Getting Acquainted with a Lovely People - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

October 29, 2016

Getting Acquainted with a Lovely People

Bac Giang to Huu Lung

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Bac Giang to Huu Lung, Vietnam 37.5 Miles

In the lobby Friday night I asked Elvis, the only employee who spoke English, if breakfast was included with our room price. He hesitated and said slowly as if he was thinking about something else at the same time, “Not…. normally……but… maybe I will arrange something for you.” I hadn’t actually been hinting at anything, it’s just that sometimes breakfast IS included and since the Minhtrung Hotel was much fancier than our usual accommodation I thought maybe it included breakfast.

Elvis, (I can’t remember what his Vietnamese name was but he told us people called him Elvis), was excited to talk with us because now, stationed in Bac Giang, he never had the opportunity to practice his English. He had previously worked in many other cities around the country more frequented by tourists where he had learned English. Bac Giang didn’t have many tourists yet. In fact, once we left Hanoi heading east it seemed as though we had left the land of tourists.

Elvis was going to Hanoi very early the next day, his day off, and we probably wouldn’t be seeing him again. It was too bad because we really liked Elvis and he wanted to spend more time with us too. He was such a nice person that I even surprised myself by telling him as much. He just laughed at that and then he asked us when we wanted breakfast.

When we came down the stairs in the morning the woman at the front counter immediately ushered us down a long hallway to V.I.P. room No.7. We felt small at the large, round, lazy-Susan equipped table. Within minutes two large bowls of pho bo were set in front of us along with a bowl of cucumber slices in some sort of brine, cut garlic, chills, limes and a pot of green tea. Everything was delicious and we sat in our large room feeling like King and Queen, our servants, if needed, were waiting just outside the door.

V.I.P. Room No. 7 at the Minhtrung Hotel in Bac Giang
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A great breakfast provided for us by Elvis.
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Ron GrumbyElvis- King of Rock n Roll and King in the Kitchen
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Bruce LellmanElvis provides.
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I don't know what it is about outdoor sinks that I love so much.
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The green tea was so intense it was like drinking broth. I loved it. The cucumbers were the tastiest I’d ever eaten and this judgement comes from someone who worked on the Northrup King Seed research plot and one of my jobs was to occasionally sample the 105 varieties of cucumbers we were growing and rate them in various ways. Apparently we had not heard of the Vietnamese cukes because this was in 1974 when the United States was more interested in forcefully preventing the spread of Communism than exchanging crops and knowledge.

After our wonderful breakfast and writing Elvis a thank you note we got on the road. From the previous day’s crazy street congestion when we were trying to break free of Hanoi we found it quite easy to leave Bac Giang. And because of the ease of leaving and feeling more in the groove of biking again it actually felt more like our first day of riding.

Vietnam has a large population; 100 million. It means that roads radiating out from any city are lined with businesses of all sorts for miles. The road out of Bac Giang to the north follows alongside a river and has a great mix of shops from banh mi stands to sheet metal dealers to bridal shops and everything in between. As we rode, the bustling business atmosphere slowly petered out and was replaced with farms and everything rural.

I love this garden.
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We were finally riding again in rural S.E. Asia where we have dreamt of riding again ever since our previous bike trip in S.E. Asia ended 18 months ago. It was hot but that didn’t matter. It was dusty but it didn’t matter. We were out of shape but that didn’t matter either. We were riding and that’s all that mattered.

We stopped for a banh mi sandwich and the girl who made it for us then wanted a selfie with Andrea. It seems everyone is interested in us! We are celebrities over here!

Andrea making friends easily.
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A little further on the very pleasant road we screeched on the brakes when we saw a sign, “Ca Phe” and an arrow pointing down a little lane. Back from the main road under the protection of large trees we discovered what is certainly a local nighttime disco hangout. A couple welcomed us inside the cool dark room and the woman got busy making us coffee. They brought us glasses of water infused with lime juice and we marveled at the intricacy of the poured cement ceiling. The design was; art deco meets the 60’s.

The couple who owned the place seemed thrilled to have us and I doubted any other westerner had ever entered their establishment. It’s too bad we don’t know Vietnamese because it would have been so much fun to converse. Instead the man kept eating sugar cane while glued to his Kung Fu movie and the woman bustled about smiling at us. About half way through my rich coffee I said to Andrea, “I’d like to have about eleven of these.”

But instead we rode on constantly waving, smiling and answering hellos. The young people smiled immediately and excitedly and older people always smiled if I smiled first. They are lovely, peaceful people here in N.E. Vietnam, that’s for sure. I’d like to find those tourists who years ago told us how reserved the north Vietnamese were. Instead we are finding them to be quite open, generous of spirit, eager to talk with us and wanting to be photographed.

Kids amazed to see us everywhere.
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Some were in utter shock momentarily when they first laid eyes on us. It was as if their brains couldn’t process fast enough what their eyes were seeing. Most were stopped dead in their tracks. We just smiled and said hello. Even the dogs were shocked to see us. Some were so shocked that they launched themselves off the road without looking to see where they were jumping to. I saw one fling himself into tall weeds and another into a small stream! Again, the shock was so sudden that not one dog had time to react to us in a negative way. We were quite lucky too because most of the dogs are big German shepherd types and they look better cared for than any I’ve seen in Asia.

Afternoon snack site - an abandoned clinic from colonial times.
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I want these doors that will probably rot into dust.
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Abandoned clinic - French colonial architecture
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Taken by Andrea while sitting having an afternoon snack.
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And then we started to see in the distance the main reason we had come to N.E. Vietnam - karst formations. Jutting abruptly from the flat rice paddy valleys are karst hills. Too steep to do anything with, they are beautiful preserved vertical islands growing natural bonsais.

Cycling friends and the start of karst in the distance
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Karst
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Karst mountains
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Ron GrumbyThat's amazing!!
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Bruce LellmanThere's a lot of karst out there. And that's just the top of it!
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Karst
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The road got smaller and deteriorated down to dirt in a lot of sections but it didn’t matter because the further out we went the more and more excited the people were to see us. I started to think that we maybe are the first westerners to ever bicycle this road. Maybe the people had seen westerners on motor bikes whiz by but even that I doubt because Andrea had chosen a very remote route. To say the least, Andrea and I were having a blast.

We rode through areas where lots of thin sheets of wood were being dried presumably for the making of laminates. The tiny scraps that didn't make the grade were made into a crude loose charcoal in the big oven-like thing.
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Some areas were where stone carving is done.
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These are the only people who did not see us coming because they were all fascinated at that new-fangled rice threshing machine doing the work for all of them. At the last second someone alerted them that I was taking their photo.
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At a crossroads where lots of barbecuing of animals was taking place we stopped to look at our location using the iPad and Pocket Earth. Everyone left their posts to come over to greet us. One man shook my hand. All were incredibly welcoming and pointed us in the right direction. However, they told us that the nearest guest house was a long way, too far for us to ride to before darkness would overtake us.

I love this path.
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There are many times during bicycle trips when one really wonders what will transpire.

All we could do was zoom on and hope for the best. But the rough road prevented us from zooming very fast. We were on a collision course with darkness and the unknown. As far out in the country as we were, the density of people was still high enough to preclude the possibility of stealth camping. If simply the sight of us put people over the top, asking to pitch a tent in someone’s yard was out of the question.

We were tired and just a little bit frantic but, then suddenly there it was, the magic sign we were hoping for; Nha Nghi, or, “guest house”. It wasn’t much to look at from the front but to us it looked every bit as grand as Elvis’ fancy hotel.

The Nha Nghi that saved us.
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lovebruce

Today's ride: 38 miles (61 km)
Total: 75 miles (121 km)

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