Cycling Day 60 – Hanoi to Phu Ly
We were both pretty excited this morning to get going on a decent tour once more having had a holiday from our holiday for a couple of months. Life is tough, I know. There was some slight uncertainty as to whether we would actually be leaving today, as a package from Australia I was expecting hadn’t arrived despite being supposed to arrive the day before. Luckily it arrived just a few minuted before we were due to check out and we were good to go (Thanks Amanda!).
We had unpacked and reassembled the bikes the previous day – this process had massively intrigued the hotel staff who kept coming down to inspect where we were up to. We’d taken them for a quick ride around the block and they seem to be in working order but we have lined up a few short days to begin with just to allow for anything to go wrong. We both seem to have picked up some extra luggage in Thailand – our panniers are full to bursting point. We’ve definitely lost some weight by sending the tents and camping gear home but we’ve picked up things like duffle bags and big plastic protectors for our bikes to make it easier to travel by air, and these take up quite a bit of space.
The target for today was Phu Ly, a town directly south of Hanoi. Having spent a few days in Hanoi, we were used to the traffic from a pedestrian perspective, and getting a lift on the back of a few scooters had given us an eye for how the traffic works. Despite there being traffic lights and other signals in Hanoi, these seem to be only loosely interpreted as guidelines by many of the local drivers who will just slowly move directly across a stream of opposing traffic and expect everyone else to swerve around them. As crazy as this sounds, it actually tends to work due to the low speeds of all vehicles on the road. It still proved to be a moderate learning curve for us, however, as we had to both pluck up the courage to push across ourselves and also be aware that someone else could do it to us at any time.
We left the Hanoi Romance Hotel where we had been staying (yes, we’ve already made all the jokes thank you) and headed off into the main traffic around Hoan Kiem lake, following it around the west edge and then off to the south. The unadulterated chaos of scooters everywhere made this one of the most enjoyable rides I’ve had on this trip. We had the GoPro recording in time lapse mode which you can see below. I had a bit of a technical issue which meant that the settings were reset and I wasn’t able to get the whole day but I did at least get all of Hanoi. Look out for some of the crazy things people carry on the back of their scooters (I’m meaning to do a separate post on this at some time in the future).
We were subject to quite a few curious stares, particularly when we were stopped at traffic lights. We had a few interactions with other scooter drivers – some challenged me to a race which I accepted and lost. Andy had a chat to one guy on a scooter about where we were going and he offered us a tow by holding onto the back of his bike. As tempting as this was, we thought it might have been considered as cheating. From Hanoi we basically followed the railway line south in a straight line. I was expecting the road to be a lot worse than it actually is – I never really felt bothered by the traffic levels , the pollution or the noise. Every time a truck, van or bus passes you they blast their horn to let you know that they are there. This takes a while to get used to but after some time it no longer bothers you.
We chose a tiny place on the side of the road to stop and have a pho bo (beef noodle broth). Feeling quite confident from the limited interactions I had managed in Hanoi, I strode confidently to the owner and asked for two pho and two cokes, asking how much it would cost. She looked at me as if I was from a different planet then burst into hysterical laughter along with the other three women there. Eventually, using a combination of gesticulation, pointing at words in a book and typing the price into the calculator on my phone, we were able to get some food. I think that in the big cities where there are more westerners attempting to speak Vietnamese, people get used to hearing the common mispronunciations and are more tolerant of it. Hopefully this gets a lot easier for us as we go along!
The light misty drizzle that had accompanied us out of Hanoi turned to rain after lunch. Throughout the American leg, we were extremely lucky with the weather, having only one wet day in the three months we were there. While the novelty of riding in the rain was OK, I hope that this doesn’t become a recurring theme for the Vietnamese trip. I decided to put my bright yellow high visibility jacket on to fend off the rain, which had the unintended side effect of drawing even more attention to ourselves. From this point on, almost everyone yelled “Hello” as loudly as they could and waved at us. While you can see that this is completely genuine and is quite endearing, I think that after six weeks we will probably be a bit tired from waving back to the whole country.
When we arrived at Phu Ly, we had a quick look around for a hotel and settled on the Khach San Hoa Binh. We had a bit of time to look around the town and have another similarly difficult time in communicating over dinner. I’ll definitely be spending some time looking at the pronunciation over the next few days!
Overall, it was a pretty successful first day and I’m very optimistic about the rest of the trip. The bikes held up pretty well (mine is making a bit of noise that I can’t find yet) and from a physical perspective the flat 60km was pretty trivial. We probably maintained as high a speed as we did for any of the days in the US. The road surface was fine the whole way – we’d read a few blogs where people took their road bikes along the same roads and had ended up with broken parts everywhere so I think it may get a little bumpier as we get further from the capital. We’ve both got new tyres for this leg of the trip and I’m pretty happy with my choice as well (the new Schwalbe Marathon Deluxe). So far so good, looking forward to tomorrow!