6th to 9th December

Friday 6 December

Today, we rest in Phan Rang, at Kim’s place. We get up a little before 9, to go to take breakfast with Alex. We go just nearby to eat bread and coffee. Of course, the lady of the small restaurant is super surprised when Mick asks for a fourth bread with egg, and Jose an third coffee.

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Then, we go have some rest. Mick works on the computer, while Juju and Jose enjoy that Alex is here to go to visit the main attraction of Phan Rang: the Cham tower. This complex of three towers was built in the 13th and 14th century by the Cham people, that used to reign on this region at that time (they were the enemies of the Khmers who built the temples in Angkor). The Cham have a mixture of Hinduism and Islamism as religion, making it forbidden for them to eat pork and beef. The temples are dedicated to Po Klong Garai, the last reigning king of the Cham.

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Then, we go to the train station to buy the ticket to go to Hanoi. After some discussion, we cannot put the bicycles in the same train as us: they have to go earlier or later. But they tell us there are many buses going to Hanoi, and strongly advise us to go to see these buses. We’ll see in the afternoon.

We have a small lunch and siesta at Kim’s place, then we go to look for bus tickets. Alex is doing all the translating job. The agency that had said no problem for the bicycle finally says that we cannot take the bike in the bus at the moment of paying. And after asking to several people in the city, it looks like it’s not possible to book the bus ticket for us and the bicycles. The last option will be tomorrow to try to get an arrangement with a bus driver to take the bikes! it’ll be funny, for sure.

We have dinner at Kim’s place, with rice and fish, cooked in the Sulawesi way (Kim is from this island). After dinner, we are joined for the dessert by Cho and Aonh, two friends of Kim, who also speak very good English. It’s funny, at the end of the evening, the neighbour of Kim comes to talk with him, to take some English class, thinking there was some kind of gathering of English teachers here!

Saturday 7 December

When get up, Jose is already preparing his bike. He made his mind yesterday, while learning Nelson Mandela’s death, and thinking about what he was looking for during this trip. He will continue alone by bike, until Hanoi. He leaves around 8. Good luck Pepito, especially with the terrible head wind you’ll have the next few days. It has been very nice travelling two weeks with you. We shared very good moments. And for sure we’ll meet again, next year in Mexico.

Alex comes soon after Jose´s departure, and we all go for breakfast to a café in the centre. We meet there Cho and Aonh. It’s a huge and trendy café, very busy on weekends. We have nice discussions, and try the watermelon seeds that Cho has been talking about yesterday. It tastes very much like sunflower seed, but it’s smaller and harder to open.

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After the breakfast, Kim and Alex bring us to a bicycle shop to change a broken spoke on Juju’s front wheel. In fact it’s really easy, no need even to remove the wheel, only the tyre.

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Then, we go back home, to pack up everything and go to the side of the road, to wait for the buses going to Hanoi. We eat there while watching for the bus. The third bus agrees to take us, it’s 14h. It is an old bus, and it accepts the bikes without problems, and for a low price. The trick? It’s not a sleeper bus, so we may not sleep very well. Inside, there are some 10 people, and a lot of boxes. Only one person knows some English, and only a few words. We stop very soon after Phan Rang, for lunch of the people onboard the bus. Then, we start again, with another loading of fruits! making the bus nearly toucing the floor behind. Our bikes have been put on the roof of the bus. The bus is really slow. At this pace, can we reach Hanoi by tomorrow night, as said by the driver when we entered?

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We were thinking to see Jose pedalling, but when the night comes, we did less that 80km, so Jose must have stopped further, and we’ll miss him due to the night. At the next stop, in the evening, we wait like 2 hours, because of a problem at the rear right wheels. In the end, no one else entered the bus, so we have two seats per person. It’s not so bad to sleep in the bus tonight.

Sunday 8 December

When we get up, it’s 5h30, and still dark. The bus has stopped in the middle of the road. Why? Because it has its both rear left wheels totally destroyed. Fortunately, the bus has a couple of extra wheel on the roof. So again, after a couple of hours of mechanics, it can start again.

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We spend most of the day in the bus, driving to the North. We stop only a few times, for breakfast, dinner, and of course some unexpected events, like repairing the front right wheel, or the back right wheel. After 24h in the bus, we did not even do half of the way. Now, for sure, we cannot arrive in Hanoi tonight. We’ll spend another night in the bus. We will arrive tomorrow morning, around 9h they say.

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We notice the air outside the bus getting colder, slowly by slowly. This second night is much longer than the previous one.

Monday 9 December

In the morning, we are still quite far from Hanoi. When will we arrive? The bus is starting to leave some of its cargo and passengers on the way. And the landscape outside has changed, This morning, it’s very foggy, and it looks much colder than the South of Vietnam. However, the temperature is only a few degrees lower. There are also many short breaks to repair the bus.

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At 11h, finally, we’ll have a break, and this time for eating. The problem is that the bus now goes totally South, the opposite direction of Hanoi. In fact, we go to eat at the driver’s city, Nam Dinh. This city is impressive, we see many churches in a few kilometres. And not small churches, they are big buildings, richly decorated!

We share the meal with the driver, his family and the rest of the people that are still on the bus. As we eat. They take our bikes and paniers out from the bus. This is new now: the bus is not going anymore to Hanoi. And of course, we have no way to understand what’s happening. We call Mr Ha (our couchsurfer in Vunh Tau) to talk to the drivevr, in order to have an explanation. So the bus will stay here, but they will pay us another bus to go to Hanoi.

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It’s now 13h, and we are again in a bus towards Hanoi. It has been a little hard to fit the bikes in the trunk of this bus (it’s much smaller, and inside the bus all the space are for the passengers, not the cargo). This bus is particularly uncomfortable. Finally, we arrive in the bus station in Hanoi, at 16h, that is to say, 50h after our departure from Phan Rang. We are very tired, but relieved to have arrived, finally. We mount our bikes and go to our Mike’s place, our couchsurfer in Hanoi, more in the centre. The city of Hanoi looks like inferno: it’s like Ho Chi Minh City for the motorbike traffic, but the weather is all grey, and the air is more polluted. We have some problems to find our couchsurfer’s place, because the point we have in the GPS does not match with the address. Will this day finish eventually?

We finally arrive to Mike’s place. In fact, it’s a guesthouse. He has prepared for us a tent on the terrace, at the last floor. That’ll be enough for tonigh, after the bus it seems very good. After a shower, we go to take dinner with some of the people leaving here. Then we go out, to buy our train ticket for Lao Cai, on 12th at night. The train station is only 100m away, we can go by walking. And we have a second small dinner before coming back.