Another town, another hotel, another camera.
One of the problems with being constantly on the move is making sure that you don't leave anything behind. A routine develops fairly quickly whereby everything is checked and double checked before leaving your temporary home each morning. Keeping account of where everything is becomes a lot easier once this routine has become internalised. The old saying "a place for everything and everything in its place" holds especially true when you don't have much space to keep everything in. It becomes apparent very quickly if something is not in its place once you start packing. Unfortunately some things get left behind in places other than your hotel between unpacking and repacking. So it was with my camera. Leaving it in the cable car pod was a costly mistake, but one which I quickly resolved once I reached Na Trang thanks to my old friend Mr Visa.
Vietnam, once divided into North and South by an agreement at the Potsdam conference at the end of the second world war between Russia, the US and the UK, has long since been rejoined politically thanks to 'Uncle Ho'. A new division is evident here though between places that attract tourists and those that remain local. The tourists require a lure to attract them and one way to do this is to play on the historical aspect whether it be ancient monuments, the American war with its roadside cemeteries, networks of tunnels and museums or the years of French rule with its architecture. Hoi An is definitely a place where French architecture is prevalent. During my time in Da Lat I spent half a day just riding around the city looking at many of the villas and other buildings that were left behind when the French left. Sometimes they were not so easy to find as communist planning didn't take into account the future prospect of tourism. Many villas seen in photographs from the 50s' lining the hillside overlooking the lake are now hidden behind gruesome buildings made of slabs of featureless functional concrete. In comparison Hoi An seems to have escaped the communist builders and retains a lot of its French influence.
Na Trang on the other hand has its beach but that seems about all. It's a long beach and very good too but there doesn't appear to be many people using it except in the evenings when families and couples walk upon it or in the early morning when groups of older ladies practice Tai Chi. There are some very wide boulevards and some very narrow backstreets. For me it was a place to go diving. After checking out a few dive centres I booked onto a boat for the next day with a promise that 'everything will be okay'. I had heard this too many times in the previous hour to be convinced by it though. When asked to see the equipment that I would use the phrase "Don't worry, it's okay" became the mantra of the dive shop staff. It was only when I met an American Assistant Instructor at one of the dive shops that I had any questions answered. The option of Nitrox instead of air was also good as I had planned to do three dives. Nitrox is a blend with a (usually) higher percentage of oxygen and therefore less nitrogen, allowing longer bottom times but also less tiredness post dive. The latter is especially beneficial when doing multiple dives with short surface intervals which our plan entailed. When reaching the boat in the morning I was told that only two nitrox cyclinders were on board so the first dive would be on air. Not a huge problem and thankfully the only surprise of the day. The diving was easy, colourful and well guided with snacks and lunch included (while back on the boat, just in case you were wondering) and the boat large enough to sit in the water without being affected by the swell, thankfully saving me from feeling seasick during the surface intervals.
Heading north up the coast the next day I made good progress with a tail wind along the mostly flat highway 1. Long stretches of road lined with small industries, bars, restaurants and rice fields proved to be particularly uninspiring, although there were occasional highlights to keep my attention. I just wish I was able to get my camera out quicker when passed by some of the most bizarrely laden scooters. Many of the scooter riders slow down to take a look before speeding up again only gaining the courage to call out "hello" once they are almost out of earshot. Many times I say hello to them first which almost always brings a smile to their faces, especially the kids coming out of school. When passing groups of these school kids heading the other way I see many of them pointing at me and telling their mates, making those heading my way but in front of me turn their heads to see what they are pointing at. Despite the fact that many of them nearly crash by doing this it's also quite funny seeing the expressions on their faces. The shock of seeing a westerner is almost too much for many. Last night I walked into a supermarket and people were staring and actually following me for short distances in order to get a good look. At one point I decided to follow some of them to see what they did which luckily always ended in laughter from everyone involved as well as those watching from the sidelines.
In one of the many nameless towns which I passed through I was beckoned over to join a group of party goers under a canopy while looking for somewhere to eat. At first declining the offer I was besieged by a number of the men who had been drinking and were insistent upon me joining them for some food and drink. Not wanting to appear rude, and being hungry and thirsty, it didn't take too much for them to persuade me. They were all family members that had gathered for a religious celebration of some sorts and took it in turns to make toasts. Although the glasses were small and the ice cube was large they insisted that every toast ended with an empty glass. Not being a drinker I tried to sip instead of gulp but after a few goes at this I was being urged to down it all. Needless to say I had to leave as soon as the party began to show signs of coming to an end to save myself from falling off the bike when I resumed riding. Later in the day I met a Vietnamese who had been working in Australia for five years and we struck up a conversation while I bought some drinks. He was so pleased to meet an English speaker that he also insisted on buying my drinks and then a packet of biscuits too.
Just before reaching Hoi An I met my first touring cyclists since being in Vietnam. The first Chinese cyclists I have met. The first didn't speak English but Mike (he assured me that was his name) spoke very good English and we spent ten minutes or so discussing routes etc before going our separate ways again. Soon after entering Hoi An I met another three cyclists. Despite having no panniers etc it is obvious to me who the touring cyclists are, especially in a region like South East Asia. David and his partner are from Australia and are on their way to the UK to start a job there early next year. They are joined for a few weeks only by his sister, but once she returns home they are riding overland to Bristol. Small world.
It gets even smaller. At the hotel I booked in to I met a German woman who spent time in Bangkok doing a massage course alongside Stephan, the German cyclist that I shared a hotel with in Stun Treng, Cambodia, about six weeks ago. Coincidences abound.

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