Sunday, March 17th, 2013 – Da Lat to Nha Trang and Van Gia

Distance travelled today 220 kilometres – Total distance travelled 880 kilometres

At first my plan for the day went well, but then it unexpectedly returned to the original plan from before even variant A.

In the morning, we left, as we had planned to at about seven.

The first part of the trip was to Nha Trang and the first 138 kilometres to there was actually quite easy. With our regular hourly stops, the going at first was nothing like as hard as in previous days.

It was probably the most beautiful part of the trip to that point. The scenery surrounding the road was stunning and, although even on the most beautiful road there were countless craters, some huge, like pits, there was very little traffic, so it was not a problem to avoid them.

It was sunny (I do not know why I wrote that, except for the evening showers, it was always sunny) but quite cool, almost cold in places. As we slowly climbed ever higher, the scenery was quite harsh, but serene and beautiful.

In some parts, there were large areas where the vegetation was either very sickly or dead. We were told this was as a result of the area being subjected to spraying with the de-foliating chemical “Agent Orange” during the Vietnam war. Considering that war ended in 1975, I wondered whether the vegetation would ever recover.

As we began to drop back down towards the coast, we came to an area where the people were drying their crops on the edge of the road. This went on for miles. Often, the grains had been carefully raked into neat lines.

In some places we passed carts, pulled by an ox or a buffalo, that were hugely laden. They were one of the few things going more slowly than we were on those long hills !

We knew that, if we were ever going to make it to Hanoi, at some point, we would now have to take a train to make up for lost time. So, in Nha Trang, we went straight to the station and this time I sent David inside. He came back out, shaking his head. Our well-thought-out train journey would not take place, at least not from Na Trang. The next train north, capable of transporting Minh, would leave “sometime” (they did not seem to have any time-tables) on the following Wednesday. That was three days in the future. According to our tradition, we sat down for a while to evaluate that information and to, once again, re-evaluate our plans. Basically, because we did not want to miss the rest of central Vietnam, there was only one solution. We had to drive on further north in the direction of Hanoi.

I would rather not write what we planned to do at all, just what actually happened. No matter how carefully we planned things, they always turned out completely differently. We decided that the only thing that was important was that at least the two of us knew what we planned to do in the morning. The evening was not important, everything would always be solved somehow. Or maybe not, but that had not happened yet.

The ride to the station in Nha Trang had added an extra 20 kilometres to our day’s ride, but, more importantly, it had delayed us unnecessarily.

It is sad to say that, when we left Nha Trang, our buttocks had already had it. David says it is a Buddhist precept that “all life is suffering” so I could not help but glare when we passed a large statue of Buddha looking serenely down at passers by. If he had been riding Minh he would have known what suffering was !

We were both pretty sore and so when we finally saw a beach, our rear ends prompted us to stop. For this reason, we had our first “nuc mía” drink right on the sand (I write that phonetically, I had no idea how to spell it correctly) while David did what he always does when confronted by the sea – he paddled in it ! It was the juice of sugar cane.

Thanks to this new term, I basically doubled my Vietnamese vocabulary. Although I had tried to learn “hello” and “goodbye“, I could not hold it in my head for two minutes. I had the word for water (of which more later) it was “nuc sui“. But it was still all but impossible to get any ice. Finally, I would just always walk into the kitchen (which sometimes amazed the owner) and point to the freezer and the bags that they made ice in. It was probably an unconventional way, but when I took off my shoes, they did not object. But, I usually did not want to be barefoot in their “clean” cozy kitchen, I just did not have the stomach for it. I usually stood on the doorstep and navigated the Vietnamese owner to the freezer with gestures.

Anyway, at the “nuc mía” stop, we decided to push on, that day, to a place called Van Gía (also, for some reason, called Van Ninh). According to our map, which you may recall was a second or third generation photocopy of something from the 1970s, it had a long beach and so we hoped to find a hotel. We set off again, but when four o’clock came and went and evening was starting to come, we still had not got there.

Finally, in what was almost dusk, we arrived at the edge of the town and saw the fish enclosures.

Further on, it was evident that the beach, such as it was, was more suited to a day trip than for a holiday. I was afraid we would end up sleeping on the street which was not what we wanted after what had been, quite frankly, a fairly miserable final stage of the day’s journey.

In the end, we did find a place, but it was not very inspiring and I would have bet my shoes that we had found the only hotel that was there. Again, we parked Minh in the reception area. It was cheap place and it looked it, but it did, at least, have hot water. The shower though, was tiny and it was hard to get everything under the water jet at once.

We went for a walk, bought bananas for breakfast and found a “real” restaurant. By that I mean a more traditional layout and not a “tacked on” dining room, which we had become used to. The menu was huge, about forty pages, but typed in Vietnamese and the food was not displayed in pictures (pointing a finger was usually even better than speaking English). Unusually, we had forgotten our Lonely Planet, where there were at least some key words and also our camera. From somewhere, they pulled a Vietnamese woman who was, apparently, considered to be an English-speaker. But, as usual, the words “water” and “ice” did not mean anything to her, let alone fish, rice, etc. She did know beef, which was an advantage only because I definitely wanted to avoid it and chicken. In the end, when we were all, including the numerous other staff who came to try and help, sweaty from our vain attempts at communication, we heard the word “seafood”. We both nodded furiously that we wanted it. I also chose some chicken, but if I had known that it was a wing, I would not have bothered. What we finally had to eat was various pieces of spiced fish in sauce with rice and a chicken wing. It was at least quite tasty.  

Theoretically, there was wi-fi in the hotel, but it worked the same way as the previous one, in Da Lat. It seemed to be some kind of “data packet” transfer system, but why it worked that way was a mystery to me. It was all but useless. The hotel did have connected PCs that were on the internet, but they had Vietnamese keyboards. It is hard to access any website when, if you typed in “www” you got a string of Vietnamese characters that each looked like a “u” with a tail.

At least the mobile telephone system worked and we were able to contact the friends that we were hoping to meet in Hanoi and make an outline plan.