Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Phase 3 Vietnam to ?

Week 11 Ban Na Song to Hanoi 94kms cycled

Highlights: Womens tights, wooly hats, gloves, fleece lined trousers
Low blows: 7 degrees and no sun
Music of the week: It began in Africa – The Chemical Brothers

Ban Na Song to Dien Bien Phu  62km
Pretty flat 10km to start following river, a nice village over suspension bridge to right, then started to go up. A lot of custard powder dust on road, luckily hardly any traffic, but strangely enough as soon as Id taken off my bandana I was wearing for dust and glasses then vehicles magically appeared. This section of road under fresh construction. Theyd already widened the road but were still in process of scratching away at the cliff faces, putting in drains, support walls on corners and getting rubble for building – blokes up on cliff with crow bars knocking down huge rocks and me having to time my passing to avoid being hit by the falling boulders.
 Most of workers saying hello as I slogged past. Ok going for 10kms but last 7 kms up to check point a real slog as steep. The magnificent scenery Id been wanting to see was unfortunately obscured by mist / low cloud, in fact whole sky overcast and spitting a bit, also increasingly colder as nearing the border control on top of hill. Pretty sad too that this quaint track of a road is now a bulldozed rape of the landscape. Im sure the greenery will quickly return though and it should be a lovely route again in a few years time.
Turned out to be only 27km to Laos border and checkpoint seemed deserted, but as I wandered around people appeared. One off duty guy said I had to move my bicycle which I propped on railings, even though there was no one around. Suppose people on such a hardship posting need to boost their ego’s by being authoratitive – jolly good. Another bloke in uniform looking over my dusty clothes and muddy legs and feet – yes apologies for not wearing black tie and cummerbund. Waited for usual bumbling to finish and got my passport back. Went over and had a hot tea and sat round a fire with some girls who ran a beer shop and the bloke who’d just stamped me out of Laos. He said weather wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The final frontier! Looking back at the Laos borderpost shrouded in mist

Set off over no mans land, washing myself down in a stream by the road before  arriving at where the Vietnamese border post used to be. Approached a building with military people in it and some dogs rushed out barking so waited at gate to be told it was now a few kms down the hill. Set off down the tarmaced road to the new customs building. Wandered about in there and was soon spotted and ushered to a room. Formalities over after a comment on my shorts and put another jumper on as bloody cold.
Pretty much down hill for next 20kms, would’ve been beautiful scenery if it hadn’t been so cloudy and dull. Noticed there are a lot more birds on the Viet side. Road went through a quarry, they seemed to be nibbling away at every hillside around rather than get stuck in to just one. Trucks heading fully laden from here along the narrow road Im on kicking up dust, blaring horns and being annoying, passing really close. Headed downhill then onto large plain past a cement factory. Road getting busted up, past a huge field full of water buffalo next to river, and soon going along a wide valley with wet rice paddies on either side. All Thai Dam villages on the way down and along start of the plain, some pretty wooden houses almost in Lanna style. Only left 15kms to DBP, traffic increasing and trucks just blasting through middle with horns blaring. Lots of school kids riding bicycles with white tracksuit uniforms on.
First bit of flat land after the mtns. Lots of water buffalo and every inch of land in production 

Got into town by 2ish and eventually found a place to eat. My lunch which was only a plate of veg and some chicken came to a whopping 80000 (£1=30000) so bloody expensive. Headed down to bus station to look for accommodation and got a room for only 100000 dong so that’s cheap enough, Showered then went in search of tracksuit bottoms, looked at a few places basically will cost a tenner for good pair so will decide and buy tomorrow. Decided to follow Lonely Planets map and look for beer hoi places, but the person who made the map mustve lost their guide dog cos it was useless. Started drizzling, which turned to rain as I sat in a resto near gh chatting with Vietnamese bloke and using his computer to translate – very handy. Nice people in that place. Had a bottle of bia hoi as no one around here sold it from the keg – tasted weird, yeasty and tinny and pretty foul but only 15000 a litre. Its 10 degrees and raining here, not what I had anticipated at all, really don’t like the cold.

Dien Bien Phu
Bed too hard so kept having to rotate as aching body and its also only just long enough and on a tilt so kept sliding down to the end. Apart from that slept well. Heavy rain all night and awoke not to the crowing of cockerels, but to the guy next door hawking his lungs up and gobbing into the courtyard below. Lovely. This went on for a long while. Why they just don’t have a lie in instead of milling about like spare parts I don’t know. I stayed in the warmth of the quilt – warm quilts too thank god!
Eventually quit my nest, had a quick shower due to hot water getting cooler and eventually running out and ate foe over the road. Still bloody cold. Had a look at several gh’s and moved to a quieter one away from the bus station area or a junction – Vietnamese just blast their horn and drive through, the bigger vehicle having priority. New room is 150k but has fast wifi and a very good hot hot shower. Discovered Facebook is banned in Vietnam, but soon figured a way around it. Also looked for weather reports in the hope this overcast damp freezing weather will lift. Seriously considering heading south.
Wandered in market and eventually found some tracksuit bottoms that fitted and were of right material and quality. Price started at 400k but bought in the end for 250k. This haggling with ridiculous amounts really is annoying, they also get shitty with you when you walk away, which I did several times because the starting price was ridiculous and couldn’t even be arsed to entertain them. Started to get a headache, which subsided once Id got my wooley hat on.
Had a cycle round once the drizzle/rain had stopped and went to look at the French marines bunker. 5000Dong entry – A concrete bunker basically, must be awful (understatement) to be stuck in one of these things having the crap shelled out of you. Had a cycle up and down the lanes, this town is basically built along the main roads and only 2 streets back are rice paddies, so feels bigger than it actually is. Had a coffee for 17000Dong (60p). Ate food in a local place, beans and pork with fragrant rice, having a few tots of rice whiskey as a digestive and warmer upper. There’s a plastic water bottle full of the stuff on each table. Then cycled round to a bia hoi place and drunk several beers, while sat in 2 jumpers, jacket and woolly hat. Locals all look absolutely freezing, but only saw 2 people all day wearing a woolly hat, or any other type of hat. Big glass of beer is only 5000 (15p), and pleased to discover this keg beer tastes really good, god knows what was in that stuff yesterday. At night everyone brings in their Vietnamese flag which they hang outside their home on a crooked end pole in the street.
Trying to keep warm at an old gun emplacement near Le Bunker

Dien Bien Phu
Cold cold cold. Drank Beer. Good steak and chips for tea. Raining again. Went in search of some thin leg protection and ended up buying 3 pairs of tights (bit like legins), much to amusement/bemusement of locals. Had a potter round market. People trying to sell me a jacket, despite the fact that Im wearing a brand new jacket, although two jackets would be warmer! Shivering cat in a cage in animal section of market, possibly for eating as with ducks, chickens etc. Weather supposed to be picking up tomorrow so will head toward Sapa.
Dien Bien Phu and back again  30km

Decided to stop being a wuss and set off towards Sapa sporting tights, hat and warm clothing on top. Bloody freezing. After 10kms, started to go up, stripped down to tshirt and still sweaty. 3kms later a downhill stretch. All clothes back on, very cold. Cant see much due to low cloud/mist, its very cold, more so now due to wet skin. Stopped and decided I wasn’t enjoying this and would be pointless to plod on in misery so back to DBP. Nice long downhill  back to gh. for a steaming hot thaw in the shower. Really nice Thai Dam houses, valley bottom all paddied out. People working in fields up to their knees in water and looking cold. Everyone looking cold. It is cold. Went and drank beer in afternoon and plotted my course. Decided to go to Hanoi and get train to South Vietnam and into delta area.

Thai Dam village near Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu to Hanoi by bus
Got to bus station at 5:30am. Loaded bike into back of small bus and left at 6. Cost 300000. Rice sacks under seats so moved a few of those so I can at least stretch my legs out. Bus not crowded at all and crawled along till we got to the out skirts of town then sped up. Very cold morning and a lot of mist. Some beautiful scenery along the way, karsk mtns silhouetted in the mist, went up a big mtn and got above the cloud layer, tops of hills poking out, then down into a valley full of mango trees and a candyfloss wisps of mist across the whole valley. Bus picked up people including one bloke who livened things up by taking it in turns to sing with an old woman. Mostly Thai Dam people and houses all the way, school kids in some areas in traditional embroidered gowns. Lots of kilns and brick works, and also a small type of sugar cane too. Police checkpoint at one place along the way, police searching some (young) people on board. 2 over turned trucks at different places, and at one point the fog was really thick and there was about 10 western cyclists slogging it up a huge hill, really dangerous too cos visibility 10 meters  and very busy road. Cycling holiday probably.
Hit massive traffic along shitty small road 30kms out of Hanoi, eventually opened up into wide avenues rammed with traffic and no control or direction going on at all – the roundabouts were ridiculous. Tired at this point and wanted to get off. Turns out theres a new bus station10kms out of town and I had no idea where it was either. Got directions from driver, then a mototaxi bloke then just asked everyone every so often the way to Hoah Kiem lake. Wasn’t too bad getting there, slow but steady although had splitting headache from stiff neck. Saw a guy on rollerblades and thought he must know for sure where he was going. I thought anyone doing that had to be Japanese, but turned out to be a Chinese guy and he was lost too. I asked again in a shop and was only 2 blocks from lake. Knew my way from there and soon found a place to stay even though it was 7:30. Luckily 1st try was ok, $15 inc bf. Had a shower then went to eat Pho and had a few bia hois with a couple from Finland.

Above the mist once in a while on high mountains

Cheerful Thai Dam ladies seeing their friend off at the bus station

Cycled down to train station to inquire about booking myself and bike onto train. Went in and all staff pointing around corner and getting hot and bothered. I wanted to establish what train Id be on and if I could take my bike on it, but they just wanted me to put bike into cargo section. Nobody at all working there speaks any English, no info desk or anything and nobody gives a monkeys about you either. A young girl who was sending her motorbike to Hue eventually helped me out. If I send bike in cargo it would be in HCM on Thursday. Didn’t have much confidence in it arriving in one piece so went to look at flights. Woman at hotel checked with station master and theres only one passenger train which cargo goes on and that’s a seat only train; sod sitting down for 2 days! Booked a plane ticket after locating a bike shop where I can get a box from. Had a wander round the old town at night, streets here so busy with traffic and you have to walk in road cos pavements used for motorbike parking. Could it be considered vibrant or just insanely busy and noisy?

Hanoi contd
Walked and cycled around the city, the markets interesting as always.Got lightly run over by an old man and buffed about by 3 different motorbikes carrying huge boxes/sacks/stacks of stuff around the market area. Had bike spray cleaned and picked up bike box in afternoon. I looked like a tramp who’d been in the bins walking back to hotel, with a folded up piece of cardboard under one arm and a see through plastic bag full of old cardboard and packaging material. Got some funny looks. Decided was gonna have dinner then a few beers and an early night, but ended up bumping into bloke from last night and some more of his local mates so stayed out drinking again. Tsk Tsk. Amusing to pee in a smelly toilet over the road where an old man keeps sentry over it from his doorway and tries to overcharge all the foreigners who use it. Must be doing well from it cos he’s got a huge flat screen tv on the wall inside his home.

Selling strawberries next to busy road

Lots of shiny things ready for the upcoming new year

Streetside traders

Streetside trader

Special fruit used as a shrine offering at new year

A stall on sweet street

Bloke takes a hit of tobacco in bamboo bong. Smoke it up Brap! 

Weasel coffee, strong aroma, bitter chocolate flavour, soft in texture..hang on a minute this isnt a coffee bean! 

Bridge over Hoan Kiem Lake

Traditional gift for new year being transported in the traditional manner

Always good to eat some tasty fanny now and then. (Ice Cream shop)

Great name for a bank

 Functioning chaos at a junction in Hanoi's old quarter

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