Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A TOUR OF SOUTH VIETNAM - Day 5 (The Light & Easy Ride)

3 March 2011 - CAM RANH TO NHA TRANG

The hotel where we stayed had a large compound, with shady trees. Internet was also available and so was cable TV. It was good value for money. This time, the bicycles slept in the kitchen, away from their owners who slept peacefully, after the fulfilling dinner at the Windmills Restaurant. 

This would be the final day of riding, the shortest too. There was an air of unhurried tempo of the tuarers as we woke up to welcome the day. Whatever left of the rations was laid on the table for breakfast. That included the mushroom soup,  the Nescafe 3-in-one and I believe also the serunding. We still woke up early though, the discipline of touring strongly etched in both body and mind.

The lady hotel owner was also up early. Amongst the crowd of tuarers, she was busy handing out her business card, welcoming us back to her hospitality. 

Several photo sessions before we grouped for our usual group photo were in order. I had a picture taken with Ms Siti Linh, so did everyone else. 

Ms Siti Linh with her "uncle"
Then it was Ms Siti Linh's turn to do her "1, 2 and 3" for our  group photo. Today, the GEDEBES decided to display their Red and White jerseys, except for one of them. Terlupa kut. 

There would be no mountain to climb, though the route was not entirely flat. We could expect  gentle climbs but the promised great scenery along the coastal road should more than offset the increased heart rate and sweat. There would be no headwinds either to slow us down. What would slow us down would be the photo shoots along the road.

This was the light and easy ride. Light and easy are my own hallmark of a cycling tour. The route has been paced well by Wan Sabri. The final day is indeed a reward.  

The town Cam Ranh was already busy when we hit the road. Stalls for breakfast were found along the roads, with small stools and small tables filled up by adults enjoying the varieties of their Vietnamese breakfasts. This reminded me of the warongs dotting the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. 

There were also the usual friendly waves by the crowd. We gladly returned their compliments, as usual. A child on a bike was also curious as we passed by and could not resist to steal a glance at these adults in funny attires. Thanks Dzul for this pic.

And when there was an opportunity to stop and buy the local fruits, notably the mangoes, we all stopped. We were in no hurry.

Once out of the town limit, we branched off into a village route that would take us towards what I termed as the "great ocean road". When we stopped at a small village shop for a drink. I could not resist  taking this cute little baby boy away from her mother's arms. The baby was not afraid. Boy, was he heavy! 

In my earlier blog, I claimed that I had not seen any FAT Vietnamese. I stood by my statement. The baby in my arm had not shed his baby fat yet. I am sure he will grow to be another slim and hardworking Vietnamese lad. We all agreed too that the Vietnamese children were not afraid. Either alone or in groups, the kids always waved at this 8 funny looking characters.

Baby and "granduncle"
We crossed a bridge and stopped for a photoshoot. We took our time. Special mention must be made of Kamad, the second "youngest". Kamad decided from day 1 that he wanted to experience the full touring experience. While others left the bags in the upport van, Kamad's Ortlieb panniers were on the bike with him. So, he was fully laden all the way, at times huffing and puffing at the rear of the group. With the strong headwinds, the panniers further exaggerated the drag. But at other times, he would also be somewhere up front. Syabas Pak Kamad. Lake Toba in April will be peanuts to you!

Kamad, a full tourer with panniers
Crossing the bridge, we came to a beautifully landscaped dual-carriageway, resembling closely the roads at Putrajaya. This was the best constructed road for the entire 5-day rides.

This road leads to the "ocean road" with some gentle climbs and a panoramic view of the ocean below. This was where we spent most of our time enjoying the scenery, and capturing the memories. The final destination was a mere 30 odd kms away. There was no reason to hurry. 

Hj Khailani stopping for a photoshoot

The view that greeted us as we coasted down towards Nha Trang

Another panoramic view from the ocean road

One for the road. 
We stopped so long that even our driver had time to scrutinize my Surly. I was wondering what actually fascinated him. Probably he could not do the mathematics for the pricing of the bikes. 

Just at the outskirts of the town, there was a resort by the beach. And again we stopped for some photoshoots. That's me with Mede (Hamdan), identifying ourselves with the Nha Trang signage in the backdrop. This day, even the fast and furious Mede decided to take it easy. 

We rode on for several kilometres more into the heart of town. The traffic got busier as we cycled along a beautiful beach front to our hotel.

Our hotel at Nha Trang.
We officially ended our ride just about noon. There were smiles all round and we shook hands, congratulating one another and thank Allah the Almighty for the safe journey. Deep inside, we knew there will be other journeys that we would do, in smaller groups or even solo.

The 5-day ride was officially over. The trip to South Vietnam was not. We would shower, then a short nap before we exlore Nha Trang.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A TOUR OF SOUTH VIETNAM - Day 4 (The Longest Day)

2 March 2011 - PHAN RI CUA TO CAM RANH

We were now into Day 4. Last night we checked in to a small hotel, AN VIEN. It's a no frills, a clean queen-sized bed, air-conditioning and shower and clean toilet. No food outlet and no breakfast. We dined the usual sea-food not far from the hotel. Though no breakfast, the caretaker arranged for breakfast - the usual baguette and coffee. I had a sachet of mushroom soup and a Nescafe 3-in-one, compliment of my room-mate Hj Khailani. Hj Khailani had been very prepared for his maiden tour and I had been very fortunate to have him as my buddy! So, "terima kasih daun keladi".

On almost all my journeys,  my bike was never my bed-mate. This time, at the request of the caretaker, the bikes slept with us! Someone must have impressed upon her that these bikes could be traded for a 3-month free stay in her simple lodge!

On my journeys, and on some very rare occasions, the cost of the bike became a subject matter. I usually refrain from satisfying the query, playing down its value. There were curiosity (and honesty) in the question though.

The breakfast by the corridor 
This day would be the longest day of the ride. We would be swinging inland, away from the sea. But if we hoped for a reprieve from the strong winds, we would be utterly disappointed. Swinging inland meant we would also be passing several towns along the way.

One can note from the map above that the hinterland in this region are hilly. DA LAT on the upper left corner of the map is a hill resort. DA LAT could be scheduled for another time, another tour. 

So, there we were with the usual group pose before the start of our journey. Of-course we were not sure what lies ahead. That's the beauty of touring in foreign lands - there are mysteries and new experiences to savor.

So, for most parts of the journey, we would have the mountains in our view. At some stretches, we  appeared riding into the mountains, and wondering whether there would be steep climbs awaiting us. At other stretches, the mountains appeared on our left and on our right. 

Some stretches were relatively flat and to a certain extent, monotonous. One of the tuarers, Shuhaimi loved to take pictures of signages. Shuhami could not actually qualify as a "tuarer". He is a bit young, unlike his buddy Mede - if you know what I mean!

Hamdan (Mede) in Blue
Shuhaimi in Red
I recalled cycling with Shuhaimi when he took this shot.  I too wondered what it actually meant.

And when this shot below was taken, we had the following comments:

Dzul - Boy chasing girl
ARZ - School kids very eager to go to school

But this one below has got to be the best.

Wan Sabri : If you had accident, you will be buried here !!

I leave this signage below to the readers' imagination. Thanks Shuhaimi for being a signboard photographer. It's your niche and specialty.

Getting back on the road, this is also a region of cultivation. Amidst the mountains, there are masses of flat land, mainly planted with padi. I may have mentioned earlier in my blog about the uniqueness of this new experience of the Vietnamese padi cultivation.

One other place where I saw a similar landscape was on my cycle tour of the Minangkabau land in Sumatera, but not as pronounced. The two-tone color of the padi-fields could only mean one thing. Padi cultivation could be a year-round affair. This two-tone color also broke the monotony of the landscape.

Then, what about grapes? Yes, grapes in this hot climate? I did not pluck any and so I have no comment. Ah..."sour grape" la tu!

There was a comparatively nice lay-bye along the route and a stop there was timely. Somehow I failed to see any hammocks. This would be one of the modern stops, in comparison to the small cafes that dotted the highway.

Before reaching the town of Phan Rang, I came across this board at a road inter-section. I don't know what it meant but it certainly was loud enough to tell us who ruled the country. However, apart from such boards, one would not realize that once upon a time, Vietnam was not what it was today. What it was then, to my mind, actually toughened up its citizens. The war would have taken its toll. Deprived and destroyed, the Vietnamese rebounced to be a strong economic force. By the way, I have yet to see a FAT Vietnamese. What does that tells us?

Moving on, we were pleasantly surprised to come across a Mosque. This was before Phan Rang town. The surrounding areas were cultivated padi lands. Would have been nice to spend a night here and get to know the Muslims in this area. Again, we had a long day ahead and a committed schedule. So we moved on.

We also came across a ruins, uncertain though of its significance.

If one travelled on the Plus Highway, somewhere around Alor Gajah, one would see a wind-sock by the highway, indicating a cross-wind. In a car, one may not necessarily be over cautious about this. One is in the comfort of air-conditioning and music.

On a bike, a cross-wind is a cross-wind. And the winds were strong. And we experienced this. A lorry that overtook us would create a tail-wind that could suck us towards the lorry. This did not pose much danger, but it was an experience.

But when you see wind turbines as you cycled through, what does that tell you? We were both glad and disappointed when we stopped to photograph these turbines. Glad that the wind had not picked up when we reached this place. Disappointed that we could not witness these giant turbines rotate. I would have loved to capture these turbines rotating, on video. 

I did however saw one turbine slowly rotating when we stopped for carbo-loading. It signalled that the wind was picking up. Picking up it did and we were literally pedalling against the strong wind as the days grew longer and the muscles grew weaker.

So while Malaysia is planning for a nuclear powered electricity, Vietnam has free source of generation - very eco-friendly too!

At one stage, I was feeling very exhausted. We stopped at a petrol kiosk and the backup van was there too. I decided to take some rest in the van to proceed forward. The rest continued on. The 9km rest in the van re-energized me and allowed me the opportunity to stop up ahead and video our brave tuarers ploughing into the winds.

While waiting for the tuarers, I was also able to capture several shots of the locals coming down from the mountain slopes carrying bales on their backs and firewoods in the baskets.

We plodded on against the wind into the darkness towards our final destination. The strong wind and the setting sun chilled the air as we made our way into Cam Ranh. Ms Siti Linh caught us by surprise on a motorbike when we were not sure of the junction to take. She guided us to the hotel but she too, being new to Cam Ranh, was momentarily lost. But what's 2 to 3 kilometres extra when we knew a shower and clean bed would be waiting for us. 

We arrived at the hotel at 7pm (8 pm Malaysian time). 

Dinner was at a fancy restaurant - aptly named Windmill Restaurant. Looks like we never had enough of the "winds". But when it was makan time, we were not out of wind.

We clocked 125 kms and we were on the saddle for 6 hrs 17 mins. Indeed the longest day.

We looked forward to tomorrow, the final day ride into Nha Trang, the coastal city reputed to have the best beach in Vietnam.  It would be a reward, with an excellent panaroma as we cycled unhurriedly to our final destination.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A TOUR OF SOUTH VIETNAM - Day 3 (Riding Into More Wind)

1st March 2011 - KE GA TO PHAN RI CUA

Prior to going out for dinner last night, we had a small tiff with the security guards @ Bau Mai Resort. To them, what's the big deal of leaving our touring bikes under the stars. A bike is just that, a bike. A bike is cheap in Vietnam. Little would they know that just the saddle of our bikes could buy 2 or 3 Vietnamese bicycles. They could have fainted if they knew that one of us go to bed with the bike!

So, they got the message that the bikes needed covered storage and they relented, and we went for dinner happily.

I woke up on Day 3 fully rested. Stepping out of the room, I could see the beach, literally a stone's throw away. As I penned today's ride in the comfort of home, I am reminded of the Tsunami that had devastated parts of Japan, a week after our return from the tour.

While we grief for the sufferings of the Japanese people, we are grateful our country is spared such calamities.

My memory also raced back to the coastline of Vietnam, where 8 "Tuarers" were hugging the beach front at several stretches of the trip. What If ??

Back to Bau Mai Resort on this Day 3, our departure was slightly delayed. Breakfasts ordered were delivered late. Apart from coffee, my breakfast never arrived. Hamdan had time to do some stretching exercise while Wasabi, Dzul and Siti Linh discussed today's ride.

As usual, another group photo before we went off. Today, Dzul recited the doa. Siti Linh as usual became our photographer. I took a shot of her taking our group photo. To ready us for the shot, she would always say "1, 2 and 3", emphasising "and" then took the shot. We would chorused after her, "1, 2 and 3".

Smile when I say "1, 2 AND 3"
The result? 8 unconscious old men, some smiling some looking serious.

We said goodbye to Bau Mai resort and hit the road. We passed several fishing villages and in the cool of the morning, the ride was generally faster. The winds would picked up in the later part of the day, as the over-worked muscles struggled to pedal against the non-relenting winds.

This day's ride would bring us into the city of Phan Tiet. We would also cycled through the long stretch of holiday resorts of Mui Ne Beach before ending the ride at Phan Ri Cua.

At one stage, I was cycling with  a group of schoolboys. One was on an electric bike. Boy, did I wish for one at this moment. On the e-bike, it would be just a twist of the wrist to propel me forward, with or without the head wind!

On long rides, I do consume Coke for energy recovery. This lady though believed in the rival brand. I just wondered whether she too needed to energize or was it pure love of the drink.

Khailani and I took a short detour into the beach front when we saw our group up ahead stopping for rest. We photographed a group of people sieving out their catch, undisturbed by our presence.

A few men were packing sand dug from the beach. Those heavy bags of sand were transported on the cubchais. These must be the most overworked cubchais around. I just wondered whether what these men were doing were legal.

It's also good to know there are bike repair shops along the route. Do not expect to do any major parts replacement though.

For our rest break, we stopped across the road of this beautiful Golden Coast resort. The sunflowers and Ixoras were in full bloom. There were, as I said earlier, numerous resorts of different grades dotting the long coastal beach of South Vietnam.

Golden Coast Resort, one of the many found along this route
We did not explore the resort though as were too busy enjoying the local fruits, expertly peeled by Siti Linh, ever the industrious tourist guide. The eight uncles were now appearing dependent upon Siti Linh to feed us. Am now wondering whether future visas will be granted by our "home ministers" for future trips.

Continuing our ride, we entered a comparatively big and busy city of Phan Tiet. As usual, there was a dire lack of road-signages to guide us out of Phan Tiet. Phan Tiet reminded me of Had Yai, busy and with lots of vehicles - lorries, cars and countless numbers of motorcycles.

We momentarily lost sight of our support van. But Hamdan's google map on his BB guided us out of Phan Tiet. If time was on our side, we could have overnighted in Phan Tiet and explore the city.

Riding into Phan Tiet
But we were not even half-way from our destination and it was certainly too early to stop. It was even too early for lunch, especially after the fruit extravaganza at our earlier stop. A few of us though, managed to capture some scenes on a bridge in Phan Tiet. 

Fishing boats moored in the river at Phan Tiet

The market, besides the river. 
There were some climbs and some rewards of downhill. Moments like this on a downhill with the sight of the sea and blue sky were always moments to cherish. Such feelings are much more fulfilling when you are on a bicycle. You are after all, one with nature.

We were rolling down to Mui Ne beach. Below is an extract about Mui Ne from Wikipedia

Mui Ne (Mũi Né) is a coastal resort town in the Binh Thuan Province of southeastern Vietnam. The town is close to the city ofPhan Thiết. Tourism has transformed Mui Ne into a resort destination since 1995, when many visited to view the total solar eclipse of October 24, 1995.Mui Ne has many resorts on the beach, as well as restaurants, bars and cafes.
Mui Ne Beach is a popular tropical beach. Strong sea breezes make it very popular for kitesurfing and windsurfing[2]. The tourist season is from December to May.

As we rolled down to the flats of Mui Ne, we were greeted by a small esplanade, certainly a good place to stop and soak in the tranquility of the moment. But some of us were already quite far ahead and we need to keep pace.

However, we did manage to stop for a quick shot of our man in black (Pak Wan), who blended in well with this black classic of a car. This was in front of the many resorts along this stretch.

The five-foot ways along this stretch were tiled. Coconut trees lined the streets, offering both shades and drinks for the many holiday-goers, mainly Russians. One could obviously understand the relationship of the Russians with the Vietnamese, dated back since the Vietnam war.

Two other highlights need to be mentioned of the Mui Ne area. The group just had to stop to capture the scenery before us. This was one highlight.

The number of fishing boats in the sea were just too many to count. Fishing must certainly be one of the main source of income for the populace. Fishing must have been done at night as all the boats we captured were in mooring.

The second highlight is the sand-dunes. Just after lunch, kids greeted us offering us to sand-surf. Mui Ne is also famous for their sand-dunes. These dunes are not necessarily by the beach. These dunes are also found across the road, away from the beach front.

Sand-surfing activity offered to us. 
Lunch was another affair with sea-food. One restaurant lost our business. The security guard manning the entrance refused to allow the bikes to be parked within the carpark area, probably for the same reason at Bau Mai resort - bikes are just that, bikes.

As they say, one restaurant's loss is another restaurant's gain. We were the only customers and service were fast and food were marvelous.

We had a good rest here and took the opportunity to jamak our prayers, before moving on.

Moving on became very slow. The winds were roaring against us. The coconut trees bent forward, as if bowing to us, welcoming us to the land of the winds. So I penned a short poem below:


The wind, ah...the wind that blows
Strength after strength it grows
We cycled, we peleton, all in a row
We started fast, then we became slow
And we stop often, to rest our tired soul
Ah....the wind that blows

To compound the challenge, at the 69km mark on my POLAR (50 mile mark on Zu's Garmin), as the heat bore on us, the road climbed and climbed, corner after corner. Factor the wind and we are talking about a triple blow - heat, wind and terrain.

Shuhaimi aptly commented in his fluent French "lembu pun terberak nok ghukah (climb) bukit ni", noting the cowdungs along this climbing stretch. Such observance!

The climb started at the 50 mile mark
Anyway, cycling is also about free-wheeling. Once at the top, we were rewarded with a great downhill to a small town Luong San where a drink stop was the reward of the hard climb. Along this downhill stretch, we noted tapioca as a cottage industry. 

We were still a good 20kms to our night stop and we arrived just as the sun was setting. It was the most welcoming sight when we saw the support van at this small hotel, called An Vien. Tonight, in this small hotel, there would be no seperate beds. But I have no worries. Haji Khailani slept soundly everytime!

We clocked 119 kms on Day 3 and ready ourselves for the longest day on Day 4.