There comes a time in every mans life when he has to face facts.  If things aren't working out then something has to change.
Highway 1 has become too much for me.
But each time I look at a map for an alternative the roads appear to end in the middle of nowhere. It was on the advice of Grace and David from Australia that I was persuaded to take a chance. They assured me that although the maps ran out of road, on the ground I would still find a track or at least a ridge between paddy fields to ride along. And so I set off the next morning aiming to use nothing but back roads. The only concern this day was the two roads with a 2 kilometre gap between them. On the map the two roads ran towards eachother. I couldn’t see how they could both end when a continuation from one to the other would produce a through route all along the coast. So it was that I set off and rode along the coast expecting to continue all day. In fact the point where the road ended on the map was exactly where the road actually ended.

It was then that I looked longingly towards the beach and saw to my astonishment a line of scooters all riding along the beach. They were using the firm wet sand and seemed to be having no trouble as they carried their fishing equipment with them. So I decided that if they could do it then so could I. Pushing the bike over the first section of soft sand and down to the water I remounted and made my way up the beach, with a grin as wide as a Cheshire cat. What a way to travel. If it wasn’t for the fact that I would need food and water fairly soon I would like to have stayed there all day, sitting and enjoying the view and then riding along the beach. It was not to be though and as soon as I saw the road again I began looking for suitable places to cross the dunes and find some food. More back roads and more peace and quiet. Although the riding is much more enjoyable this way it is also slower as the roads tend to meander their way through villages. This means that I either have to cut short my distances or extend my time in the saddle. As there are only so many towns with accommodation it means that I need to push on for longer each day, and even though it means that my backside takes an extra hammering the joy of riding these roads more than makes up for it.

Time is beginning to nag at me as I head north though.
I am more conscious now of the distance left to ride before I reach Beijing as the clock ticks down towards the end of the journey. I still have almost half way to go to reach my final destination and have been calculating the dates to make sure I don’t run out of visa time in China. The major problem of course is that I don’t yet have a visa for China. The Chinese embassy at home say that you have to obtain your Chinese visa from your home country, however that would only be valid for three months and would therefore have run out by the time I reached the border. Most cyclists have been getting visas in Chinag Mai, Thailand or Vientiane, Laos but I am heading to Hanoi, where I hope the embassy is as easy going. Talking to Grace and David I found out that they got theirs in HCMC very easily, so fingers crossed for Hanoi. The Chinese visa is for just one month but can be extended up to twice while in the country for a month at a time. This would give me three months in total as long as the extensions run consecutively instead of overlapping. If I arrive at an extension office and they stamp the date to run from when I present myself I may lose days. If this happens both times then I cold quite easily lose a week which could leave me with an expired visa when I get to the airport to board the plane home. No only could that prove costly at the time, but I may find myself barred from the country in the future. Not something that I would want to happen.

With time on my mind I am making my way north and visiting a few more places of interest along the way. One of the tourist attractions is the historical city of Hue, the ancient capital situated in central Vietnam. Hue holds one of the most remarkable cities within a city. The citadel was the Emperors palace, a massive walled enclosure that measures 2.5km along each side of a square with a moat approximately 30-40 metres wide completely surrounding the walls. Within this citadel was another city within a city within a city. The Purple, or forbidden, city was the Emperors personal residence where He and his family lived with a select few servants. Despite suffering extensively from war damage during both the French and American wars there are still a substantial amount of residential, religious and administrative buildings intact, as well as pagodas, assembly halls, a theatre and gardens. There are extensive renovations ongoing although I am not sure what is going to happen about the buildings that were completely destroyed. However, it provided an enjoyable three hours walking around inside the walls which completely shut out the traffic noise from outside which is no mean feat in itself.

The modern city of Hue didn’t appear to have much in the way of charm to me so when I had finished walking around the citadel I decided to ride on without staying. Back to the coast road. What a breath of fresh air this road is. Riding up through Da Nang and along China beach I was amazed at how empty the beaches are. There are miles and miles of beautiful beaches with parasols and life guards waiting for something to do except watch fishermen hauling their catches out of the sea. It is so easy to slow down to a complete stop here. Sitting on the side of the road and just taking in the scenery could take up days at a time. Continuing up the coast it’s just a shame that there are no places to stay between the larger cities. There are no guest houses along the coast in the fishing villages which means that I have to head back to the main highway each day to find somewhere to sleep. Which is quite strange as this is where all of the noise comes from. A night on the beach would be ideal but there are also no places to eat and drink there.

Continuing north I reached Dong hoi and the best baguettes I have so far tried in Vietnam. Most of SE Asia is devoid of bread but here in Vietnam they retain the French love of the baguette. There are many street vendors filling baguettes with anything from fried eggs to soft cheese, pate and other meats as well as some spicy sauces. You can never be too sure what you are going to get at each place unless you can order for yourself in Vietnamese. This, of course means that I get what I am given, but so far I have yet to have a baguette that I didn’t like. The bakery I found on the side of the road entering Dong Hoi was the best yet and they even sold yoghurt and ice cream too. Sounds like a three course meal to me. I made a note on the map of where the bakery was and decided to make it my breakfast stop the next morning.
One of the tourist destinations that appears to draw vastly more Vietnamese than Foreign tourists is the cave systems to the north west of Dong Hoi. This would require leaving the coast road and heading inland on the Ho Chi Minh highway. I had been planning to ride this road for a while so I set off to see if the road as really as quiet and scenic as I had heard, as well as finding out whether the caves at Phong Nha really were as spectacular as the tour guides say. Needless to say I shall keep you informed in due course.


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