So many questions I had that day, as I was quickly and abandoning Cambodia and preparing to cross the border with Vietnam.
How will the traffic in Ho Chi Minh be? And the mountains in Da Lat? Will it be worth pedaling to Nha Trang? What is the “TET” holiday? What about weather forecast for the Southern Coast? Will it really be as beautiful as they say, little Hoi An?
The answers would not be too late to arrive …
24 January, Phnom Penh (Cambodia) – Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) | Day 237 🇰🇭 – 🇻🇳
Si sta(va) come d’autunno sugli alberi le foglie.
Ed è subito Vietnam.
25 January, Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) | Day 238 🇻🇳 – VIDEO
One of the most exciting and life threatening things I’ve ever done in my life:
cycling in Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon)!
26 January, Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) | Day 239 🇻🇳
A bit of Shanghai, a bit of Manama, a bit of Calatafimi (but without the beauty of Sicilian hills and of the entire island).
A busy, coarse, noisy, polluted city, where between the major attractions there is a merciless, almost hilarious makeover of Notre Dame Cathedral.
But a city with an important history, even though a tragic one, and an effective, somehow attractive charm.
Is there any beautiful places in Ho Chi Minh City?
No, none at all.
Is there any valuable stories in Ho Chi Minh City?
Some also you would never like to know about.
But you already know, and so there’s nothing you can do but go for them.
27 January, Da Lat (Vietnam) | Day 240 🇻🇳
Does anyone know how to say “Eight Months” in Vietnamese?
Cause I don’t really have a clue.
Anyway today, which is also the last day of the year in China, and around here … yes, I reached the number eight!
So I turned the wheel and tried to give it a name. To whisper a sound that could be different from the confused and confusing Ho Chi Minh.
And it came out a tune which for my ears – and my eyes – sounds as the light song of a robin, hiding solitary in a forest of fir trees, in a fresh spring morning.
Eight months, in Vietnamese, to me is nothing but this: Da Lat.
28 January, Da Lat (Vietnam) | Day 241 🇻🇳
In Laos, to reach the waterfalls – especially those of Tad Lo, beautiful ones – you had to walk on slippery muddy paths, there were elephants bathing their trunk and children – as well as young Buddhist monks – who used to spend hours between dives, sketches and laughter, regardless about tomorrow.
In Vietnam, to reach the waterfalls – at least those of Datanla, beautiful ones – you can get there in less than two minutes sitting on mechanical trolleys, saving each type of effort, elephants are replaced by bars and ticket counters, and the noise of playing children by that one of poses and pictures, usually coming from various kind of tourists, regardless about today.
As everyone says here around: same same, but different.
29 January, Da Lat (Vietnam) | Day 242 🇻🇳
“So are you going to try that tomorrow? Da Lat – Nha Trang in one day?”
“It’s 145 kilometres, you know that? And there are mountains around here, you know that?”
“Yes. But it’s 1500 meters high here, and Nha Trang is on the sea level. It should be also some kind of downhill then.”
“Oh, okay. I bet you prepared everything at perfection today!”
“Oh, yes. You nailed it.”
30 January, Da Lat – Nha Trang (Vietnam) | Day 243 🇻🇳
Da Lat – Nha Trang: 140 kilometers into three, simple parts.
Part 1: leaving the city, playing hide and seek with crazy scooters, exploring some unknown streets during their slow awakening and smiling at an unexpected “ALT!”; then a scenic and tough road; 55 km of evil ups and downs through beautiful valleys, flooded with the “Hello!” coming from thousands of Vietnamese on two wheels and surrounded by mountains, trees and scent of pine cones.
Part 2: reaching the Pass, at 1600 meters, haunted by apocalyptic fog and winter temperatures; then 30 kilometers with 1500 meters of negative slope; an endless and incredible downhill, among waterfalls and dizzying turns, during which I almost didn’t pedal at all, having fun as a kid and remembering all those times I cycled down from Falzarego Pass with dad.
Part 3: plain and villages at the beginning, plain and cities at the end; emerald-green rice fields and then noise and buildings, until the sea; 55 kilometers so easily covered – perhaps because of the adrenaline still vibrant from the downhill – that for a moment I thought I was becoming a superhero. Until I saw an Asian guy, on a loaded bicycle as well, coming from the opposite direction and strongly determined to face those amazing and funny 30 kilometers … but going uphill.
Moral: after seven days or so, here it is, at last … the beauty of Vietnam.
And, after all, the only thing I had to do was to go back on my bicycle.
31 January, Nha Trang (Vietnam) | Day 244 🇻🇳
In Nha Trang city there are so many Chinese and Russians tourists that seems to be in a suburb of Shanghai or Moscow, Nanjing or Novosibirsk.
The air, however, also due to a cool sea breeze which in the afternoon turns into a mighty wind, remains pleasant and bubbly.
Probably within 10 years it will be devastated by cement and buildings and will end somehow in the grinder someone worships as progress and evolution.
For the moment, however, I can say that Nha Trang is certainly not the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen … but not even the ugliest.
Although here, every time you look at the sea, it’s really hard not to think about the thousands of refugees who for years tried to survive by fleeing across the waves – for this, called “Boat People” – and many of them not even getting close to it.
1 February, Nha Trang (Vietnam) | Day 245 🇻🇳
It rains in Nha Trang.
There’s the Tet in Nha Trang.
What does it mean?
- A) You have nothing to do;
B) You arrived during a week of celebration due to Chinese Lunar New Year (celebrated here also); ergo, there is no free bed at a reasonable price in any hostel / hotel in the city and everything – even a simple coffee – can reach some kind of crazy price.
So … how to get through the day? How about your plans? And where to sleep?
Well, you can pack up your stuff and start following the flow of what you are not supposed to know.
You can make it up to lunch with Alex and Fulvio, two friendly Italian guys you met yesterday, enjoying pasta and espresso which Alex also fights to offer you.
You can spend another afternoon between laughs and stories with Katya and Anssi, two travelers (a Russian girl and Finnish guy) you met in October in a hostel in a cold polluted Ulaanbaatar – where eventually you were the only customers and you shared adventures and anxieties due to Chinese visa application – who soon became friends and find themselves to be now, by pure coincidence, under the same Vietnamese sky.
You can cycle outside the center to visit Vicki and Chris, a Canadian couple – both travelers since a very long time and temporarily living in Vietnam – you met a few hours earlier through a common friend, which immediately offer you a couch to sleep on for every day you might need and, from the very first moment, share with you all their best smile and their most sincere parental hugs.
So even in the rain, surrounded by tourists and in the middle of unexpected events and solutions to be found … you end up living one of the most intense and pleasant days of your entire journey.
And, as always, because of the people.
2 February, Quy Nhon (Vietnam) | Day 246 🇻🇳
“Pedaling along the central coast or in Northern Vietnam is an experience which definetely should not be missed,” I must have read somewhere.
Just too bad that in central Vietnam it has been raining incessantly for almost two months now, and the North is still far far away.
Quite funny that at this time I could still be on the white beaches of beautiful Koh Rong island …
3 February, Quy Nhon (Vietnam) | Day 247 🇻🇳
Among other things, impossible to put in a picture:
– there’s a gentle wind that whirls the handlebars when you cycle too fast;
– no cake or candy stores in all Quy Nhon, or at least I didn’t find one;
– right there, a few meters behind me, the speakers of a beach bar were playing opera tunes continuously … including an endless and merciless clarinet-remake of Beethoven’s “Für Elise”;
– They say they’ve spotted a couple of sharks in the waters not far from here, just beyond the brown waves.
Ah, how beautiful.
4 February, Hoi An (Vietnam) | Day 248 🇻🇳
What do you ask to the guys working at the reception of your new hostel, after half a day’s journey by bus to leave Quy Nhon’s grey rain, after a sweet lazy nap and an afternoon awakening surprisingly coloured by the sun?
“Excuse me, can you tell me which is the best place in town … to sip slowly a cold beer and to see the sunset?”
Cause it is maybe since your days in Laos that you are not able to see a complete one.
And cause Hoi An, even if apparently beautiful, can also wait.
5 February, Hoi An (Vietnam) | Day 249 🇻🇳
In Picture A you can see:
– A mother holding her child, amused and at the same time frightened by the waves, infusing him strength and courage;
– A child reassuring his mother, holding her hand with a proud and free look into the unknown;
– Hoi An Beach;
– The angry sea of Vietnam;
– The third largest city in the country, Da Nang.
In Picture B you can see: Uncle Vietnam.
6 February, Hoi An (Vietnam) | Day 250 🇻🇳
I read and quote a guide book:
“Graceful, historic Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town. Once a major port, it boasts the grand architecture and beguiling riverside setting that befits its heritage, and the 21st-century curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent.
The face of the Old Town has preserved its incredible legacy of tottering Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and ancient tea warehouses – though, of course, residents and rice fields have been gradually replaced by tourist businesses. Lounge bars, boutique hotels, travel agents and a glut of tailor shops are very much part of the scene here.”
Very rarely I’ve seen such a high concentration of tourism all packed literally in a handful of streets; maybe just Venice, Prague and superfake Lijiang Old Town in China reached the same or a bigger level.
However, today, as I was wandering slow and lazy between the choreographic streets of Hoi An, I didn’t meet any kind of discomfort or uneasiness, and nor even that craving for seclusion I usually feel in these kind of situations.
And if you look patiently at these colors, I’m pretty sure the reason is not hard to be found.
7 February, Hoi An (Vietnam) | Day 251 🇻🇳
It was supposed to be the last day in Hoi An, so I decided – after looking at the sun, the heat and the blue sky – to spend it by the sea, along the beach I had visited two days ago.
No wind, warm and welcoming sea, palm trees and coconuts all around and a noodles with shrimp dish (for 3$) which came out to be an imperial lust.
All very nice.
Until a furious wave decided to ambush and cover me completely – with all my stuff – while I was lying on the shore after a usual postprandial attack.
The fact that I had left the phone out of the backpack where it usually is, switched off immediately my instinctive laugh.
The device is still working, but somehow damaged and the battery is dead (this post comes from my laptop) … ergo, useless.
One more day in Hoi An to try to fix it, excluding miracles, will be a must.
Therefore today’s two considerations are:
– That’s what happens when you squeeze a nap in front of a sea you don’t know what kind of tides may have;
– Being “disconnected” for a little while, after long time, will be some kind of unexpected, funny and somehow forgotten … imperial lust.
8 February, Hoi An (Vietnam) | Day 252 🇻🇳
5 pm: the first picture in this journey … I took with my smartphone.
Like a brand new one, apparently, with my big surprise.
Ready to leave beautiful Hoi An.
9 February, Da Nang (Vietnam) | Day 253 🇻🇳
When is supposed to start raining again and for a whole week?
When I decide to go back on my bicycle.
Vietnam, I love you sooooooo much too!
10 February, Da Nang (Vietnam) | Day 254 🇻🇳
Easy to be seen, in this photo:
a) the Colorful Dragon of Da Nang
b) the famous Bridge, symbol of the city