered for 130,000, moved in, unpacked,showered and off to find some food.

Great little place was recommended by hotel called restaurant 36 (novel)
- smashing noodles and veggies filled the gap. We then found an internet cafe and Paul did a bit of updating- while I crashed with bad head. We arrived around 2-ish and later around 7 Iwas again hungry - after all this exercise you can understand it, so when we found a cafe selling something that looked edible - including a bit of beef I decided to have 2 portions!!!!!!!!!!
We had a couple of beers too and went back to room to prepare for tomorrow.

Wed 23/02/05 (Rita writes...)
Ba Ngoi to Nha Trang - 60km

At first around sixish I felt pretty bad still so we delayed starting until later - Headache lifted a little and we decided to go before the sun got too hot - good move. The road turned out to be very interesting all along the route with stalls, (we made a sugarcane stop early today), lots of different crops including grapes, tea, tobacco, coffee and many other which we couldnt recognise as well as acres of paddy fields. We made good progress and since no head wind today we moved along at a good rate.

I spotted a couple cock bating at one point and a couple of bulls fighting along the side of the road, it is such a good way of seeing everything that goes on - The schools seem to break up at around 11.30 and resume laterin the day - all the kids shout hello - as we pass - and most are very smart in uniform - vietnames girls wear beautiful white - silk trousers with white chiffon top with flowing tails and look so elegant as they cycle to and from school. Plus they have no gears on their bikes as we do but still look cool.

We stopped at a rough cafe on a junction and immediately regretted it as it was unbearably noisy and trucks belched out fumes as they passed - but a later stop near our destination turned out to be a real pleasure for Paul as we found some real draught beer called Beer Hoi, Saigon. A couple of litres later we continued - I declined beer here as not feeling well, and tried seven up instead- how boring!!!

As we approached Nha Trang we wwere getting very overheated - it was now midday and we had to stop for a ......(to be continued)

Thu 24/02/05 Nha Trang (Paul writes)
Eating, drinking, lazing on beach and occasional swim. Time to chill for a while with a good book.

Fri 24/02/05 Nha Trang (Rita writes)
Ditto Thursday. Could get used to this.

Sat 25/02/05 Nha Trang (Paul writes...)
I think we ARE getting far too used to this, but, hey, we're are on holiday!
Spent a long time on the internet this morning. Rita was having problems with getting to her email account, so after a futile hour, spent some time updating our website. I spent most of the time trying to book a couple more air tickets. The round-the-world ticket we had bought doesn't cover all of our chosen destinations, and we have to buy a few more tickets to fill in the gaps which we had decided to do on route so we could be more flexible with dates.
However, I had been trying occasionally over the last three weeks to book some Malaysia Airlines tickets via their online booking system, with frustratingly little success. But today I managed to reverse my run of bad luck (or could have been bad internet connections) and not only booked flights from Cebu (Philippines) to Kota Kinabulu (Sarawak (Borneo!)) and Kuching (also in Sarawak) to Singapore (thats in Singapore), but I also managed to book return flights from Darwin to Dili (East Timor). The Dili flight booking only took 15 minutes and went through on the first attempt, probably due more to the fact I was booking them through the Air North and not Malaysia Airlines.
Flushed with success (and a celebratary beer), we walked into town to check out some of the fine dining experiences available on offer. Having decided they were out of our budget range, we settled for some Bia Hoi (draft beer, its a lot cheaper than the canned and bottled varieties, but not so easy to find) and some fine food from a small locals restaurant. It's just so tough travelling, I don't think I can last more than a couple of years.

Sunday 27/02/05 (Paul writes...)
You'll never guess where we are today. Nha Trang. There's a surprise. No we haven't become beach bums (quite), I've got a mild dose of sun stroke, even though I've spent probably no more than 90 minutes in direct sunlight on the beach in the last couple of days. I burn easily, so going to take it even easier today, if that's possible. We did, however, make some progress on getting out of Nha Trang, we're now booked on tomorrow mornings 6:30 bus to Hoi An.

Monday 28/02/05 (Paul writes...)
The 6:30 bus eventually arrived at 7:45. The girl behind reception at the Manchester Hotel, (where we had bought our tickets because they were cheaper than the tickets offered by our hotel and we didn't have to pay extra for the bikes)..(pause for breath).. said it was late because they were so busy picking up passengers. I immediately spotted the flaw in this explanation when the bus turned up empty, but I suppose they could have already filled another bus and this was the second (or more?). I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
After buying an extra ticket for our bikes (I thought they went free? No you pay 100,000 dong for each. How about 50,000 each? Ok then) we picked up two more passengers and were on our way to Hoi An with lots of empty seats.

(Rita writes...)
Well we didnt tell you enough about Nha Trang - it really was great on the beach from around 9 till 1 but around then each day the wind got up and forced us either in to a bar or a restaurant - we found a great indian called the
Omar Khayyam and spent a bundle in there one evening on all the stuff we love most eg vindaloo etc.(later to discover that Omar Khayyam is a Chain and similar in later towns to be visited). We also found some great locals -
noodle shops where we got into the habit of pointing and what we wanted and our meals would duly arrive some 5 mins later( not yet fluent with vietnamese) - accompanied by beer, one evening we found Jacks bar selling buy
1 get one free G&T - what a bonus for around 80pence - marvellous- only one problem there was the local singer was flogging his CDs and we were the only customers - how we managed to get out without one Ill never know.

A walk or cycle round the town in the afternoons after the morning beach burn - we found conicle viet hats at 10,000 dong around 30 pence and many wedding dress shops. let me tell you - the vietnamese are heavily in to wedding dresses - the big day here is the issue and having babies is THE great goal in life it seems. Every small town has a wedding dress shop and the sheets in
hotels and guest houses have writings e.g Happy baby, Best wishes on them - Paul and I tell them here we are married with five kids!!!!!!!!! Saves all those difficult questions. (Paul...but it sometimes raises more difficult questions, like what are their ages, sex, and where are they now? Oh, we locked them in a cupboard so we could go away on holiday!)

On our last night we found a great fishy place to eat - in the tourist area - and blow me if they didnt have a bottle of my favourite red wine bin 555 on the menu - I ate Tiger prawn and Paul and I shared spring rolls, deep fired
sliced beef with sticky rice balls - quite a local taste. No after effects!!

We got back to hotel to find a street vendor had left a little bracelet for me in blue which I had bought early in the morning - she hadnt had my colour then but in her honesty had found one and left it at reception there for me - generally so honest - however - we found them a little moody on the beach if they couldnt make a sale of a pair of shades or a massage, manicure, pedicure, coconut milk etc...
strutting off indignantly. You can literally buy anything on the beach here!!! Very good price!!!

28/02/05 (Rita writes...)
Today on our way to Hoi An - after a bit of a false start we were off - some dodgy dangerous road and some beautiful coastal scenes with the driver all the while - hand on horn notifying others of his presence on the road - it drives
you round the bend - the horn hooting is so persistent.

We were one of two couples on the coach and we made a couple of pee stops en route. At one of these the driver took 20 minutes out - We think with one of the local ladies for you know what - anyway he reappeared looking flush and complaining of a bad stomach - Yeah!!! About 12 hours later we arrrive at Hoi An. It was around 8.30 and the evening here was in full swing -
restaurants busy, streets filled and typically asian bars and restarants festooned with strings of lights - Magical. We unloaded bikes - put them together and cycled off to local hotel we had spotted en route into town. We then took a walk around the night life of the town and ate at the camel restaurant near hotel - not camel we ate beef noodles. Bats were flying in and out of the restaurant as we ate which made us think of the rabies and avian flu as you do when on holiday in these places. It was great - we moved
on round the town sampling the local beer and gawking at all the wonderful clothes, silk, shoe and many other shops. This is the shoppers aradise and filled with tourists (uggh) grabbing bargains. We had been warned by an american in Jacks bar back in Nha Trang - his wife had bought a shedful of gear which they had sent home.

Well we have been there and done that, so it was with extreme will power we rejected all attempts of the vendors to sell, cajole or force upon us their wares. We survived the first night anyway - phew!!!
Forgot to put on long trousers on our last night in Nha Trang and bitten to death - so suffering today - never mind we took more tonic with our gin.

The route to Hoi An became more verdant and lush as we travelled north and it was pleasantly cool when we walked around the town - so much so that I thought I may have to buy a jumper but resisted on account of beer is more important
and found a warm bar to sit in. Several excellent bars selling Bia hoi (draught) -Paul was delighted.

01/03/05 (Rita writes...)

We were very excited to be in this town it looked so charming last night and we were up early to investigate. After a noodle breakfast near our hotel we decided to do the walking tour of the local sites, including the chinese
quarter, the silk shops, the market, various temples and the fish quay- this took us 6 hours. There were lots of "old" women in the market and
particularly on the fish quay selling their wares. Some were so tanned and looked at least 150. The Han river flows next to the quay and several old women in long boats plied their route across to the other bank (down town) -
earthy women with gaps in their teeth wearing conicle hats and fingerless gloves. The men seem mostly to be running the tourists about on the back of scooters and sitting around waiting for business(typical). This is the end of the season for trade at the end of February and many of the clothes and silk shops are quiet.
This is a magical place and very oriental with a chinese contingent in the town - their buildings here somehow were missed by the americans when they bombed and it is therefore a very original old town..

Again we resisted the temptation of buying and found a wonderful couple of cafes where we ate a starter in one and main course in the other ( a french based menu) - to get the best of both worlds. We ate Vegetables with cashews starter together with shrimp wanton and for main course we ate shrimp in vinegar steamboat with rice paper (fajita style)and salad plate with roasted
spare ribs and stir fry veg- wonderful. The food in the second was so excellent we vowed to eat there before our departure from this town. We were exhausted after today and crashed out quite early but not before booking ourselves on a trip to the Vietnamese equivalent of Macchu Picchu called My (pronounced Mee) Son Temples about an hours bus ride south.

2/3/05 Hoi An - My Son
Most people in Vietnam (actually, Asia in general) seem to be up and about by 6am, as we were this morning. But this is the first town in Vietnam where we've struggled to find somewhere to get breakfast before 7am. We did a long loop walking around the town looking for an open restaurant, but we were on our second loop after almost half an hor before somebody welcomed us in. Admittendly, we could have stopped at one of the street vendors, and although we've eaten at similar venues before, we didn't quite feel up to it this morning.
We caught the tourist bus to My Son at 8am outside our hotel. Unusually, we weren't the last people to be pc\ocked up (we always seem to be on other organised tours) and so spent the next half hour touring around various hotels in Hoi An, collecting other tourist until we had a bus full.
Uneventful ride out to My Son, the tour guide explained a bit about the site, ruins from the Cham people dating from 700AD. He also explained that if we gave him the entrance money for the site, 60,000 dong, he would be able to speed thing up and we would get our entrance tickets as souvenirs on the return journey. yeah, right!
The temples in the site were spread out over a few square kilometers, all of them quite interesting. A lot had been damaged, and in some cases almost totally destroyed, by bombing during the Vietnam war, or, as the Veitnamese call it, the American war. Didn't have quite the same feel of grandeur that the Angkor temples had, but it is one of the most important historical sites in the Vietnam, so it would have been rude not to drop in as we were in the area.
On the return journey, half of the people on our bus got off about halfway back for a boat trip back to Hoi An, incorporating visits to the 'pottery' and 'wordworking' villages. We'd elected to take the shorter trip and return straight back to Hoi An by bus, not just because it was cheaper, but there's something we dont like about turning up in a bus full of camera wielding tourists and gathering around 'poor peasants at work' in their authentic rustic villages. Fair play to the locals if they can make some money out of it, but I'd rather find some place where you can have a quiet chat and a drink with a few friendly locals, even if you dont really understand what each other is saying.
Back in Hoi An, we tried to get our entrance tickets to My Son that we had been promised earlier, but, no surprise here, we were toild that the tour guide hadn't brought any back with him, he had probably thrown the away!!! I've said it before but I'll say it again. Yeah, right!
Booked sats on the 2pm tourist bus to Hue for tomorrow, had to pay extra for the bikes, ut at least we were told about it up front his time, also made sure they put 2 person + 2 bikes on the tickets.

For the afternoon we took a cycle out to the coast of the South China Sea and visited a few local hostelries en route. The beach was extremely windy and full of vendors with coats on begging us to buy something/ anything from them. We soon disappeared back to the town

03/03/05 (Rita writes...)

Today we travelled by bus to Hue a distance of about .... miles taking us in all some 4-5 hours.
We had a good noodle breakfast in the market at Hoi An early and took some more pictures of beautiful Hoi An. We updated our website a little and while waiting for visas to come back from Danang by courier we ate another simply
fabulous meal in the Steak river Restaurant which we vowed we woudl return to.
Today we tried the Tuna steak fried in Garlic with stir fry veg in oyster sauce, Yet again rather superb.

A short bus ride by ususal standards but necessary since we are running short of time to cycle all the distance tween here and Bangkok - so we are being selective on which routes we cycle.
Our reason for being selective on this occasion was the massive Hai Vann Pass up which the bus struggled. Precipices on either side of the road and a heavy mist at the top of this mountain of 600 metres. It was also raining for most
of the way, a fine drizzle + glad we werent cycling this one + what a good one to miss. We had been warned and we may love cycling but neither of us are that stupid!!

By the time we arrived in Hue it was dark and we cycled off to a hotel we had seen on the sky line as we came into town - It turned out to have rooms - and at 10 dollars we felt it was a good place from which to investigate the rest
of the town later on that evening. The main interest in Hue of cultural significance is the great forbidden purple palace - but all the sites we found were some way from our hotel across the river and we left them for an
interesting morning the following day. We arrived at the Omar Khayyam restauran(We visited the restaurant of the same name in Nha trang and found it excellent) expecting to be able to eat curry - since a lot of the establishments were too basic for our taste - and we are pretty basic!! Unfortunately - others had heard about this wonderful restaurnat and it was packed to the gunwales, and we were not going to get
in. Ok we can survive one nigt without food - so we disappeared back to hotel for and early night and a tot of whisky in deserted bar.

04/03/05 (Rita writes...)

Today our intention is to get ourselves to Huoing Hoa where we will start our cycle toLao border for two or three days . Early start as usual, we were at the Forbidden purple pagoda by 7.30 and we saw the five brass never fired
cannons and the meat market and the early bread women, Troughout Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao, the French have left a legacy of wonderful french bread. It mainly comes in the original recipe, however in Lao it sometimes comes in a slightly heavier version + found it best to avoid this one for obvious reasons.

After all that culture so early in the morning we decided to go for a noodle- rice dish somewhere and came a cross a very rough cafe + but the cook could understand us when we asked direction for minibus park and so we ate at her
stall + a huge plate of greens cooked in garlic followed by a huge bowl of rice. Unfortunately, as often occurs here, the two dishes were served up 25 minutes apart, oh well cant get it always right. Not sure of the cleanliness of this particuar place either but went for it any way and have survived.

So we caught a minibus to Dong Ha a journey of about an hour + cramped up with the locals, and then a further one about another hour to the town of Huong Hoa. Well both of those towns you really wouldnt want to stop in unless you
couldnt get any further, either that or you are on a cycle tour like ours.

Dong Ha was rough as rats and Houng Hoa just a little better. It is on the top of a mountain and this I feel is a bonus point, for at least you can look at the views around about. Dropped off at the top we cycled round fot twenty
minutes or so to get a feel of the place and find a possible guest house. It really is amazing that in a rough old place like this you can find a lovely little oasis run by a kind and friendly woman with our best interests at
heart, clean, tidy and with a supply of toilet roll. We are getting good at this, we found it, just up from the ubiquitous wedding dress shop.

Checked in and off to investigate the town - this the most bombed town in Vietnam, you might expect some hostilities, but these mountain peole are ruddy faced and friendly and also drink beer so we got on ok in the bars we visited, where locals played cards and drink and drink. Unfortunately our guide book is poor on this area and only wanted to talk about the war so we declined to visit the sites and enjoyed a look round the market and bought a few goodies
ie choc biscuits, crisps, doughnuts from the street vendor. It looked as if we would also go hungry here as we were reluctant to eat at the stalls selling pigs stomach, liver, brains and stuff like that and could find nowhere else.
Then I just happened to ask the woman in the wedding dress shop, she understood and directed us immmediately through a building site to a lovely chinese restaurant - we would never have found this one on our own. We ate yet another noodle and veg dish - very sustaining for the cycle tomorrow.

The night was hellish windy, the hotel room overhung the side of the hill and the galvanise roof sounded as if it would blow off and kept us awake - so no problem in being up for another early start and cycle to border. Paul always
gets a little sentimental when we leave one ountry for another and we plan to have last meal in Vietnam b4 the border.

05/03/05 (Rita writes...)

Up with the lark and the raging wind - we made an early start for the border crossing at Lao Bao. Great Joy,a deal of down hill as you will remember Houng Hoa is on a hill - another carefully selected start point by Paul - never one to miss an downhill!!! We made excellent progress and reached the border after about 15 kiilometers and found easily a little cafe selling noodles and veg with beef, all prepared by a lovely looking frienly woman who just has
that air about her that you can say - we will be ok with this food!!!

We tucked in, Paul ate the beef but I rarely do and we found it very tasty and nourishing especialy with chillis and soy sauce. I changed a few of my dong for kips with a local tout at a very poor rate no doubt, but bartered on the calculator with her for a while putting up a bit of a fight on the charges and through the border with very little hassle by 9am and on the road in to Lao.

Wow what a stunning difference from Vietnam,

We perhaps havent made it very clear how densely populated Vietnam is, virtually all along the roadsides are dwellings of one sort or another and barely able to find the appropriate bush for a pee stop. You simply cannot escape them, they are everywhere, every little pathway leads to a dwelling. Now we cross the border we are immediatley struck by real countryside and bird song and a fabulous fast smooth road with no pits and holes. We are on our way - the sun is getting hotter it is just around 9.15 and we plan a good days cycle.

Continued in Laos