Friday, December 14, 2007

Central Vietnam

It's been wonderful cycling weather in Cambodia and Laos - the cool season is warm and dry with enough breeze to make it comfortable for long stretches in the saddle. All that changed as soon as I crossed into Vietnam which has only two seasons - summer monsoon and winter monsoon. My first full day in Vietnam comprised 11 hours cycling through drizzle and pouring rain. Memorable certainly. Some parts were even fun. I made a sorry sight standing in various hotel lobbies in Hué trying to find a room for the night.

There's a whole load of stuff to see in central, coastal Vietnam. Here are some highlights.

I interrupted some kids larking around riding water buffalo on the road between Hué and Da Nang. They didn't seem to mind.

I never discovered if this guy found anyone else to brush-joust with in Hué.

Ever wonder where Sir Giles Gilbert Scott got his inspiration from? Inside the citadel at Hué.

Self portrait on the long, winding pass between Hué and Da Nang.

And down the other side of the pass. I hoped this wasn't advance commentary on my downhill cycling.

This sprightly, cheerful old crone showed me around several shrines at the Marble Mountains. She was delightful.

This enormous cave in the Marble Mountains housed several shrines. It was deserted and amazingly atmospheric.

Hoi An is a beautiful place. Under a similar agreement to that which saved Oxford, Cambridge and Heidelberg during the Second World War, both sides spared Ho An in the American (Vietnam) War. It is a fabulously scenic place left just as it was in colonial times. There are few buildings more than 40 years old in the rest of Vietnam.

Hoi Anne harbour at sunset.

I decided to get my expedition beard shaved off and a haircut in Hoi An, since the cycling was coming to an end soon. Against my better judgment I was lured into this scarecut establishment by the silky, English phrases of the girls working there - "You! Haircut!" etc. A proper shave is usually a great value treat in developing countries, but this experience reinforced one of my traveling maxims - always get a dude to do the shaving. My nerve broke and I left this place still with half a moustache.

What's goin' on 'ear then? I've no eyed ear. Surgical earwax removal at a barbershop in Hoi An.

Cycling though the countryside is lovely, particularly on the quiet back roads. The paddy fields make a wonderful vista but rice cultivation never seems anything less than backbreaking, muddy work. There's little mechanisation to rice production in Vietnam.

Ca-phe Phin is the drink of choice for the long distance cyclist in Vietnam. Super-strength coffee is very slowly percolated onto condensed milk (see glass on the left). Ice (da) is added for a refreshing cold drink that gives you a double sugar and caffeine rush. Like Red Bull only tastier and prettier.

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