The 3 flights were comfortable, travelling from Vienna to Doha, then onto Bangkok and finally arriving in Hanoi. I made the most of the in flight services, selecting various beverages and packaged meals. I also slept a little, but it wasn’t very long until I was woken by someone having a coughing fit or a baby crying. Weary from the multiple flights I went to the visa counter in Hanoi, filled out the required paperwork and readied my passport and photo. My name was called after 10 minutes of waiting and I exchanged the small fee of $45 to collect my first visa stamp, stuck firmly in the back pages of my passport, and with that small success I went to go and find the person holding a card with my name on it. The car he drove was slightly battered and, with my bike chucked in the back, we journeyed towards my first nights accomadation in Asia, the Rendezvous Hostel in Hanoi. Immediately after checking in I found myself speaking to people from Germany, France, Holland and England. I dropped my bags off and went out to try the local food stalls with my new friends. We chatted and laughed and I was told about various peoples experiences and recommendations of places to go. One of them being the Ha Long Bay overnight cruise, which I immediately booked on to for 2 days time. After a couple of beers and some light chat I went to bed at 11pm, but again I couldn’t sleep. I just stared at the ceiling for what seemed like hours.
Days 29 to 32 / Date: 14.11.2015 – 17.11.2015
Day 29 to 30 (Hanoi)
After the struggle to sleep during the night I found myself sleeping in late and waking up about midday. Not exactly what I'd had planned as I wanted to put my bike back together early and then spend the rest of the day exploring the city. I showered, washed my clothes and built the bike, however I had some trouble with the pedals. Once I'd done what I could I picked up a map of the city from the reception and headed out looking for a bicycle shop. I came across one downtown, where two young boys were building a new bike out of the box. I played the usual game of charades to get my message across and within 10 minutes I had the pedals reattached. I cycled back towards my hostel, but not before stopping to get a cheap road map of Vietnam. Walking around the city with the various sounds of honking horns and vehicles playing cat and mouse with each other was an interesting experience. I found my way with relative ease and got back in plenty of time. I spoke to some more new travellers that had arrived that day before residing myself to writing a few chapters in my diary. The following day I spent mulling around speaking to various people and going out in the evening for a 'local' beef noodle dinner. I also did some menial tasks such as update the blog.
Day 31 to 32 (Hanoi to Halong Bay - 2 Day Cruise)
I was awake, showered and ready to go at 6:00am this morning as today was the day of the overnight cruise. I had a spot of breakfast before leaving, which consisted of a few pieces of bread and some lettuce! I waited for the bus to arrive and, leaving Hanoi at 8am, took the four-hour journey to Halong Bay. During the ourney I got chatting to a various people and I was given plenty of advice about where to go during my trip. I arrived at the dock and joined the remaining people who would be staying on the same boat. My boat was made up of Germans, Dutch, Sri Lankans and Chinese. I boarded the boat with a feeling of optimism. The guide for our journey was a small and cheerful little Vietnamese chap called Steve and he informed us that we will be checking in our bags and then sitting down for a lunch of squid, fish, muscles, cucumber, spring rolls and chips. Little did I know this same menu would be served for dinner and also the follwong morning for breakfast!? The boat set off while I listened to other peoples story about the reasons why they were travelling. The islands in Halong Bay are gigantic and awe inspiring and were great to look at as we joined other boats and kayaks while the sun went down. Happy hour began on the boat at 7pm so I took advance of this, staying up late and knocking back a few watery beers!
The following morning there was a knock at the door and a shout at 7:30am to say breakfast was ready. We ate the same meal (again) and then had a brief cooking lesson, which had us putting a food mix on rice paper to roll a spring roll. We were allowed to walk on the nearby island before checking out of the rooms at 9am. The keys were handed in and the rest of the day was spent on the sun deck. The trip back was as eventful as the outgoing coach journey and I got off at the bus stop with a guy whom I'd meet on the boat, and who was staying at a hostel not far from mine. We walked the streets looking for dinner, trying food at a few different places and sampling the local beer. It was a nice way to finish a good couple of days.
Hanoi to Hue Overnight train
Day 33 / 18.11.2015
I meant to leave the hostel at 6am this morning, I was determined I would, but as I went to leave I saw a Polish guy pull up on a bicycle with some loaded panniers on it. His name was Damian Dukiewicz and he had left Poland in May and made has way through Europe to Iran, struggled to extend his visa and so had flew to Vietnam. I ended up chatting longer than expected and going for dinner with him. It is alway nice to meet fellow cyclist, hearing about there trip and swapping stories. I ended up being convinced to get the overnight train to Hue. This was a bit of a mission as I you can't just book a ticket at the hostel as I would have to take my bike to the station in person before getting a ticket. So I cycled to the station not having a clue what to do, no one spoke English and everyone was pointing in different directions. Eventually I found the baggage office. I was shown to a seat where I waited patiently for my turn. A stern looking woman the other side of the counter looked at me with conviction and said in broken English that in order for me to book the bike I needed a train ticket for myself first. So I strolled into the tourist office and booked a train ticket to leave that evening on an 8:10pm train. I showed the baggage lady the ticket and booked the bike on without the bags for the sum of 200,000 dong, which came to about 600,000 in total (about £18) for a 12 hour train ride. Not bad I thought! I sought a taxi back to the hostel as I had 5 hours to kill before the train. So with my 6 bags, 4 between the drivers legs and 2 on my lap, we made our way through Hanoi traffic back to the hostel. I really enjoyed it, but I could also see why some people are apprehensive. I found 2 English guys who I'd spoke to earlier and went for dinner and a couple of beers with them before heading off to catch my train.
I spent the next day in Hue with Matt, the only other person in my Hostel, who’d arrived just before me. We walked over to the old part of Hue and explored the Imperial City. I didn’t enjoy it too much as there were lots of cafes, too many tourists and areas just set up to make money from them. We walked back but not before hearing my name shouted out. I turned round and saw Sarah in the distance sat on a scooter. I'd met Sarah in my hostel in Hanoi and had, purely by chance, bumped into her again. She had a rented scooter and had been riding around the city all day. The 3 of us decided to meet up later for dinner. Matt and I walked back to the hostel, via the train station, and were introduced to a tasty local vegetable dish wrapped in pastry. It tasted great and was only 5,000 dong. I will be calling on these later on my trip for cycling fuel. I grabbed my bike from the station and was happy to find it in the same condition as when I'd left it and, with my bike back in my possession, headed back to the hostel, showered and went out for a few drinks before going to meet Sarah. Dinner was great and again I enjoyed good company.
Hue to Hoi An (89.78 miles)
Day 34 / Date: 19.11.2015
My first day cycling in Asia today! Since I've arrived I travelled on a boat and on a train so it was well overdue that I get back on the bike and cover some miles! I wanted to leave at 5:30am, but as it was still dark and I hadn’t fixed my front light yet I stayed in the comfort of my bed for an extra 30 minutes. I left at 6:45 and immediately stopped for a sandwich at a vendor on the side of the road. It had pork, lettuce and soy sauce inside and tasted great and it was the cheapest meal I’d eaten yet! I planned to take the AH1 highway today, which is a highway which follows the coast all the way down to Ho Chi Minh. It was very level and in good condition and I found myself in a good rhythm for most of the day. I stopped at 12:00pm and haggled a price of 2000 dong for a dish of rice with omelettes and pork, washed down with a coke and beer. It was a nice size portion and the family were very nice, chatting to me and asking about my trip. During the day people spoke to me from mopeds or the side of the road when I stopped at traffic lights. I had friendy horn blasts from truck drivers and school children shouting hello to me as I biked past. It was a pleasant day. The main struggle was cycling the Hai Vyn Pass towards Da Nang. This had me climbing for about an hour and a half, and I had to stop at various water runoffs from the hill to dunk my head and wet my hat. You can get very dizzy very quickly in this heat from just walking, let alone cycling. I stopped at the summit, which I thought was Da Nang, only to find it was a further 20km away! Luckily the remaining miles today were mostly down hill. I arrived hot and tired at the Long Life Hostel just before 5pm and checked in, with my bike going into a secure lockup. I had a shower and went out for beer and chatted to the many interesting people in my new digs.
Hoi An to Nha Trang
Day 35 to 40 / Date: 20.11.2015 – 25.11.2015
I stayed in Hoi An at the Long Life Hotel for a few days, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the area and getting an acquired taste for the cheap beer. I always seem to stay a few days extra than planned when I meet people at hostels. Part of me thinks its homesickness while the other part of me thinks it’s a fear of moving on once you've find somewhere good to stop. I try to keep myself occupied as too much free time can make my worry so I occupied myself with tasks such as bicycle maintenance and exploring my new surroundings. I’ve had one of the best nights so far on the trip when I arranged a group of us to go out for a meal on my final night in Hoi An. We tasted and sampled the street food, ate doughnuts, Ban Mi’s (sandwich’s), mango cakes and ice creams. One of the people I met while staying at the hotel was a guy called Francis, a French Canadian. He sailed all the way down the Bahamas working on a boat doing various tasks and it sounded great and gave me some real perspective regarding my own journey.
Time passed quickly during my time in Hoi An and it wasn’t long before my 2-wheeled steed was being readied again to ride to its next destination, 300 miles further south along the coast to Nha Trang.. I didn’t get very far on leaving Hoi An however as I was stopped by a very enthusiasm Chinese cyclist call Tan Chao. He was a great character and I suggested we have a chat over a drink. He was travelling down through Vietnam from China, carrying very little weight on his own lightweight road bike. Google translate is a very useful tool and it helped me communicate with Tan when charades were insufficient. I left and headed out into the hectic traffic.
This section turned out to be very dull and uninteresting and I was quickly becoming tired of the constant beeping of vehicles. It also became increasingly warmer during the day, so making regular stops to get out of the heat to rest was essential. The first night off the road I decided to try and see if I could camp. I pulled up when a little shack came into view off the side of the road and tried to communicate with the owner. With the usual game of charades I indicated that I would like to stay one night in my tent on the patch of grass next to the shack. The owner pointed to one of the hammocks strung up between the supporting poles of his home and then gestured for me to sit at the table. I sat and, not long after, his wife handed me a bowl of rice with fish and pork and poured some tea. They told me that they had children at university in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and they were both around 20 years of age. After dinner, and feeling very tired, I climbed into the hammock and tried to sleep. The barrier of the highway was actually used as a support for the shack so being so close I swear I didn’t get more than 20 minutes of sleep, as the traffic would beep consistently through the night. There was also a train track behind the house which although not as frequent as the other vehicles, had a louder horn. I woke feeling terrible at 7am and thanking the family for my stay wheeled my bike onto the highway.
Nha Trang to Bao Loc
Days 41 to 45 / Dates: 26.11.2015 – 30.11.2015
I arrived in Nha Trang and pulled up to a café for Wi-Fi and drink. Nha Trang was a welcome site and looked like a typical seaside resort, filled with hotels and restaurants fighting for space near the beach.While in the café I contacted Matt, who I’d met at various points as I'd travelled through Vietnam. He was staying at a backpacker hostel nearby and, relieved that I knew someone in the new city, I requested the bill and rode to meet him. Not only Matt, but Sarah, Simon and Joanne were also staying at the hostel. More familiar faces! We went out for dinner together that night and I ordered a well needed burger, which went down really well! I spent my time in Nha Trang sampling the local cuisine (which was becoming a habit now), catching the odd movie and sightseeing. Even though I enjoy the breaks in cities, it’s not as exciting and satisfying as finding a quiet camping spot and taking in a spectacular sunset or sunrise.
After leaving Nha Trang and saying goodbye Matt and the rest of my new friends I headed towards Dalat. The journey up to Dalat is 3 times as high as the Hai Van Pass, and I didn’t like the thought of slogging up the hill for 14+ hours with no water or food. I ended up getting a bus ticket instead and arrived around midday the following day, with my bicycle due to arrive later that afternoon. The cooler days in Dalat were a nice change. Dalat is 1500m above sea level and has a more temperate climate than the rest of Vietnam that I had biked through so far. During my time here I enjoyed the night markets and spent one day getting the cable car up above the pine forests and rolling hills to Truc Lam Pagoda, the largest Institute of Meditation in Vietnam.
I spent 2 days here in total before winding back down to join the AH1 (again) and heading for Bao Loc. The ride was undulating, with lots of road works causing dust to get in my eyes frequently. It was a long day, but it was made enjoyable by passing school children waving at me and asking my name, something I don’t think I will ever tire from. I pulled into a café and ordered a milkshake, got on the Wi-Fi and found a hotel 1km from my location for $5 a night. Bao Loc was buzzing and I struggled to stay alert as I weaved through the traffic to the hotel. I booked into my very basic hotel, showered and updated my diary before my usual quest of finding a good place for food. I wondered up and down the road next to the hotel Minh Nhung and on my second attempt found a married couple who sat me down and gave me a massive bowl of noodles and pork for 25,000 Dong, which is about 73p! Little did I know how much I'd be calling on this bowl of sustenance the following day.
Bao Loc to Ho Chi Minh (132 miles!)
Day 46 / Date: 01.12.2015
This was the first day I’ve experience such unexpected genuine hospitality. While stopped at a café for breakfast a girl from across the road came over to translate and also gave me an iced coffee for free. She negotiated a bowl of noodles for 25,000 Dong for me and invited me over to see her home and so after paying up I popped over the road and was immediately handed an iced coffee. She and her sister asked me lots of questions about where I was from? Have I heard of couch surfing? Do I like Vietnam? It looked like they were selling wedding invitations and rsvp cards and I did think “am I been sized up as a suitor here?” but they were really nice and wouldn’t accept payment for the drinks. Immediately after leaving I was handed a green tea shake from someone off the back of a scooter. I hesitated slightly as this was a first, but the passenger just smiled and they took off. I downed the shake and raced some school kids who were calling me superman because I was cycling to Ho Chi Minh. I would be lying if I said the rest of the day was easy…it wasn’t!
It’s fair to say Ho Chi Minh was a little further than I thought. After a 7:30 am start I was still cycling at 12:00am. Tired and aching after 132 miles (biggest day yet) I found the apartment of Kier and Emily, my hosts for the next week, who I had meet in Abingdon Market Square the day I left! It was so good to meet fellow Abingdonians!! Kier and Emily had recently moved to Ho Chi Minh to teach English. I found Ho Chi Minh to be more chaotic than Hanoi, as the fast pace traffic and pace of life here never seemed to stop. I did however have a great time at Ho Chi Minh, even though there’s not much to do in the city apart from drink coffee and, as Kier and Emily worked during the day, I spent most of my time organising the next step of my trip, relaxing and shopping for items I need for the bike.
Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Day 55 to 58 / 10.12.2015 – 13.12.2015
After another reluctant goodbye to a very generous couple (thanks Kier and Emily!) I cycled to the Cambodia border after having spent 9 days in Ho Chi Minh. The Cambodian border was my first proper border crossing and I thinking….What would I do if I was refused entry? Do I really need a flight out? How strict are they going to be with me? Luckily I sailed through. Paying the $30 for a month visa stamp I crossed into Cambodia. My aim was to be in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city and known as the "Pearl of Asia,” in about 3 days so without further ado I turned my cranks over and made haste towards my destination. While crossing a huge bridge I met Rui Chen. He’d been cycling for 6 years mainly through China. We cycled the rest of the way to Phnom Penh together and then spent a few days in the city talking about our trips and hunting Bao (steamed, filled bun) for 1000 riel. My last night in Phnom Penh Rui wanted to find a campsite in the middle of the city. I was initially reluctant to do this but curiosity won out and I decided to go along with it as I was interested in how he planned on doing. We found a closed off area behind some restaurants and set up our tents. We also found a garden hose to use as a shower to wash ourselves with. I was impressed. Here in the middle of Phnom Penh, I was camping!
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
Day 59 - 63 / 14.12.2015 - 18.12.2015
My body covered in a layer of sweat and with the sun bearing down on me like a huge sunlamp I decide to pull into a building called the solar cafe on the roadside and grab a nice cold drink. While I was at there I saw big plastic sheets on the ceiling covered in messages from children from different countries around the world. The building turned out to be a place for exchange students and it was run by a woman who had set up the program 20 years earlier. It was interesting to look at and the lady was full of stories. While I was there she generously gave me some dates, which I quickly ate up.
A few days later the ride towards Siem Reap improved as the weather was now nice and cool with a gentle breeze, and with the road flanked on each side by rows of palm trees it became one of the more scenic roads I’d experienced in the last few days.
When I reached Siem Reap it was a nice change to find a city that was moving at a slower pace than Phnom Penh and I relaxing as I cruised along looking for a hostel. I didn’t do much with my time in Siem Reap except visiting the ruins of Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is resort town in north-western Cambodia and is the gateway to the ruins of Angkor, which was once the seat of the powerful Khmer empire in the 9th-15th centuries. I went around Angkor Wat for a day, which was really interesting, and although I enjoyed this I felt Siem Reap itself didn’t have that much more to offer. I did however stay with another warm shower host on my last night in the city. Sayha and his family lived on the outskirts and I was allowed to stay the night in a shack behind the house. The family didn’t have much, but they were as nice and generous as everyone else I’d met, feeding me dinner and breakfast and granted me the use of their shower. I felt truly humble to receive this generosity from a family that clearly did not have much. I enjoyed their company before leaving them the following afternoon.
Siem Reap to Bangkok, Thailand
Day 64 - 66 / 19.12.2015 - 21.12.2015
As I headed closer to Thailand I was feeling optimistic about my second border crossing. I stopped for breakfast and spent the remainder of my Cambodian currency. The border crossing couldn’t have gone any smoother (the visa is free and valid for a month) and feeling good about myself I cycled into Thailand, cycling on the left hand side of the road for the first time since leaving home!
It took me 3 days to get to Bangkok. Still on smooth, level roads the traffic was starting to build up and it was around 8pm when, after fighting with scooters, Tuk-Tuks and general traffic, I made it to Home Hug Hostel which would be my new home during Christmas. I thought I’d be used to the inner city traffic systems by now, but Bangkok was something else. I’ve never felt such a surge of adrenalin weaving through the vehicles surrounded by hot carbon monoxide fumes. The hostel had only been open for a couple of months and I enjoyed staying here so much I extended my stay to the New Year. It was a great experience to see in Christmas and the New Year in another part of the world and it is something I will not forget
Bangkok was a blur of street food, markets, taxis, and many wealthy Asians. One thing that you can’t help to notice though is the sheer abundance of McDonald’s restaurants. During my stay I went to see the new Star Wars movie (of course!) and in the cinema I went into there was a McDonalds on almost every floor! I meet people of many different nationalities during my stay here and enjoyed some really great company. While in Bangkok I experience the following things; my first Thai massage, copious amounts of street food, Mo Chit market, parties!, lots of walking, cycled, boat taxis, sleeping (lots), bug food, 7-Elevens, ice creams!, Christmas trees, malls…the list goes on. One thing that stood out was Khaosan road, which is described in the book ’The Beach’ as “the centre of the backpacking universe”. A half mile strip of countless budget guesthouses, internet cafes, swanky bars and clubs, restaurants, massage parlours, travel agents, bookshops, market stalls, tattoo shops and much more I was an interesting place to visit!
In all I spent ’10 days in Bangkok’ (sounds like a dodgy movie!) and was sad to leave it behind me as I cycled towards my next destination Chumpon, a city found on the Royal Coast of South Thailand.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for future updates!