Firstly, please realise that I’m a little behind with the blog and although this episode is about Da Nang and Hoi An, I’m actually much further along on my journey. Check out my Facebook page for my current destination, but I’ll attempt to catch up with my blog posts too a little later.
I set off early from Hue, knowing that the ride to Da Nang would be a difficult one. It wasn’t just the mileage that would stretch me, after 80 kilometres came a blinking great mountain pass. OK so I profess to liking hills, but not when I’m tired at the end of a days riding! Still I was looking forward to reaching my destination, as I had the promise of a real spaghetti bolognese from my English hosts, Carole and Ian.
Gateway to Da Nang from the north, Hai Van Pass is a challenge for any cyclist. With a fully loaded touring cycle, negotiating the hairpin turns and climbing up through the misty fog became a serious battle of endurance. As I passed the little yellow signs informing me of the ten percent gradient I knew I was in for a long haul, so settled into a nice steady rhythm. On a clear day the views down the mountainside are stunning and once you crest the summit, Da Nang lies sprawled out before you. Sadly not today as Đèo Hải Vân, (ocean cloud pass) lived up to its name, enveloping me in a blanket of thick fog.
As I climbed up the pass, I thought about what I would do when I could no longer manage difficult climbs like this. It’s something I have pondered on quite a bit lately and I have come up with a solution. When the time comes, I will ask someone to sponsor me to ride an electrically assisted bicycle. I first got the idea after reading about Guim’s journey using one and this seems a good option for me, as I would never want to stop cycling altogether, but help on the hills would be welcome.
Speeding down the descent I made quick work of it, as the cool of the mountain pass was replaced by warm sunshine. Nearing the last bend I was hailed by an unmistakably English voice from a scooter coming in the other direction. It was Ian, who had come out to meet me (we had spoken previously about meeting up and then again when I reached the summit) and I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear another genuine Yorkshire voice! However what didn’t please me was just how much further I had to go, as Carole and Ian lived the other side of Da Nang. In the end I ended up doing a marathon 132 km, actually suffering from ‘the knock’ and running out of energy, to the point where Ian had to go buy me some chocolate so that I could continue. Phew…
The ride into Da Nang was on wide, quiet roads, with little traffic. As we turned onto the coastal strip, the impressive skyline of its towers came into view – with the new Administration Centre (of which Da Nang is justifiably proud) taking centre stage. I was already looking forward to having a better look around on another day.
The wonderful warm hug from Carole quickly made me forget my trials and I was soon tucking into my spaghetti bolognese and washing it down with a nice cold beer. Carole and Ian have lived in Da Nang for almost seven years and are the part time English Editors for the Danang Today Online English newspaper. They live on a golf course (designed by Greg Norman) and have a lovely apartment, which they threw open to me. It was heaven.
The next morning and we ventured into town, where alongside being bought (as a present) a pair of prescription sports glasses (I could now see properly for the first time in many months) I took my Nikon camera in to be repaired. Then I was introduced to Loan, the Editor of Danang Today. Carole was writing an article about me and this generated a lot of interest in my story, but I also agreed to do a photo shoot around Da Nang for the newspaper. What I never expected was to be paid a small fee and the staff even had a collection for me. I was really touched by their kindness.
Cycling around the city was a joy and much different to the streets of Hanoi and Saigon, two of my other destinations where you have to be on your mettle. Yes it’s busy, but not difficult to negotiate and time just slips away here, as there is so much to see and do. A visit to the thriving indoor market gave me endless photo opportunities, alongside the many street scenes. For a photographer, it really is a wonderland of images.
I think to do Da Nang justice you would need to spend at least a couple of days here. Sadly my time was short and I didn’t see as much as I would have liked and in particular the beach area looks very inviting. It is certainly a place I would have no hesitation in returning to if I was able.
In the evening I cycled out to photograph Thuận Phước bridge, one of three that cut across the Hàn River. Da Nang really comes alive at night and cycling is pretty low key, with traffic being minimal. It’s a good way of seeing the sights at a nice relaxing pace.
Just outside of Da Nang lies Marble Mountains. This is a strange place because it is both an area of religious significance and home to numerous stonemason shops. In days gone by they used the marble from within the mountains, but nowadays it is all imported to preserve them. On the top is a large Buddhist temple and some natural caves which can be accessed by a huge lift system they have installed. It looks an eyesore but I managed to get a photograph with it out of view.
Hoi An lies a short hop down the coast from Da Nang and is a good choice if you just want to make a day trip on your bike, as we did on my final full day with Carole and Ian. Following the coast road you’ll have views out to the East Viet Nam Sea, but it’s worth turning inland at some point and taking in some of the river views, which are spectacular. This is certainly one of the most beautiful and scenic cycle rides I have seen here in Viet Nam.
Having heard about a working water wheel at a small 300 year old village called Tra Que, I had no hesitation in accepting an offer to make a small diversion and visit. In truth it was not far off our route into Hoi An, though we did stay longer than planned. Nowadays they have turned it into a tourist attraction where they do cookery classes, make rice paper, show you how to plant herbs with the local farmers and even play musical instruments with the water wheel. What I never expected was to find yet another collection had been made for me, along with a third from the hotel manager of a friend introduced to me on Facebook, Tien Pham. I’ve used the phrase many times, but I’ll never tire of repeating it, “the kindness of strangers” continues to show me the very best in human nature.
Then it was on to Hoi An, through the back roads and quiet villages with amazing scenery at every turn. Watching the farmers in the fields, conical hats glistening in the sunlight, with water buffalo cooling off in the mid-day heat was pretty special and seeing it from a slow paced bike is by far the best way of taking it all in.
Hoi An is a bustling town ideal for visiting on a bicycle, though there are pedestrian only sections so arrange to leave it with one of the cafes then wander around at leisure. There are lots of great buildings here (including a Japanese bridge) and it was pretty busy during our visit, but it is a real feast for the senses. If you are able, take time out for a boat trip down the river then stay until the lights come on. Hoi An becomes transformed at night and not to be missed. It was a good note to end my time here with my Yorkshire hosts, as I would leave the next morning.
While staying with my wonderful hosts here in Da Nang there were too many highlights to pick just one out, but something which made me very happy was when I asked Carole if I could weigh myself. When I reached Hanoi after travelling through the mountains I had weighed just 55 kg, far too little for someone of my size. I made a conscious effort while there to try and put weight back on and being given free food by CS host Mike helped, as I then went out and ate again – so was consuming five meals a day. I also then upped my food intake while riding, because it is so cheap to do so here in Vietnam. Anyway the end result was I now weighed 64 kg, a much better proposition.
Many of you following my blog will know and realise that the photography is an integral part of this journey I am on. Without it, I wouldn’t have anything to leave behind, except maybe the books I’m working on. So finding out that the Nikon camera was even worse after being fixed I made what could have turned out to be a trip changing decision, to buy another camera body. Thankfully the donations would help and I actually bought a new but quite old model cheap in Da Nang. However this also used up some of the funds I’d put aside for my ticket to Canada, so it was a huge gamble. Little was I to know that I would meet a lady in Saigon who would not only help me, but give me back a little breathing space with my meagre funds. More about that in the next blog…