Navigating the Spider's Web - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

November 5, 2016

Navigating the Spider's Web

Minh Sơn to Neo

Dear little friends,

All night long enormous trucks bayed and bellowed along the highway 20 yards from our window. The A/C hummed some white noise to drown them out but the energy and rushing of thousands of loads of sand and rice and plastic Chinese goods toward Hanoi seemed to creep in under the door despite my exhaustion.

Tasteful guesthouse decor.
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There's no sense crying over spilled sunscreen.
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The last ten miles yesterday along Thunder Dome AH1 was enough to convince us that while it was conceivably possible to ride the 40-some miles to Hanoi on it, why the hell would we do that when we could retain our sanity and safety on back roads? Of course Vietnam is an old country, with mountains and rivers, it’s not Kansas with a perfect grid of parallel lines, more like a spiderweb of routes, so it would take careful mapping to make our way back via the rural roads.

We rode a few miles on AH1 and then turned south at Kep, stopped for noodle soup at a strange new suburban development, and carried on. The peaceful rural route we thought we had pegged was actually pretty hairy, we guessed that it was a bypass route for some long-distance traffic such as ourselves. At one point I saw my first motorbike accident, a guy carrying a load of something suddenly down on the pavement with a scraping of plastic motorbike parts and passersby jumping to help him up and gather his cargo so no apparent harm done.

Warning signs are often improbably adorable.
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Warning taken.
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Our phở lady was fascinated by Google Translate and our Vietnamese phrase book. I'm sure she has as many questions for us as we do for her.
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There's a wedding in the works. Decorators set up tents and chairs and frippery and then the party starts.
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Careful mapping is really not our strong suit to be perfectly honest. I have some difficulty seeing the screen of my iPad in strong sunlight and we found ourselves having a snack at a dead-end with a scruffy temple entrance. Like any other self-respecting bike tourist, backtracking is The Last Resort, so we started on a village path that would eventually lead us to the bridge we sought.

The chicken said to take a left.
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And so we did.
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We stumbled on this old Catholic church, which are not uncommon in Vietnam. Some of them are still "manned" but this one looked pretty quiet. I'm guessing the date on it is from when it was "restored" (probably a fresh coat of paint). I'd love to see inside one of these and am sure we will as we travel south.
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Much of Vietnam is flat rice paddy, with traditional family plots, that are often subdivided next to highways for mixed-use buildings: businesses below and housing above (or in the business itself in many cases, it’s not uncommon to see bedding and hammocks in the corner of the store). Because Vietnam is growing so quickly and has a huge baby boom going on, the development is constant, and landscapes can be sort of bleak what with piles of bricks and sand and machinery going.

Crops and houses.
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Why there is a proto-superhighway out here on the way to nowhere is still unknown.
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But we found our bridge and puffed our way up to it, crossed it, and stopped to take a swig of water. We were immediately joined by an older gentleman who crossed the road from his house to greet us and congratulate us on our feats of strength (Why, thank you, we impress ourselves as well) and then by two schoolgirls on motorbikes, one of whom had excellent English and smilingly welcomed us to Vietnam. Vietnam has surprised us over and over again with this warmth toward us Americans, their former enemies.

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As a result of our spiderweb navigation we were still far from Hanoi but in a pleasant town with a fun name: Neo. We stopped at a busy sidewalk corner place under some hospitable trees for an iced coffee and to observe the goings-on. A white-gloved policeman watched the traffic do its insane thing with no remediation from him, and homemade farm vehicles chugged by with loads of hay or rice.

At some point our fellow coffee lollygaggers pointed us in the direction of a Nha Nghi, one of the more dodgy ones we’ve been in but still perfectly fine. There was a tiny restaurant nearby whose owner was wearing the filthiest pair of shorts I’d ever seen in Asia but we aren’t dead yet so apparently his wife was doing the cooking. They were nice people and invited us to sit and drink but our hard, hard beds with the bafflingly-decorated bedding were calling us.

Bun Cha restaurant in Neo. It tasted great.
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Nha Nghi Sweet Nha Nghi
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Let's just stop and admire the romantic overtones in this Nha Nghi. I will spare you the wall mirror next to the bed and the barely legal 3-D nymph on the wall.
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Today's ride: 36 miles (58 km)
Total: 197 miles (317 km)

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