Saturday 2nd December
Miles: 65 Climbing: 300ft
My idea of getting an early night didn’t work very well. I got to bed nice and early but my thoughts kept me awake all night. I was worried that I wouldn’t make it, that I’d made a huge mistake to even try, that it would be too hard. My brain conjured up every problem imaginable. I could hear the traffic below all night, it never stopped, and I worried about getting out of Hanoi.
I got up at 4am to pack the last few things. It was too early for breakfast so I ate a pot noodle type thing from the mini bar. I had to wake the night porter to let me out and then I was on my way. The traffic was very light so it was easy to get out of Hanoi and as soon as I was on my way all of my worries disappeared. I knew I would enjoy myself even though I knew I wouldn’t enjoy every moment. I felt much more confident and tackled big junctions with any trouble. It was still dark to begin with and apart from traffic keeping out of my way I was mostly ignored.
Once it got light however, things changed. Suddenly everyone was staring at me in a way that would be considered rude back home.
I’d booked into a place in Ninh Binh for the evening, a place that was recommended in my lonely planet guide. It was 60miles south of Hanoi which I thought would be a good first day distance. Especially since I hadn’t ridden a bike for at least a month, never ridden a bike with that much luggage and hadn’t ridden a mountain bike for years. The ride was easy although I didn’t really feel like I was leaving the city behind until the last 10 miles when suddenly I was on dirt tracks, crossing shaking wooden bridges.
When I arrived at the Nguyen Shack I knew I had picked the right place to stay. The location was amazing. Down a dead end dirt track deep in the mountains. The whole place was built from bamboo on stilts over a lake with mountains towering over us on all sides.
I was starving, thirsty and exhausted when I arrived. It is traditional in Vietnam to offer guests a welcome drink and I was given a fresh cane sugar and lemon juice drink. As I had left Hanoi so early it was still breakfast time when I arrived so they let me have breakfast for free and check in early. I was in love with this place already and I hadn’t even seen my room.
The women that run the place were really friendly and their English was great. I was joined by one of them over breakfast as she told me all the things to see in the area, mostly caves.
There’s is a common miss-translation I’ve been noticing a lot here. When a Vietnam person is making a suggestion it really sounds like an order. Instead of saying “you should” or “you could” they tend to say “you will”. I felt like my time here had been planned out for me and I was a little worried about what might happen if I didn’t find time to do it all.
After breakfast I was shown to my room which was amazing. Just a bamboo shack with hammocks outside.
After a short rest and unloading my bike I tackled the first thing on my itinerary, the caves. So I hoped back on my bike and cycled to the caves. There were 2 different boat routes that you could take through the caves and I opted for the less popular option, figuring that I wouldn’t be sharing the caves with as many people. The boats took 4 people and as I was on my own I was directed to a bench to wait until there were some other people for my tour. Another group of people turned up and an elderly couple in that group spotted my bench and made a beeline for it. I first thought that they wanted to rest but then another member of the group prepared to take a photo of them. Thinking that they wanted a photo with the view behind I started to get up so that I could get out of their photo. But the old lady said no, grabbed my arm, sat me back down and put an arm around me whilst someone else took her picture. I know that being a 6ft tall woman with a bright purple mohawk must make me look a little unusual but I wasn’t expecting to become a tourist attraction. Maybe I should start charging.
Finally 2 other women arrived for my tour. A Dutch woman and a Korean woman and together with our guide, Tam we set off down the river and through the caves.
We had a couple of stops along the way. Fist at a temple and second at part of the king king set where I got into a fight with one of the locals.
Once we got back onto the boat our guide, Tam, pointed to the oars then me, suggesting that I have a go at rowing. I had a little go which she found hilarious. She touched my hair then squeezed my biceps and said big. She clearly thought I looked very unusual.
After the boat trip I rode back to the accommodation and then hiked to the top of one of the nearby mountains to watch the sunset. Unfortunately there wasn’t much sun around to watch but it was still amazing.
I wish I could spend more time here but I don’t feel that I can take a day off so early into the trip so I have to hit the road again in the morning.