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Day 52– January 21st: Quang Ngai to Tan Thanh: 74.5kms
For the next couple of nights, I’ll be by myself as Sharyn is heading straight to Quy Nhon. We had managed to book a couple of places in advance, so I know they’ll take me.
I had hoped to avoid the highway today, but on close inspection, I found a bridge that was out of commission. There are so many river crossings along the Vietnamese coast. I cross at least six bridges every day, but this one meant I’d have to stick to the highway again for most of the day. Fortunately, there were a couple of 12km deviations through small towns that I could take that would break up the monotony and lower the stress levels!
Still, the highway today didn’t seem as busy today for some reason I’m not sure of. As I get further south now, the rice paddies are stretching all the way back to the foothills of the mountain ranges. It’s a pretty impressive sight. There were plenty of opportunities for the quintessential photo of the locals working in the fields, and the occasional sunny periods made it all so much more colorful.
When the sun did come out, it had a real bite to it. So, out came the sunscreen. This, I knew, was a turning point. The weather had changed, the landscapes had changed, and most importantly, my outlook had changed. I realized that over the last week, I was beginning to enjoy myself on the bike again. I had finally left the gloom behind. Call me a fair-weather cyclist if you like – I’ll wear that one any day!
Somewhere between paddy fields, I clocked up my 1000th kilometer today. That means I’m roughly halfway down the country, something of a milestone, I guess. I’m now eager to see what the southern Vietnamese coast has in store for me.
Happily, Tan Thanh is about 10 km off the highway, so after a few big hills, I got to leave it behind for the day. On the last of the big hills, where I got to exit the highway, I even passed a struggling truck as it slowly climbed to the top. My legs are so much stronger now, and one less thing to worry about.
The Hotel Lavender was set back in a village among a maze of small rice fields bordered by rows of coconut palms. It was an idyllic setting. I made my way down a small side road and then into a series of narrow, muddy lanes. Along the way, I stopped at a shop and bought some beers for tonight; I figured I’d celebrate my 1000th kilometer. Mounting my bike again, I managed to pick up four very friendly young schoolboys on their way home. Using their limited English, they were very curious as to where I was going, as this was no tourist area. When I told them the name of the hotel, they eagerly led the way through the maze. Having done their job, they obediently lined up for a group photo, another story to tell at school tomorrow.
For only 250K VND, the room at the Lavender was very smart and very new. The young girl there showed me a common area out the back adjacent to a rice paddy, and after a quick shower and a change into something dry and not so smelly, I took a couple of beers out there and relaxed with my diary.
Just up the road was a small restaurant, a mum-and-dad affair. The young mum was really surprised to see me, especially since I was the only one there. It was one of those local places without a menu; everyone knows what they have. Luckily for me, Mi Xao Bo (Stir fried noodles with beef) is cooked everywhere, so even though I’m a bit over it, it was a safe bet, and Mum seemed more relaxed than when I first walked in.
Day 53– January 22nd: Tan Thanh to Phu Cat: 70.5kms
They don’t do breakfast at The Lavender, so I got away by 8.30 am in search of a banh mi. Out through the maze of paddies, I rode, occasionally stopping to take a photo. It is certainly a picturesque place.
Finding the main street of the town, I quickly found a banh mi lady, deposited my sandwich in my handlebar bag, and headed back out to the highway. I figured I’d find some nice shady place on the side of the road to sit and eat it.
I was in a good mood. The sun was out again, blue skies devoid of clouds above me, and neon green rice paddies stretched out around me. Adding to that, I knew I only had about 15 km to ride on the highway today. I won’t be seeing it again until Quy Nhon.
At Mai Xuan Thuong, I turned east off the busy main street and rode through a noisy local market. I stopped and bought some oranges and bananas; the recent heat had left me craving fruit which was a good thing as I hadn’t eaten any for quite some time. As I said goodbye to the local fruit lady and a rather friendly security guard, the market was swamped with school children, the teenage type. Sporting their usual white shirts, and dark blue pants, and skirts, the kids were mostly on motorbikes with a friend on the back. They start riding motorbikes to school at a surprisingly young age here in Vietnam, especially out in rural districts like here.
I carefully navigated my way through all the school kids and out of town down the narrow but shady DT632. The road is no bigger than a standard laneway and is lined on both sides with coconut palms and various fruit trees. Being the first really warm day of the trip, the shade was really appreciated, and I was glad all three of my water bottles were full.
Being Friday, every little village I passed through had some kind of party going on involving the local menfolk. It was only mid-morning, but the guys were going hard at the beers and doing a lot of singing.
Almost at the coast, I turned south at My Tho, staying on the DT632. Somehow the shade suddenly disappeared, and my quest for something to eat for lunch was fruitless. The road itself had deteriorated as well, and there were huge mounds of rubbish piled up alongside it; some even covered half of it. Needless to say, out there now in the heat of the day, it really stunk!
Getting to the end of my water, I turned off the DT 632 onto the DT640 and headed to the DT639. It seems like everyone around here grows their own food as there were scant few shops and no markets along this road. I eventually turned a corner and found the turn-off for the Thanh Binh Motel, a small Nha Nghi with a very basic room for 200K VND. It did have a shower and a fan, though why there were so many young teenage girls around worried me. Would I get a good night’s sleep, or would it turn into a Karaoke Knock Shop later on? There wasn’t another accommodation within 30kms of here, though, so this has to be it.
After having a very cold shower, I blew up my air mattress, put it on the bed, and headed out to find something to eat. There were no restaurants here either. I settled for a couple of beers and two packets of chips, great sustenance for tomorrow. I went to bed early and hungry!
Read on to the next chapter of our 21/22 Vietnam Cycle Tour: Ride Like The Wind.