16 Jul Cycling from Hue to Đông Hà
Before cycling from Hue to Đông Hà, we spend an extra down day in Hue. Besides wandering around the newer part of town, where most of the tourists stay in their hotels and hostels, we stroll along the river and we treat ourselves to a double and triple serving of kem cay (soft serve-ice-cream) and pizza…sometimes it is just nice to get to eat something familiar and with less than 10 cents per ice cream it is easy to go a little bit overboard!
In the evenings we enjoy a glass of wine on the small balcony that is overlooking the alleyway. We watch children play, some people sweep the street others are wandering around or having tea at one of the small stands set up in the street. Each evening, we watch the “garbage-woman” ring her big brass bell as she is pushing her cart through the narrow passage to pick up small bags of trash, which have been carefully placed outside of peoples homes. A couple of women who missed her call, hustle after her with bags in hand to catch her.
In the morning I tip toe down several flights of stairs to get hot water for the morning coffee. Like most of the other guesthouses, the owner is happy to hand me an entire thermos of scalding hot water to make a cup of instant coffee in our room. Back in the room, we fix a quick cup of Joe and head back out to the balcony. Although, all we can see from up here are buildings and rooftops, alleyways and streets, we can clearly hear roosters crow all over town. A lot of the “cock-a-doodle-doo” even seems to come from other balconies and rooftops right around us…obviously there is a little bit of urban farming going on here and we love it!
Eventually, it is time to get going again. We pack up our gear, carry all of our bags and gear down the many flights of stairs and strap everything back on our bikes. The girls of the house watch us with a lot of giggling and laughing. Just the other day, when we arrived, the two young girls working the front desk offered their help to carry a few of our bags up the stairs to our room. Obviously, they did not expect our bags to weigh anything as they struggled and huffed and puffed up the stairs as they laughed at each other for having a tough time. Once they finally made it up to the room under the roof, they happily dropped the few bags they carried onto a big pile and disappeared quickly back down the stairs…maybe they were a little bit worried, that we could use a little bit more help.
Once we have everything loaded back up, they wave us goodbye and off we go to the street corner to pick up a few bánh mì for breakfast, before rolling out of town.
Today’s ride takes us further north along Highway 1.
Besides cycling through miles and miles of more construction zones, the ride is pretty uneventful. We ride past more rice-patties and through several small villages. It seems different areas or even just different villages specialize in selling certain items. There are areas where we pass huts and more huts selling woven baskets and handmade brooms, another village specializes in wooden furniture, and sometimes it is odd things like fowl, poultry, pigeons and birds of prey…what are the odds!?
As we are getting hungry and ride past a family restaurant, we stop to get lunch. The owners are very friendly and try to communicate with us. Unfortunately, their English skills are very little and our Vietnamese is simply non-existent so our conversation is short lived. We order and unlike most other times we do not bother asking about the price before we order. Apparently, we have become a little too comfortable eating out in Vietnam and so far we were always treated well, the prices were fair and never inflated, and we never felt the need to haggle for our food.
As we ask for the bill, the numbers do not add up. For some reason our food cost twice of what we usually pay. I look at the bill smile and shake my head..” No, that is too much!”
They smile back and point adamantly at the numbers they just wrote in very nice penmanship on a piece of paper.
What are we to do, but grudgingly pay the price. Although, once converted into US Dollars the meal still only cost a fraction of what lunch would have cost in the States and it was definitely not a budget breaker, nor did we feel like arguing over it any further…but it is the principle! We know how much a bowl of beef noodle soup is supposed to cost and we feel cheated, betrayed and a lot like taken for fools. Thank goodness, this is the first place we were taken like this and we’ll make sure it won’t happen again. And so we pedal on.
Eventually we make it to Đông Hà. As we enter the town, we stop at a gas station to take a look at our map and GPS to see where we should look for a guest house in town. We really do not have to look far, since there are couple of guest houses conveniently located right across the road from us.
As Jessica watches the bikes, Ron and I hustle across the road to check on the guest house.
The owners are very friendly, the room is big enough for three, and the price is right.
While we check into the guest house, Jessica meets Mr. Tinh. Once we return to get our bikes, he greets us and tells us about another guesthouse around the corner, apparently it has the same price, so we are doing OK at ours. He also tells us a lot about the area, the DMZ zone and some of the local history. Soon we come to find out, that he leads DMZ tours as well as tours to the famous Vinh Moc Tunnels and other areas. He gives us his number, should we be interested and goes his way.
We have already considered going on a tour, so we call him up later in the night to set up a meeting in the morning to go for a tour.
In the meantime though, we are hungry and ask the owners where we could find a place to eat. Just as we are asking, another young man–his name is Nhat– who lives at the guest house just returned from work and gets conveniently volunteered by the owners to show us where we could eat. Nhat speaks excellent English and tells us he is about to go out to eat anyway. He gives us a warning and says, he likes to go to a small family run place, that may not seem very clean or good to Western tourists, but he likes the food and the prices there. He seems to be worried about giving us a stomach ache. We ensure him, that we love to go to small family run places and that we already survived eating in Thailand and Cambodia.
“Cambodia!?” he exclaims “You guys have superman stomachs!”
And so we head to the small place. Since we do not know what they offer, we ask what he usually eats here and so he orders a variety of meets, fish, veggies, and rice. Before we know it there are several small bowls of food appearing on the table and we are introduced to some more traditional Vietnam cuisine.
We chat and talk, Nhat asks us about our experiences in Vietnam and whether we ever got ripped off during our travels. It’s funny that he asks, because that just happened for the first time earlier today, but we thought for the most part people have treated us wonderfully and we had an absolute wonderful time so far traveling in Vietnam.
Nhat felt very bad about our encounter earlier today and insisted to make up for it by buying our dinner. We try to convince him, that that is not at all necessary and that we love his country and its people and that we actually wanted to invite him for dinner for showing us around and for spending time with us but he still insists. We are very thankful and and have a great evening together. When we ask him, what he would have done, if somebody were to rip him off, he simply says: ” I would not have paid, and tell them I never, ever paid that much for soup why would I pay for it now?!!”
As we return back to the guesthouse, the owners are sitting in the entrance hall and invite us to sit with them. Of course Nhat has to stay as well to translate. The owners ask us about our plans, if we are going to see the DMZ. The man tells us a little about the history of the North and the South and how he dislikes the attitude of the North and basically how he dislikes the communist regime. The wife is obviously displeased and uncomfortable with the conversation and urges him to not say too much. Poor Nhat clearly feels a little awkward translating some of the opinions. Although, the man is very excited to talk to us about his ideas and very Western and free ideologies, we know that discussing opposing political views and dilemmas can get people into trouble if discussed with the wrong person and try to end the conversation as politely as possible. We still end up having a very nice evening of laughing and talking before heading to our rooms.