Neither of us can remember exactly when or why we decided to cycle up half of Vietnam. We used to ride bikes to work (for half an hour a day) and have occasionally struggled around other parts of South East Asia on woeful rental bikes so obviously a 1000km odyssey up the Ho Chi Minh highway is the logical progression. After our first day of riding that decision seems a little crazy, but there’s no backing out now.
After a few days in Ho Chi Minh, we caught the sleeper train up to Da Nang and set about buying ourselves some bikes. Armed with a hand drawn sign with a picture of a bike and the words “where can I buy?” in Vietnamese we find the bike street and started looking. A few hours and a couple of Vietnamese iced coffees later, we’ve made our decision and throw down a fat wad of Dong on two touring bikes. They’re surprisingly good to ride, and the lovely man who sells them to us also throws in a free rain jacket. Hopefully that’s not an ominous sign of the weather to come.
The next day we’re ready to ride. Half of our belongings are still in Ho Chi Minh, and the other half are stuffed in big Hong Kong shopper bags ready to be strapped onto our racks. The only problem is that they don’t fit too well, and even with the knots we taught ourselves last nigh using the internet we’re having trouble tying our stuff on. I’d call it saggy, at best. We do what we can with a truckers hitch and start riding, hoping it will hold for the next 35km to Hoi An.
After only 5 minutes, we pull over and need to look for directions. When we do, I notice that we’re apparently on Da Nang’s hardware and fishing supply street. Opposite us are rows and rows of shops selling bamboo, fishing nets and rope. Our sagging luggage is not looking so secure so we decide it’s time to get creative. For the grand price of $1.50 we buy a length of bamboo cut to extend our bike racks and another 10m of rope. We drag our bikes into a nearby alley and spend the next 15 minutes rigging up an awesome system of ropes and bamboo to hold our bags on, watched over by a curious Vietnamese lady. Triumphant, we stop for a celebratory iced coffee. When we go to pay, the lady points at our bikes, laughs and pats my cheeks. I can’t tell whether she’s congratulating us for our ingenuity or just laughing at how crazy we are.
Finally, we’re on our way. Our ride today is a nice, flat, easy cycle for 35km down the coastal road that joins Da Nang and Hoi An. We finish the ride in just over 2 hours. That part goes well. We only run into problems when we arrive in Hoi An dehydrated, sunburnt from 2 hours in the midday sun and with no clue where to find a cheap guesthouse. The only good thing about being totally confused and lost is that a friendly local gets off his motorbike to fix up Macca’s luggage and give him a free bungee cord. We’re given stern instructions about the proper way to tie things onto bikes, Vietnamese style. After an iced tea and some free wifi, we finally find a nice hotel.
Hoi An is stunning, but after the very local feel of Da Nang the very tourist feel is a bit overwhelming. A few people had spoken of Vietnam and said that, while they enjoyed their time there, they were really put off by the aggressiveness of people trying to sell you things. Up until this point, we’ve managed to avoid all of that but there’s no escaping it here. Hoi An is made for tourists. That said, it is very beautiful. Not a bad place to rest for a few days while we find some more bungee cords and plan our next move.