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Day 22 – December 22nd: Vinh to Ha Tinh: 52 km.
I got away at 9.15 am, crossing over a long bridge after a nice downhill run down the main street out of town. Once again, Vinh has a ring road for trucks and long-haul buses, which joins up with the highway out of town.
Once over the bridge, I took a sharp turn left and headed to the coast on a somewhat shitty road. It wasn’t long, though, and I turned south, and the road got much better.
Once again, it was under gloomy skies that I rode. All along the road, the many villages hugged the roadside, giving the impression of one long town, but in fact, there’s just a single line of houses and shops that stand between the road and the rice fields.
As I turned off the road and headed towards the coast, I rounded an inlet where the fishing boats had been unloading their catch. Women sat scattered everywhere, pulling fish from the nets and putting them in large bowls full of water to sell to passers-by. There were no shops or houses in this area; people just had to know when the boats came in to get the freshest fish. I took some film and a few photos, not bothering to get off my bike. One guy insisted that I buy a bag full of fish, but I fended him off, pretending I didn’t understand him. What was I going to do with them? It was plain to see I was cycling. I could sense that a few of them didn’t want to be filmed, so I put the phone down and headed off rather than make a scene.
The road turned away from the coast and climbed over a large sand dune. As I approached the climb, I was passed by a motorbike carrying a cage full of live dogs. It probably had a dozen dogs crammed in there, all looking very sorry for themselves. Eating dog meat is common up here in the north, even though the government is trying to faze it out. They also eat cats here. I’ve seen those cages as well. I guess some traditions die slowly.
After a brief stop for drinks, I wove my way through some small villages again, stopping to get some photos of incense sticks drying on the footpath. The road into Ha Tinh proved shitty again, and I was glad to turn onto a huge, multi-lane boulevard that led up into the center of town and the Vinpearl, where we would be staying for the next four nights. The Vinpearl is a five-star place, and we’ve chosen it to spend my 60th birthday as well as Christmas. Thankfully, during COVID, they were selling rooms at 2-star prices. I was looking forward to the comfortable bed and the two dozen bottles of craft beer that Sharyn had ordered down from Hanoi.
Sharyn was waiting for me at the front foyer of the Vinpearl with one of the staff. This time I got to take my bike inside the hotel and store it safely in the concierge’s office. A big tick for the hotel right there. This place felt like the real deal right from the start. All the staff greeted us with big, welcoming smiles, and the place looked well looked after.
We were shown to a corner room on the 34th floor, and one of the staff brought up my panniers for me. The room was really nice and had a great view out over the city all the way to the coast (which was fogged out right now). Most importantly, the king-size bed was extremely comfortable. I was tired but very happy.
Much to my surprise, Sharyn had organized a carton of craft beer from Hanoi to be delivered for my birthday, which is tomorrow. As she’d arrived earlier, there were a few cold ones in the fridge which we soon took advantage of.
After a shower (also with a view), and a small rest, it was time to check out the Skybar on the top floor. No craft beers up there, though, so we relaxed with a couple of lagers, then retired for an early night and a pizza in the room.
Day 23 – 25 – December 23rd to 25th: Ha Tinh.
We awoke again to thick fog that totally obscured our view. It was my birthday, my 60th, so first things first – ring Mum. Mum’s 90; she doesn’t ring us; we ring her. Which is fair enough.
One of the advantages of so much travel over the years is the number of friends we have accumulated around the world. This means I get to spend most of my birthday each year answering messages from all corners of the globe. Something I’m more than happy to do.
Unbeknownst to me, Sharyn had put the word out that I’d be available for video calls on Zoom. So, from midday to almost midnight, I spent chatting with people face-to-face that I hadn’t seen for a while. It was great to think that they’d made time to connect, and I felt suitably humbled by it all.
In the evening, we headed to the Skybar once more. Much to my surprise, the staff (all six of them) presented me with a personally monogrammed cake and sang me “Happy Birthday” in perfect English. I don’t usually make much fuss when it comes to my birthday, so this was certainly one to remember.
Christmas Eve was spent walking around the nearby city, trying to find things. I really needed another pair of long pants as I only had one, and I was riding in them each day as it was so cold. But try as I might, finding a pair to fit me was almost impossible.
What I did manage to find was a handlebar mount for my phone. Having to stop all the time and take my phone out of my handlebar bag was proving very annoying. This would allow me to have it up and visible at any time and not have to stop so much.
Christmas day was shrouded in a thick fog once more. After breakfast, we called our mums and wished them a happy Xmas. It was a quiet day with little else on our agenda other than picking up our washing, cleaning, and checking the bike in readiness to leave again tomorrow.
In the evening, we headed up to the Skybar again. After a very somber day, we were fortunate to meet a group of fellow English teachers, mostly from Britain. They were staying at the hotel overnight as a special Xmas treat to themselves. We chatted a lot about teaching and traveling, of course, as most of them were new. Only one of them, Fran, had been here for one year. I couldn’t imagine settling in here as there was so little to do in your spare time. I think a lot of them will have plans to move to Hanoi or Saigon in the near future, especially as we talked about all the cool things we can do down there.
I’ll be glad to see the back of the Xmas season, though. It’ll mean an end to the monotonous sound of annoying Xmas carols playing on an endless loop if I have to hear “Jingle Bells” one more time, I’ll explode!
Check out the next episode: Sent Off In Style