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Day 32– January 1st: Dong Hoi to Vinh Linh: 66.5kms
It had rained all night and was still going when I left at 9.00 am. I hate riding in the rain almost as much as I hate tunnels; once you get wet, you get cold, then you get sick. I had stayed in Dong Hoi a day longer than planned and had no idea when the rain would let up, so it was today or never. Not the best start to a New Year for me!
Just south of town, there’s an alternative, parallel road that I’d planned to take to keep me off the highway. When I reached the turnoff, I could see that every single truck on the road in front of me was using it, and I could see several coming from the opposite direction. I pulled over for a while and watched. There were definitely fewer big vehicles on the highway, so I pedaled on, leaving the trucks to take the other route.
By the time I reached the intersection where the alternative route converged with the highway, it was lunchtime. I’ve found that riding during lunchtime means far less traffic as everyone, including truck drivers, stops for lunch.
I had managed to stay reasonably warm and dry under a light plastic poncho I had bought back in Hanoi. All the locals have one of these under their motorbike seats in case of rain. I was still wet from sweat, though, but my legs and shoes had avoided being soaked. That was until a truck decided to do a risky overtaking maneuver coming in the opposite direction. I had to hold my nerve as it swung out wide, looking like it was going to crash into me head-on, but just as it pulled back to avoid me, it plowed through a large puddle on the road beside me, dousing me completely. The force of the water hitting me almost knocked me off the bike, and it was all I could do to remain upright. Some choice words were screamed as I pulled over to rinse myself off. I was now saturated. I did, however, have a small towel that I used to pat most of the dripping water off.
I arrived in the small town of Vinh Linh, cold and wet and looking for a hot shower. Sharyn had gone onto Hue, which meant I had a few days on the road by myself. I found a Nha Nghi (small homestay) with good reviews on Google Maps that had taken in cyclists before and had small, lockable sheds to put your bikes in. The reviewers were mainly motorcyclists, but I figured the sheds would do the same trick.
I rode up the hill and entered the yard of the Nha Nghi Dream to the welcoming sounds of a barking dog. It was still raining. As I rested my bike against the house, an old couple came out of a ground-floor room. They both looked like they had seen a ghost, the woman hiding behind the man and holding firmly onto his arm. I quickly realized they were worried about Covid and hastily went about explaining in my less-than-competent Vietnamese that I have lived in Vietnam for ten years and was a teacher.
I asked the man how much for a room and paid him the 200,000 VND he requested. Keeping his distance, he motioned for me to take a room upstairs (bugger!) and gave me a key with a room number on it. I was so relieved. I was dripping wet by now and had no idea if there was anywhere else I could stay or even if they’d take me.
The woman had gone back inside, but her husband had stayed at the door to watch me unload. Just then, two young guys on a motorbike arrived and asked me what I wanted. One of them spoke a bit of English. It was the old couple’s grandson, and he was most amused at what had transpired. At least now, he could assure his grandparents that I didn’t have Covid. The last thing I wanted was for the Police to come around in the middle of the night to kick me out and make me pay a “fine.”
The room was mostly clean but very basic and cold. The smell of mold made me feel even colder. I stripped off my wet clothes and checked out the shower. There was a spurt of warm water for a minute; that would have to do. I hastily dried myself with the tiny towel provided and put some dry clothes on. The bed was typically hard as a rock, so I got out my camping mattress and put it on top. I spread my wet clothes out on the bed, hoping they would dry off a bit before tomorrow. Otherwise, I’d have to put wet clothes back on in the cold morning air. It was a miserable thought.
I now needed food. So I walked down the street 100m and found a big, open-fronted restaurant (Nha Hang) and took a seat. It was busy, which was a good sign, and I had got the attention of just about everyone there. Feeling a little self-conscious, I called to the waiter for a menu. It was entirely in Vietnamese, and everyone watched to see if I could understand it. The truth is I couldn’t understand most of it, but there was the traditional fallback, My Xao Bo (beef noodles with some veggies). I would have preferred something else, to be honest, but I was happy to have something hot in my stomach.
Back in the room, I put my wet clothes under my camping mattress, hoping my body warmth would dry them out a bit, and hopped into bed, fully clothed. It was 8.00 pm.
Read on to see what happened next: Hot Showers and Hairdryers in Hai Lang.