Although we are on vacation and cycle touring in Vietnam, I thought about remembrance day as celebrated in Canada and especially about my deceased father who was overseas as a soldier in WW2.
On day 4 of our cycling tour, most of us were up by 5:30 am and on the beautiful beach at the Saigon Suoi Nhum Resort Hotel by 6:00 am to see the sunrise and take photos of the white flour sand beach, the islands in the distance, the Vietnamese boys playing soccer on the beach, and a group of fishermen bringing in their catch (squid, crab and other fish) in a Vietnamese "round" boat. Sunny skies greeted us and we could already feel the heat and humidity that would accompany us on our cycle this morning.
The 6:30 am breakfast was another of many excellent breakfasts we are enjoying in Vietnam: fruit, including the dragon fruit we saw growing in plantations yesterday, veggies, omelette, toast, bacon, ham. And even the coffee was decent, according to Ross.
Our guide, Chau, and his assistants were ready for us to leave the hotel at 7:30 am. We loaded up our bags and drove north along beautiful sand beaches. Our drivers, Dung and Duc, are great drivers, but typical of Vietnamese drivers; they drive with one hand on the wheel and one hand very close to the horn. It's ok to use the horn here to alert other drivers that you are near and want to pass them. It does not matter if other vehicles and motor scooters are both coming towards you at the same time or the curve in the road is totally blind, you pass anyway. The larger vehicles always take the right of way. There are very few stop signs that we have seen; cars, trucks, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians, big and small, thread their way across each others path without any issues that we have seen.
We drive till about 10:00 am through rural areas and a number of drab and dusty looking towns and villages. There are many small shops each occupying a small open building and part of the sidewalk and/or street. We stopped several times while driving in the van. First stop was in Phan Thiet to look at several hundred fishing boats moored in the Caty River. We also stopped at Cham Tower, a Hindu Temple built circa 700 BC where only the females in our group touched the small symbolic phallic pillar in the temple. The pillar is reputed to improve fertility. Now Sharon, Paddy, Eleanor, Nancy, Dawn, Yvonne, Robin and Gala are worried about going home pregnant from this trip! The next stop was at the Xuan Huong Fish Sauce plant where a family operated business makes fish sauce using very simple technology from anchovies, sea salt and water. Anchovies are harvested from the sea in June each year and placed in huge cauldrons along with sea salt and water for a year before the fish sauce is ready to be bottled. Our last stop before we begin cycling is in the Mui Ne shrimp fishing village where we see many boats in the harbour and fishermen with their family members readying the shrimp for market.
We start cycling about 10:00 am, with Doug and Gala leading at first, under mostly sunny skies and follow the coast northwards. There are numerous photo opportunities as we cycle across rural areas with several rolling hills which provided fabulous vistas of long beaches and many different types of farms. At kilometre 17, on top of the biggest hill, our Vietnamese van driver Dung is there to meet us with cold water, towelettes (to wipe the sweat) cookies, small bananas and oranges. We are all happy to see Dung since our water bottles are mostly empty. As we continue cycling some of us (Les, Bernie, Paul and others) stop to view Vietnamese farmers/families drying peanut shells and corn. It's mostly sunny till about 11:00 am when the clouds start to move in. About 11:30 rain was in the air and we wished for a small shower to cool us off. Unfortunately that did not happen.
As we cycle, we see that most Vietnamese people live in the open air in small open hovels/homes with a shaded shelter out front. We also see many Vietnamese women walking or riding bicycles dressed in their traditional white dresses/pant suits and pointed hats. Oxen and carts, used for moving people and goods, are frequently seen. Everywhere we go, Vietnamese people are courteous and friendly. I have not noticed any display of anger or hostility towards us or even amongst the Vietnamese people; it must be a Vietnamese trait.
After 38 kilometres and climbing/descending several rolling hills, we are rewarded with a long downward ride, that happens much too quickly, into the town of Luong Son where another feast awaits us for lunch. We arrive at the Nhu Ngoc restaurant/bar where Hung, the Vietnamese truck driver, and Tien, his assistant, take our bikes and place them in the truck. The two van drivers, Dung and Duc, have cold water for us again. We enjoy this royal treatment.
Mike and Brendan arrive at the restaurant (it's also a Karaoke bar) first and the lunch meal is not quite ready yet. A young women, the "lady in black" takes Mike out to the dance floor; while dancing she feeds him grapes to presumably quench his thirst. He gets teased and we have a good laugh. Brendan is offered a free beer but he must chug it to the toast that several of us are practicing "Mot Hai Ba, Dyo" (translated means: 1, 2, 3, cheers).
Phuc, our mechanic and "sweep" arrive with Bernie, Dan and Robin just as lunch is served. Our lunch consists of platters of spicy shrimp, fish, bread, rice, vegetables, ox tail soup, hot pot (soup with meat & local vegetables); Twas awesome.
By 13:30, we are sitting in the two air conditioned Mercedes vans driving north along the South China Sea. The Vietnamese maps call it the "Vietnamese Sea". In van 1, we engage Chau, our Vietnamese tour guide with many questions on what we see as we drive by beautiful beaches, small villages and towns, the Thuong Sun mountains surrounded by mist at times, many brown cows/bulls tethered and grazing on the shoulder of the roads, military air fields, former Russian/American military bases, fields of grapes, black sesame, salt (from ocean water) and rice. We learn from Chau about the things we see and discuss other topics.
According to Chau, in the rural areas there are no garbage dumps or garbage collection; that is why we see lots of garbage everywhere, next to homes & restaurants, in the towns and villages, adjacent to factories, on farms and elsewhere. We noticed that some people make an effort to keep their homes and land clean.
I was surprised that we have not seen very many dogs after being warned about rabid dogs in Vietnam. According to Chau, Vietnamese people in the central and south of the country were ordered by the military to kill their dogs during the last war; the reason was so they would not bark when soldiers moved around secretly at night.
It rained for a few hours in the afternoon as we drove northward to Nha Trang city. During the van ride, we learned that public washrooms are rare in Vietnam. It took a long time to find one next to a gas station. Paddy had to go so badly, she mistakenly ended up in the "men's"; of course it was a "squat toilet".
We arrive at the Asla Paradise Hotel at 17:30. There is a laundromat one half block from the hotel where have our dirty clothes cleaned for about $1.00 per person.
Dinner is at a popular Vietnamese BBQ restaurant where we cook our own beef, squid, shrimp, tofu, and vegetables. Paddy, Michael and Bernie share the charcoal BBQ located on the table in front of our eyes. Yes there are flames and smoke and the food is spicy. A couple of San Miguel (640 mm) beers are needed by most of us to quench our thirst as we enjoy this special Vietnamese meal.
Recorded by Bernie Phillion