Have you followed this whole journey from the beginning? Follow this link to find all the episodes of our Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam Cycle Tour.
Day 50– January 19th: Hoi An to Tam Ky: 50kms
I got away just after 9 am, having enjoyed an earlier breakfast. Heading east out of Hoi An, I rode past Britt’s homestay and turned south onto the extremely long Cua Dai bridge. From there on, it was long, straight, and gloomy.
The road ran parallel to the coast, and the sandy soil was liberally sprinkled with hundreds of graves with elaborate tombstones. The only thing of note to break up the monotony was the surreal sight of the Vin Pearl Nam Hoi An Amusement Park, appearing like some stranded ghost ship out among the dunes.
At about the 40km mark, the road turned abruptly west for 3 or 4kms, then just as abruptly south once more till I was adjacent to Tam Ky. I rode over a couple of bigger bridges, and about 3kms out of town, I could see the imposing Muong Thanh Grand Hotel tower dwarfing everything else around it for miles.
Once again, I was forced to negotiate to keep the bike inside the hotel rather than leave it outside with the staff’s motorbikes in plain sight of everyone walking past. We eventually settled on leaving it behind the reception desk as there was a 24hr camera keeping watch there. The reception staff didn’t appear too receptive!
Sharyn and I then went for a late lunch of Dim Sum, and she managed to book the train to Quang Ngai for tomorrow.
As boring as today’s road was, it was pretty light on traffic, especially trucks and buses that tend to take the highway instead. So, overall, I was pretty happy to be away from all the noise and near misses.
Along the highway, all the towns have a concrete crash barrier that divides the main street along the middle of the road. While this has stopped numerous head-on collisions, it’s something of a nuisance for the locals wanting to cross the street from one side to the other on their bikes. This has presented them with a choice; ride down to the next intersection or ride down the wrong side of the road on the shoulder. Of course, this also presents problems for anyone wishing to use the shoulder going in the correct direction – like me, for instance!
This practice is really annoying! If I were ever to have an accident on the highway, it would be because I was nearly skittled by a motorbike flying down the road in the opposite direction, on the wrong side of the road, and pushing me out in front of a truck or bus. This happens to me about 20 or 30 times a day; no kidding!
While the shoulder on the highway is generally fairly wide, between 2 and 3 meters, it is commonly used for a variety of other things that it wasn’t designed for. To begin with, trucks, buses, and cars use it for an extra overtaking lane, as well as blocking it off when stopping for lunch or repairs. This forces you out onto the highway into fast-moving traffic, usually while still in town. It is also a handy extra working space for businesses, especially small manufacturing shops that love to weld steel structures on it and then spray paint them. Mixing concrete is also a favorite activity on the shoulder. Unfortunately, it is hardly ever cleaned up afterward, and the remaining extras are left to dry and go hard, creating some pretty vicious bumps that you can’t often avoid.
Having said all this, amazingly, the locals seem completely unfazed by any of it!
Seen more commonly out of the towns is the practice of drying grains, fish, and incense sticks, among other things, on the shoulder. The cars rushing past blow away the dried husks off the grain. Ingenious but inconvenient.
So, as you can see, I can’t take my ride lightly. My personal safety means staying aware at all times, meaning I can’t let my mind wander off for too long, which is a pity as it’s a nice part of cycling that separates you from the mundane and gives you a chance to think about things. I read the other day that Vietnam had 20 road fatalities a day in 2020; that’s 7,300 road deaths last year, an apparent improvement from previous years! Yes, I’m well aware of what I’m doing!
Day 51– January 20th: Tam Ky to Quang Ngai: 64.5kms
We got up at 7.30 am and took our time over the buffet breakfast. It wasn’t much to write home about (especially after the VinPearl in Ha Tinh), but it gave me some fuel for the longer day today.
Out on the highway, it was very busy today, and the sky was really hazy again. Mentally, I just needed to see the sun again. I didn’t care how hot it’d be. Once again, the shoulder was very busy with its reverse traffic.
The sides of the highway are now lined with vast rice paddies, much more mature and greener than I’d seen lately. Until now, the rice fields with their new plantings have looked a little sparse in color. Being warmer down here in the bottom half of Vietnam, the seasons are probably a little different from what I’ve been riding through up north.
Sharyn took the train today to Quang Ngai and was there before me again. I took four hours to cover the sixty-plus kilometers, averaging about 16km/hr. I find I don’t stop as much when I’m riding by myself. Not having anyone to talk to every thirty minutes or so, I tend to go further and have shorter stops. The larger service stations with their huge, open driveways are a great place to stop for me, especially now the sun has more bite to it. I can pull up next to their fuel pumps undercover and enjoy the shade while I rehydrate or eat a snack. Oddly enough, the service stations themselves have nothing to offer in the way of food or drinks.
On arrival at the Hotel Hung Vuong, I locked my bike in the stairwell in the basement garage, much to the amusement of the young security guard. After a shower and a short rest, we made our way up Phan Boi Chau to the Brewman Draft Beer Station, about a kilometer away. We had searched online for craft beer; this was the only place in town that allegedly had it. Gladly, this recently opened bar did have some craft beers, but we were driven outside by the ear-splitting boom-boom music that is so common in the local beer pubs here in Vietnam. On top of that, it was staffed by a really young girl who obviously had never drunk a beer in her life. Not having any English, she avoided us like the plague. So, after two beers and two long waits, we headed back to the hotel.
Where next? Read on: The Lonely Drifter.