Day 6 – December 6th: Hanoi to Phu Ly: 74 km.
Finally, it was D-Day, Departure Day! We got away at 7.30 am. RidewithGPS had plotted a route south through the city that was allegedly bicycle-friendly. The weather in the last couple of days had gotten colder, and we were wearing most of what we had for the cold, including our thermal underwear.
The traffic was heavier than we’d hoped, but we had grown accustomed to it in our time spent here recently and now knew what to expect. I had marked our route on Google Maps as well as having the RidewithGPS route on my phone. We rode southeast along tree-lined roads that were beginning to build up with traffic. Our route took us toward Hanoi’s Red River and along a narrow canal to the outskirts of the city. We turned off the busy Kim Nguu Road and into Yen Duyen, a quiet laneway that led us under the southern freeway and into rural fields. We rode along an elevated levee bank between fields of fruit and vegetables; this was the food basket of Hanoi for sure.
We stopped and took pictures of the well-irrigated vegetable crops as the tall city buildings fell away behind us. It was an abrupt end to the chaos of Hanoi and a welcome introduction to Vietnam’s countryside. Ambling along, we enjoyed the change of pace and admired the healthy-looking crops stretching out on both sides of us.
At the tiny hamlet of Yen My, we stopped for breakfast at a small roadside Pho place. The locals seemed very surprised to see us but keen for our patronage. They showed us where to park our bikes, assuring us they were safe, and sat us down at a small table in the shade. The fact that we could order in Vietnamese not only caught them by surprise but only delighted them more. We were soon trotting out as many Vietnamese words and phrases as we could, each one earning their praise and amusement.
The young girl serving us indicated she wanted a picture with Sharyn. Out came a mirror and brush, and she carefully began preening herself. There’d be no photo till she was just perfect! She’d have something to talk about tonight!
Up this far north, the rice paddies have already been harvested, leaving only muddy, sodden fields till they start planting again. Being so close to the river, there is water stored everywhere. It’s not just for irrigation, either. Each house has its own pond full of fish and is surrounded by hundreds of ducks and geese. Wallowing in the water-covered rice paddies are the ubiquitous water buffalos, the workhorse of Vietnam and a necessity for the many people who can’t afford a tractor.
From Yen My, our route took us up onto the Red River embankment, a flood control measure that gave us an elevated vantage point over the surrounding countryside. On our left as we headed south was the wide, brown Red River, and on our right was the patchwork of fields semi-immersed in water. The road was fine for about an hour until we hit roadworks. After maneuvering around a working excavator and a couple of tip trucks, we found ourselves on a rough dirt track, the remains of what used to be the road. Cycling soon became hard, dusty work, and our progress had slowed notably. As chief navigator, I soon made an executive decision to head to the other side of the highway to another main road that ran alongside the main railway tracks.
We had come over to the QL1A, a major road heading south. Now we were well and truly in amongst the trucks, buses, dust, and horns. Up against the guard rail alongside the railway tracks, there was little we could do but keep cycling. We were now pretty hungry too, but there was very little available on the other side of the road, and it took us some time before we found a small noodle shop for a late lunch.
We cycled about 15 km in total on the highway before we could get off it and onto a smaller embankment road again. A missed turn took us a couple of kilometers out of our way before I realized my mistake. We were both pretty tired now, and I was angry with myself for not seeing the turn.
The embankment road was narrow, without hardly any traffic at all. It followed alongside a small canal for about 12 km, and I found it a bit monotonous, probably because I was tired and looking forward to a bed to collapse on. Just before we reached the bridge to cross back over and into Phu Ly, we finally found a small shop where we could buy a cold drink. Our water bottles were hot by now, and we were longing for something cold to quench our thirst.
Crossing the bridge, we now found ourselves back on the highway for about a kilometer before hitting the town. We hadn’t arranged any accommodation yet, so we stopped at a cafe across from a park and did some research. We chose one just up the road; the Hotel Inco 515.9. It was nice, but they wouldn’t let us take our bikes up to the room. Not happy. I had to secure the bikes to some railings in the underground carpark and hope the security guards didn’t nod off overnight.
Fortunately for us, the hotel had a restaurant and bar. We weren’t in any shape to go walking all over town looking for a beer and something to eat. 74kms on the first day was a big ask. We were happy to have managed it, but tomorrow will tell if we’ve overdone it too soon. Cycle touring is all about being able to back up day after day, and it’ll be at least three weeks before we “find” our legs.
Read on to see what happens next: A Karst of Thousands – Phu Ly to Tam Coc.