As we approach the end of our second week in Vietnam and in light of all the adventuring evidence gathered to date we have drawn the following conclusions:
- The Vietnamese are a very friendly and incredibly patient people.
- We are carrying too much stuff.
- Even when it’s cold here it’s still hot.
- Spring onion flavour ice creams are a real thing.
1) The Vietnamese are a very friendly and incredibly patient people.
As we pulled up outside the local corner shop with fully loaded mountain bikes the Vietnamese giggling began.
I am ashamed to say that at this point neither of us know very much Vietnamese but the gesturing, enthusiastic signing and uncontrollable giggles emanating from our Vietnamese friends were impossible to misunderstand. They quite clearly thought that we were crazy to cycle when there was a perfectly good air-conditioned bus going in the same direction or if that option was out of our price range then a nice man would be along shortly to offer you a lift on his moped in exchange for a few thousand Dong.
In Vietnam you can buy just about anything but you shouldn’t expect it to be genuine. While the posh parts of Hanoi are filling up with western style shops, Sa Pa was filled with hookey North Face goods and street food. As we watched a waterproof coat absorb the gentle drips from a drain pipe we realised that these were fashion items not for mountain use or indeed any other outdoor activity.
Rather than buying fake waterproofs that don’t keep anything dry the Vietnamese prefer to buy what is best described as brightly coloured tailored plastic bags. They do the job, they are cheap as chips and they fold down into nothing when the rain stops.
We are not Vietnamese, we are English and we are ridiculously hot, so cycling in the rain it is. Our fellow travellers meet our gaze with with a jolly “Hello” looks of amusement, disbelief and concern. Some try to assist by gesturing wildly at the corner shop we have just passed that has enough tailored plastic to meet our needs. We cycle on, grinning ear to ear, enjoying the plod up hill in what must now only be 28c.
2) We are carrying too much stuff.
We were under the impression it would be winter here so we have jumpers and warm socks. So far the average temperature during the day has been 36c and a chilly 24c at night
As we prepared for our second full day of cycling, we attempted to shed as much extra weight as we could.
Every gram counts when you are peddling up mountains in 36c but knowing we have 12 months of travelling ahead of us makes it very difficult to know what to leave behind. We opted to ditch tin of processed peas; emergency dinner ingredient should we get caught in the middle of nowhere. Half a roll of bin bags; covert bicycle storage and or transport. A small length of bungee cord (unbelievably useful in the middle of nowhere) and most of a batik scarf given to us by Ya our walking guide (beautiful but heavy and in this heat absolutely not essential).
3) Even when it’s cold here it’s still hot (by English standards).
Please note that we are not wearing jumpers in any of our photographs.
NB. Long sleeve shirts and full length trousers are however essential, the threat of mosquito bites (possible fever or serious illness) and contraction of rabies from dog bite or monkey scratch (the government warning signs are everywhere) mean that we are covered up most of the time and likely to be sporting highly ridiculous tan lines by the end of the month.
4) Spring onion flavour ice creams are a real thing
Said ice cream which could actually have tasted worse. Possibly the most concerning thing about this experience was not being able to find onions of any kind in the list of ingredients.
While we are only 100km into our 8000km journey and we know that the real adventure hasn’t even begun, sitting in this traditional Vietnamese stilt house 18km from the border with China it’s already very clear to us that we have very easy lives in England.