Monthly Archives: October 2013

Day 40 Dien Thanh to Tay Son 98 km

Got an early start after abandoning breakfast because the hotel was serving one plate of eggs at a time at too slow a pace.
That hotel was the worst so far; dirty sheets, marginal meals, general bad management; lots of people around, too few doing the right things.  No way this tour company is going back there!
Rode along the coast for a while, watching the dawn over the beach and along a rocky coast line.  Fishermen at work in quite small boats

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Worked our way inland, making a gradual transition from fishing and fish farming to agriculture on broad, flat, wet plains.

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Some buffalo having a lovely time wallowing in the mud made me hum the hippo song.

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There appeared to be a mix of large scale farming and subsistence farming; quite a few buffalo carts on the road, and more of them working in the fields, in one case many people and buffalo working together.

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  There are two types of working buffalo; the black ones with the swept back horns, and pretty brown ones with a very obvious bump on the neck.

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Found a nice little store for an after lunch Coke stop.   This lady had a well shaded spot, and cold cokes in the fridge.  She was very chatty, but the language barrier made it impossible to understand what we were chatting about.

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In the background, you can see my if-all-else-fails survival food: Choco-pies.  Quite addictive, actually!

Day39 Ben Sung to Dien Yen 125 k

Another amazing day of riding through Vietnam countryside, but I must be getting blaze about riding in Vietnam, because it seemed like just another day, except…
The light was lovely in the early morning, between 6:30 and 7:30

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Buffalo were grazing in the harvested rice paddies;

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Everyone was up and on the move;

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We rode up a very small road into the hills, where I saw bamboo houses that looked a lot like the houses I saw in the ethnographic museum.   I could not get a good shot of any of the stilt houses, because they were in the midst of trees, but here is one house on ground level by the road:

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Our road had been hard hit by the typhoon that went through here a few weeks ago; there were ruts in the tracks, and washouts aroung the bridges.   The riverbed nearby looked like the Highwood river after the flood; uprooted trees lying around the banks.  At least the goats were not deterred by the road conditions:

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Rode through a number of small villages, some busy repairing their road, others carrying on with normal business

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Arrived at our hotel around 1 pm, which is  a rather dilapidated affair by a long beach that is not particularly attractive, but it may have been more beautiful before the typhoon hit.

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Day 38 Ninh Binh to Ben Sung 128 km

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Lots of country roads today.  Some plantations, and some subsistence farming. Lots of pineapples.  Saw a buffalo pulling a plow and another pulling a harrow for first time.

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A mix of hills and big flat plateaux with irrigation.  This is a land of dikes, which offer an excellent base for narrow, flat roads with a good view.

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Lots of  towns and villages along the way, always entertaining to ride through, especially before and after lunch, when the kids are coming and going from school.  The towns get remarkably quiet at lunch time.  People are gathered around tables in their front rooms or in the shade outside, eating and chatting.

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Day 37 Hanoi to Ninh Binh 132 km

Left Hanoi early, riding on the top of a dike.  Great view of the neighbourhoods below, and very limited traffic.

We got fairly directly out onto back country roads; it felt like there had not been many western cyclists through those towns.  Very basic agriculture, lots of rice paddies and various other crops.  No machinery out in the fields, lots of market gardening going on in the available spaces.  Felt like a well populated rural area.
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Every little town along the way had a market, and we saw ducks, pigs and chickens being transported by motorbike and truck.  In one town, the butcher stalls had dog carcases on display, and I was surprised to find that my western food taboo sensibilities kicked in; I found it repulsive, even though rationally speaking pigs typically live dirtier lives, eat garbage, etc.
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It is corn harvesting season.  The corn cobs are allowed to dry on the stalk, then they are harvested, husked, and dried some more in the sun before the kernels are pulled off, and dried some more. 
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At one point, I was riding along with a group of students headed home for lunch, and we had to ride through a stretch of road where the thrown the husks all across the road to be driven over.  They were surprisingly light and fluffy, so easy to ride through.
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The second half of the ride went through areas with a mix of tall karsts and flat, irrigated plains.   Quite remarkable. 
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Just before reaching Ninh Binh, we passed by Hoa Lu, the 10th century capital of Vietnam, where some of the buildings and gardens have been restored.  Visited a couple of temples in beautiful gardens.  Very peaceful.  Lovely, low and wide buildings with curves in their roofs.  Lots of gold accents; much more luxurious than the temples in other communities. 
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Day 36 Hanoi

Our Hotel was in the French Quarter, which is a lively residential / retail area.
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Started the morning with a Cafe au Lait  and a couple of pastries in an imitation French bakery.  The nice dark chocolate on the pastry made up for the less inspiring baking. 

Took a taxi to visit the Ethnography Museum, which got good ratings in the guide book.  Was a very well done museum with a survey of all the current ethnic groups in Vietnam, a very positive and contemporary perspective on the various peoples, each in turn, with a nod to their history.  Many nice objects, some fantastic handicrafts, and good videos and stills of contemporary rituals. 
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Outside the main building there are traditional houses  rebuilt in  a park environment.  Some beautiful buildings, which visitors can walk/climb through, and other features, including a water puppet theatre.
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Watched some of the water puppet performances, which were charming.  Nice music, lots of action.  Kept adults and kids amused.
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There were also some women dancing what appeared to be traditional steps to recorded music.  One lady was clearly the leader/instructor, and the other women were working hard to keep in step.
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After lunch in a little stree-side restaurant which served the lovely “Bia Hoy”, which is very young, light, beer out served draught, a large number of us went on a city tour organized by Timmy.  First stop was a visit to the Hanoi prison, where VietCong had been held by the French, and American pilots were held by the Vietnamese.  A grim place, with lots of reminders of the cruelties of war, and a veneer of propaganda which is inevitable in a war museum.
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We were cheered up by going to the professional water puppet show, which was much more professional than the museum one, with  a substantial band, and ten puppet manipulators.  Again, a good show.
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We toured around old Hanoi on foot for a while, and then all got into individual pedi-cabs and toured some more, ending up at a restaurant for a nice dinner.
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Hanoi streets are amazingly busy at night, everybody is out and about, shopping, selling, eating, serving, and cruising about. Some couples get their wedding pictures taken outside the name brand stores in the fancy mall around the Hotel Metropole.
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Day 35 Ha Long Bay to Hanoi

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We followed a small shore road with low traffic to a ferry, which we all crossed at the same time.  Quite a simple barge with a tug tethered to its side, so that it could swing around and push the barge back and forth.
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Rode through a lot of flat agricultural country, and noticed cemeteries in the fields with substantial memorials.  Lots more of those throughout the countryside.
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Rice harvesting going on in this region; grain out drying and threshing machines at work.
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Also watermelon harvest; rode through one impromptu watermelon market on our road.
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Noticed a helmet innovation; a pigtail portal:
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Day 34 Touring Ha Long Bay

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Timmy, our Vietnamese guide/translator, organized a boat tour on Ha Long Bay for a group of us.

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It was a perfectly sunny day, and we chugged gently out of the harbour with dozens of other boats  in the morning.  This is not the busy season here, but lots of boats were on the move giving tours.

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Every boat has a dragon figurehead, connected to a legend about Ha Long Bay.

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We puttered out through some of the 2,000 karsts in the bay, towards the “Surprise Cave”, where we climbed half way up the hill to enter a limestone cave.  Very well organized; boats dropped us off at one dock, we followed a one-way path, leading through the cave and back to the pick up dock.  This was the largest grotto I have ever been in; the main chamber was as big as the interior of a cathedral, with lots of air, and a pleasant ambient temperature.

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At every point along the way, people had food or souvenirs for sale; not pushy, just available.  Most interesting where the fish and seafood vendors along the loading docks.

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We got into kayaks and paddled between the karsts for an hour.  Fun to get some exercise, but not much opportunity to see much more than we could see from the big boat.  That ride ended at a beach, where most of us tried out the swimming.  Not perfectly clear sea water, but a gentle, warm temperature.

Day 33 Cua Ong to Ha Long Bay 45 km

Although it was a very short hop to Ha Long Bay, we still started off at dawn, which is one hour earlier because Vietnam’s time zone is different than China’s.  (Apparently China is pretty much all one time zone, which is amazing for such a large country.)  Breakfast was at 5:30, and what a surprise; it was very much  a continental breakfast, offering crisp baguettes, butter, jam and some omlette, served with coffee and tea.  Presumably a left-over from the French period.  I was delighted.

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The road was busy, even at that time of the day, and the main highlight was the suspension bridge high over an inlet to a bay that has significant shipping activity.  

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Then we dropped down to the resort community of Ha Long Bay, where the primary activity is boat rides out among the karsts in the bay.  I have signed up for an all day trip tomorrow.

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Day 32 From Dongxing to Cua Ong 130km

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We rode en masse to the border, arriving as it opened, but we were not alone; there was lots of pedestrian traffic going through that border, albeit no vehicle traffic.  The majority of people there seemed to be regulars, who presented a passport or ID card, and were through there in seconds.   Not so fast for us; we had to carry all our gear and push our bikes, and each of our passports was carefully scrutinized.  No problems, just a time consuming exercise.

On the Vietnam side, things were different; much less small holder agricultural activity; it seems like a lot of former fields were falling into disuse.  The people are much more outgoing, both young and old.  Lots of people called out “hello” as we went by, and wanted to talk to us.  One thing that was the same; lots of kids riding to school.

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The houses are significantly different.  There is no one design that predominates.  Many of them  are much more colourful, and the newer, fancier houses have peaked roofs, or at least peaked facades.

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We also saw a few catholic churches in the villages.

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There are occasional advertising boards with traditional propaganidistic illustrations on them, which we did not see in China.

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A long ride, with a late start because of the delay at customs.  Just before lunch the thermometer on my bike was reading over 35 C.  We had a lovely coke break at a little store along the way.  This lady was very popular because she kept her drinks in a freezer turned down low.

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And, for readers in New Zealand, a picture of Jim crossing one of the rivers en route…

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Fortunately, over lunch some clouds moved in, moderatin the afternoon temperatures.  We rode through a mining area and past a coal-fired thermal plant under construction before reaching our destination, which turns out to be a small regional town with limited facilities.  No more fancy “business” hotels like we had in China; apparently the Vietnam hotels are going to be more basic.

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Day 31 Quinzhou to Dongxing 104 km

Last day of riding in China, and we got a mix of different roads; some busy highways and some single track rural roads.
The rural roads were a treat, as usual.   At one point, we had to wend our way through a small herd of water buffalo that was hanging out on the road.

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As usual for China, we ran into some road re-building, with the attendant rough cement, potholed gravel, and vehicles swerving all over to find the smoothest route.  That was part of the ride every day; road surfaces seem to break up pretty quickly, what with the overloaded gravel trucks roaring back and forth.  Seems like a not-so-virtuous-circle.

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We were down at sea level, in a delta area, and came across operations that were extracting the sand from the river bottom in a couple of places.  There would be a big barge stationed next to the shore with a huge pump sucking sand & water off the bottom of the river and depositing it on land.  From there, the sand would be scooped up by a big front end loader, dumped into a truck, and hauled off.

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The air was cleaner today, a much lighter haze than usual, which was a nice treat.  Temperature started out below 20, and went up to 34 by noon, when we arrived at the hotel.
Some streets have specially designed light standards; it seems to be one of the things where designers can be creative.  Today, we passsed the fanciest street lights yet; they resemble flying swans:

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