This section from Hoi An to Thanh My is the sixteenth instalment of my bicycle ride from Yunnan to Cambodia – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

After sleeping a considerably better sleep in the Phuc An hotel, we find the streets of Hoi An shiny with rain. Though the actual rain has ceased, we put off our ride by wolfing down the complimentary hotel breakfast, followed by a second breakfast at a restaurant that made vegetarian versions of popular Vietnamese foods. We have fried won-tons and a rice flour dough creation called white rose. Both taste great!

Back at the hotel, we get Tu’s bike fixed to eliminate her wheel wobbling and to stop her pedal from moving clicking. When we can find no more reasons to procrastinate, we leave this pretty town and head west towards a much grimmer destination: the poorest regions on the Ho Chi Minh highway, near the Lao and Cambodian borders.

Ducks on a motorbike
Ducks on a motorbike

We’re harassed by a north-western wind which not only slows us down but also blows road dust in our eyes. Fortunately, the road is almost entirely flat so we’re still making pretty good time.

With the exception of a few Europeans saddled behind Easy Riders (a non-restrictive moniker for a tour guide on a motorbike that speaks English), the foreigners have all but completely disappeared. Instead, we see a lot more rural sights: ducks and pigs in baskets on motorcycles, fields that lay fallow during the winter, oxen ploughing other fields …

Vietnamese Christmas cave crib
Merry Christmas wish from Tu and me at a Vietnamese Christmas cave crib

The area is also heavily Christian, with ancestor altars (which the southern Vietnamese build outside their houses) now containing images and statues of mother Mary. With today being Christmas Eve, the streets are lined with typical Vietnamese Christmas cave cribs.

For the others there is plenty of incense drying by the side of the road. From Tu I learn that incense in Vietnam is traditionally made from pulverised wood, preferably cinnamon wood, mixed together with glutinous rice glue in which a thin piece of wood is dipped to make the incense stick. The result then needs to be air-dried. More modern and less expensive production processes make use of artificial glue and cheaper wood.

Incense drying by the roadside
Incense drying by the roadside

At the end of the ride, the sights have turned into postcard Asian rural scenes, with cone-hatted farmers leading oxen to plough their rice fields, interspersed by palm trees and bodies of water against a backdrop of shady mountains. Our road reflects this change and we get a few minor climbs. Tu is beginning to master the skill of riding up long slopes: concentrate on your breath, find a slow rhythm and just go. She finishes the 2 km slope in one haul.

We then gently roll into Thanh My, where I instantly recognise the Karaoke Hotel I stayed in last time. While trying to remember the price and the quality, Tu goes in to chat with the lady. We arrive at the same conclusion at the same time: let’s go on!

A handicapped man in his tricycle that is operated by jerking the steering wheel back and forth
A handicapped man in his tricycle that is operated by jerking the steering wheel back and forth

Locals point us to the Hai Duong (海洋) hotel. Newly opened and run by Hanoians, this hotel fits our needs perfectly. We’re not sure what it will look like in three years, but for today it justifies the slightly higher price of 200,000 VND.

No luck in finding a cheap meal, everyone wants over 100,000 VND for a single plate, which should really be the price for a 2-person meal, especially in a small rural place like this. Tu blames it on my white presence but I cannot remember being ripped off this badly. When she goes in to bargain down the price of yet another restaurant, it’s actually my white face that makes the owner throw in a free chicken dish.

Hai Lua restaurant
The man’s restaurant is called Hai Lua (“country bumpkin”) – he’s pulling a very country face here

Food’s delicious and we get treated to some home-made liquor while the owner complains about local government graft and the quality of the educational system these days. Seems Vietnam is becoming ever more like China. We promise to come eat Bun the next morning and say our goodbyes, walking off into the dark night.

Cheering at Hai Lua restaurant
I have to work on my poses, but here we’re cheering to his and our health

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