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Day 18 – December 18th: Tam Coc to Thanh Hoa: 61 km.

I was up at 6.30 am feeling a little apprehensive. I’d only ever ridden without Sharyn once before, and that felt weird. How fast would I go? How often would I stop? What would I eat? There were a lot of unknowns. But there was a part of me that was also excited and happy to be out there on the road again.

The day hadn’t started well. It was cold, windy, and spitting rain. I had chosen to ignore the RidewithGPS route; it wandered all over the place, adding about 25 km and about two hours extra to the ride. I decided to ride out to Highway 1a, a much more direct option. Besides, it had rained overnight, and the dirt roads through the empty rice paddies would be a mud bath for me and the bike. I knew the 1a had a decent shoulder; I just had to get used to the trucks and buses screaming past me and blowing their horns incessantly.

I rode out of Tam Coc on a smaller, quieter road for about 10 km until it hit the highway. Almost immediately, I was hit with a barrage of sounds. Now I knew I’d have to be alert 100% of the time. It wasn’t just the trucks and buses; there were lots of motorbikes coming down my shoulder in the opposite direction, forcing me out onto the road and closer to the traffic.

I got off the highway for a while and passed some nice ornamental masonry.

Lots of things blocked the shoulder; it was frustrating and dangerous at times. People would park cars on it instead of the footpath. People would be mixing concrete or welding on it. It was certainly a multi-purpose space, and the sooner I got used to it, the better.

This particular piece, with a marine theme, caught my eye. It was almost 2m high.

I hadn’t given up on RidewithGPS altogether. I thought I could use it to mix things up a bit and to short-cut the highway in places. I’m not sure, though, what they based their maps on or just how old they were. I was sent down the wrong road twice. At one stage, I had to cross a railway line with a barrier fence as the left-hand turn that was supposed to be there didn’t exist. Piece by piece, I had to unpack the bike and carry everything across the tracks and up and over the fence. It only took about 15 minutes, but I expended a fair bit of energy in the process.

One of the villages I rode through while I was off the highway. Check out the church!

I also had a hard time trying to find food for lunch. Everything seemed to be on the other side of the road. It took me until 10 km from Thanh Hoa before I found a Pho shop. I leaned the bike up against their wall and ordered some Pho Bo (beef noodle soup). I was pretty hungry by now and a little tired, so I took my time and rested. I had dried out but was wet under my many layers of clothes. After about 30 minutes, I began to get cold, so I paid the lady and headed off again.

Using Google Maps, I crossed a big bridge into Thanh Hoa and got off the highway. Cycling through town, I easily found our accommodation for the night, the Hotel (Nha Nghi) Villa (250,000VND). The young guy at the tiny reception desk let me chain my bike to the window behind a long, dark curtain, out of sight. It was only 1.25 pm, a full hour before Sharyn arrived after having her bandage changed and her wound checked to see if it was healing properly. Thankfully, all was fine, and she’d then caught a VIP van to drop her off directly at our hotel in Thanh Hoa.

We both had had a busy day, so we rested for a couple of hours before heading out to find dinner. First of all, we needed to find some plastic cling wrap so that Sharyn could cover her wound and bandage in the shower. With her arm in a sling, she had limited movement. Even worse, it was her right arm that was broken, and some of the simplest things she took for granted (like combing her hair and using chopstix) were now major hurdles. As independent as she is, she would need me to help her with a lot of things for a while yet, and this would frustrate her; I know her well.

Once we found the cling wrap, we then found a nice restaurant cooking indigenous food for dinner. It was warm enough to sit outside in their front garden area. Much to our surprise, Thanh Hoa has its own beer. It was a lager, of course, but it was pretty good. Being Friday night, the place was abuzz with locals who looked at us with interest.

Dinner in Thanh Hoa. Very tasty!
Sharyn showing some great survival skills!
Some survival skills of my own!!!

Thanh Hoa is much bigger than I imagined, and the area we are in is very nice, with tree-lined streets, lots of eating choices, and a colorful nightlife.

Continue reading to find out how the journey progressed: Christ In the Countryside.