The Donation Button Some People Asked For

If anyone wants to donate to this venture and me posting about it, they can do so here

Monday, January 13, 2020

Vietnam Vaccination Saga Finale

It's been awhile. I best get this caught up before I feel overwhelmed and let it slip. So where were we? ...Ah, yes. I was headed toward Da Nang where I would get my day 7 shot, shot number 3.

I took some narrow, rough, and interesting back alleys to start that morning. I remember after some meandering, passing a sandy cemetery and suddenly coming out on a big, brand new road that neither my Garmin nor Google knew existed. I've seen that a number of times here as the country is constantly under construction. It's always tempting to follow those roads to find out where they go, but I had a different route planned. I was headed, on a whim, to a little coastal town where the government had commissioned artists to paint murals. It wasn't anything too grand, but it was a fun route and there were lots of locals excited about seeing a foreigner. "Hello." I have heard that word so many times since coming to Asia. A couple days, it seems like the only English I hear. I hear it shouted by children, as they walk along the road, from atop bicycles, from the back of motorbikes, from their homes, from their schools, exclaimed urgently, begging for a reply in kind. I hear it from adults too, often with childish glee. Hello. That simple, pervasive word and its impact was on my mind a lot as I heard it over and over that morning by folks off the beaten tourist path. Sadly, the road I turned off onto after that was extremely flat and boring. I was just glad the wind wasn't against me any more, so at least it wasn't slow and boring. Then, all of a sudden, on that boring stretch of road there appeared a theme park in the distance. It felt a little surreal, a theme park with pirate ships and a castle and typical Disneyland stuff, out on this lonely road. I hadn't any interest in the park itself, but I did stop for drinks at a stand across from it. Once I got closer to Hoi An, I knew I was officially back in tourist region (I mean, the theme park on the way should have been a clue), as I saw Westerner after Westerner on rented bicycles, often in large groups. At a certain point I stopped by the side of the road, and a woman on motorcycle came up and asked if I was headed to The Marble Mountains. As it turned out, that was indeed my plan. She said I could follow her there. Once we arrived, she directed me to park my bike in front of her family's jade shop, and that she would keep an eye on it. I am very glad that I looked up The Marble Mountains, and that I got out early enough this morning to be able to spend a couple hours exploring. If you have no problem going up and down a lot of stairs and doing a little climbing up rocks, and you enjoy seeing beautiful temples and statues inside massive caves, well, it's definitely the place for you. I had a great time clambering up through one cave, staring at the massive scale of another, and walking up a lot of steps to stand at the highest point and take pictures of the beautiful surroundings. It was a wellspent afternoon, and the cost of admission was quite small. Of course, I then had to get myself talked into buying a gift at the jade shop... I was distressed to see white marks on my bike when I returned, only to learn they were chalk with the lady's name, to indicate she was watching it. She had me look around the shop, and became really pushy when I indicated I didn't really want anything. I ended up talking her down to a price I felt I could afford to take a small jade and amethyst bracelet for Rachael. Afterwards I came to my homestay in Da Nang,  went out to a little pizza place for dinner, before heading to bed thinking I was ready for the morning.

I wasn't. Eli here. I got my third rabies shot that morning, but it proved to be a bit of an endeavor... I went to the International Hospital right when they opened at 7, and was told not only did they not have the same vaccine I had been getting, but a doctor wouldn't be available until 10. I was not waiting until 10 with the miles I had to go that day, over a mountain pass. I trekked over to the Family Hospital. ...Where they also didn't have the vaccine, and directed me to a preventive clinic, a good ways away. Thankfully, when I finally got to the clinic, it was a quick 20 minutes in and out, and $9 to get my shot. I got a hasty baked goods and Nutriboost breakfast, and hoofed it back to the hotel quick as I could, really wishing I had taken my bike, but I'd had no way to know when I started that I would be doing so much walking. With all that, I ended up with a late start at nearly 10am, a little concerned I wouldn't have the time I needed. The view of the ocean in Da Nang was gorgeous and I wish I had more time to enjoy it and stop for pictures, but I hurried to begin the big climb up to Hai Van pass. Along the way to the top, I met a couple bike tourists, and I encouraged myself that if they were going from Da Nang to Hue with as much gear as they were carrying (it was quite a lot, including a solar panel, as it was clear they were doing a lot of camping and quite self sufficient), I certainly could with my minimal load. It was work getting up, but not nearly as bad as I expected, and the views were incredible. I got a tourist to take a few photos of me, something I don't get often. The fog rolled in while I was at the top and restricted view, but it cleared during my the very quick descent (though slower than it could have been, because I got stuck behind a tanker for a little while). I was on flat ground from there all the way to Hue, with the wind in my favor at last, and I flew right along the whole rest of the way to Hue. Down an alley full of hotels, I arrived at mine, showed my booking, and got a room not quite what I expected, with a shared bathroom for one thing... Only to get a surprise knock at my door to explain that I was in fact, not in the right room, or even right hotel, and the sign I saw for mine was for the next one over (the receptionist who saw my booking couldn't actually read English). Oops. I apologized profusely on my hurried way out the door, unlocking my bike and going just a few feet over. I then got settled into the right hotel, where I was given a very different reception, a welcome drink and fruit while being told about my tourist options for the next day.

I spent that next day exploring Hue, with a little over 20 miles of biking and a lot of walking. I briefly considered taking a bus and boat tour because I wanted the time off the bike, but then decided that would limit my freedom too much, and kept to what I know and stuck to riding my bike. I started the day by crossing the beautiful Perfume River and heading to the Imperial City. I paid a small fee to park my bike, and they chalked it and gave me a claim ticket, something I would get used to (unhappily, as when they did it on the saddle, it didn't come off easily at all), as it was the same at each stop. The Imperial City has some interesting architecture and history, though sadly the majority of the buildings that once stood there were destroyed during the Vietnam War. I wanted to be excited, but for some reason I honestly just wasn't feeling it that morning. Leaving the Imperial City, I rode along the river to the Thien Mu Pagoda, an impressive temple with an iconic seven story pagoda, and my spirits rose a little there. Then it was a beautiful ride along QL1A to get to Minh Mang Tomb, that section of riding actually one of my favorite parts of the day, making me glad I took the bike. You don't actually get to see the tomb itself, which was a little disappointing, but the grounds that surround it are quite scenic and well worth peacefully rambling through. I took the long way around the lake though, and it probably wasn't worth the walk, though at least it was devoid of other tourists. The man who held my bike for me had said that there would be no charge if I bought something, but he seemed to have forgotten that by the time I got back, hah. Then, truly saving the best for last, I came to Kai Dinh Tomb. What it lacks in the expansive scale of the other sites I visited that day, it more than makes up for in grandeur and commanding presence. For an emperor who was short lived, short-reigned, and not terribly well liked, Kai Dinh has an impressive mausoleoum, with a unique blend of Vietnamese and French influences in its design. It was by far my favorite part of the day. A vendor there had called out to me when I was parking and then watched my bike for me, and actually did hold to the agreement to not charge me if I bought a drink. After that, I rode back to the hotel, feeling a bit of Deja Vu as the final part of my loop took me on the exact same road I took through the city to get to my hotel yesterday (at least I knew the way this time!). Back at the hotel, I relaxed with a bath, an exceptionally rare opportunity as this is the first bathroom with a tub I've seen all tour. Then after a nice dinner this evening, I treated myself to a couple scoops of icecream at none other than a Baskin Robbins on the street right near my hotel. It cost as much as dinner, but it was definitely worth it. It was hilarious listening to a patron there singing along to a Disney song to the annoyance of the workers. It was ultimately a restorative day, despite my early ill mood.

It was a short, easy ride from Hue to Dong Ha that next day, without much to say about it. There I had my first Warmshowers host since leaving Thailand. I had a little trouble finding the alley they lived down, but a neighbor kindly directed me. It was a really good experience staying with him and his family. He has plans to travel around Thailand, and amongst other things, we chatted about my experiences there and the differences from Vietnam. He directed me to a wonderful vegetarian restaurant, recently open, unknown to Google Maps, at a beautiful location by a pond full of water lilies. After coming back, I met his friend who lives there, and got to see his collection of war artifacts. He would buy them from local merchants and homes (a picker as we might call him in the US, like that show). It was impressive, though also difficult to look at his collection of things like US mortar shells as anything but a sad remnant of a bloody war on this beautiful country. He looked at my belt, and gifted me one he said was better, US Army issue. He had me put it on right there, while I felt humbled and a little awkward. My host and his family shared a nice dinner with me in the evening, sitting not at the table inside, but on the front porch, legs crossed, a bit of a different experience for me. I embarrassed myself with chopsticks and was offered a spoon. My host didn't know they used fork and spoon primarily in Thailand, with chopstick use being rare there. During dinner we watched the TV as they talked about the Iranian missile strike. I am very far from Iraq, but somehow being abroad, the dread of possible war, after seeing those remnants displayed just hours before, felt even more potent. I was invited to go to a fair with the family, but I felt the need to retire to my room, talk to Rachael, and prepare for the next day. The bed was hard, and the dogs woke me at times, but the good evening was well worth it.

As my host headed for work, I got back on the road, headed to Dong Hoi. My shorts and my damned waterproof socks I am not sure why I took this trip were not quite dry from the line (I had gotten to machine wash my clothes that night for the first time since Thailand!). So, looking ridiculous, I rode with my shorts clipped to my backpack and my socks on my wrists... No one ever said I won't be a dork to get the job done. It was a little further ride that day, but still flat and easy-going. About midday I encountered a British tourist, doing a trip similar to mine, but starting in Bangkok (my shorts had dried and I had put them away, but I sure wondered what he thought of me wearing my socks on my wrists). We chatted a little while riding, but he was keeping a pace just a little faster than mine, and he carried on his way. He stayed in view for some while until I stopped for some pictures and then he was gone. After arriving in Dong Hoi, in true Hobbit fashion, I had first and second dinner (you could call the first a late lunch, but that is less fun), hitting up a pizza place, then walking along the river for awhile, before going to another Western catered restaurant before returning to the hotel for the evening.

It was another easy 50 mile ride from Dong Hoi to the little town of Ky Long the next day. I took a very slight detour that morning to ride on a side road along the ocean and check out some neat sand dunes where I'm told people do some sand surfing. From there it was all highway, mostly inland along fields, but coming up against the coast at a couple spots (ones I would have paid more attention to had I realized then they would be my last glimpses of the Pacific here in Vietnam). At one point I saw a large group of cyclists who appeared to be on a guided tour, headed south on the other side of the divided highway. I shouted hello and waved, but not one of them seemed to notice I existed. I thought I might see the British cyclist from the day before, since he is headed this same way, but no such luck. I stopped at a cafe that evening and struggled with Google Lens to figure out what I could order, cheese sticks and strawberry shake, not the best. Afterward, a couple women approached me and asked to take a photo with me, for no other reason I can guess aside from being able to say they ran into this Westerner in town. Of course, I said why not, and smiled for the camera as I always do. It made me feel less bad about the Westerners doing the same sort of thing with Buddhist monks and the like. My hotel that night was really nice, except I somehow ended up with a smoking room, and the smell was pretty bad (but hey, not mold or bed bugs right?).

It was a beautiful, just over 70 mile ride to Vinh, my last city in Vietnam. It was fairly uneventful until about mid-ride as I neared Ha Tinh. I passed some more churches and remnants of manger scenes as I got to town. At one point while I stopped to open and eat a bag of candy, a woman came up on motorcycle and asked for it. I offered to share, but she made it clear she wanted the whole bag. I was a little dumbfounded, but reasoned she must need it more than me and gave it to her. Though it left a little sour taste in my mouth losing that sugar I was craving. A little later, while riding through Ha Tinh, a motorcyclist came up beside me and chatted while we rode. Our conversation was strained (he heard me saying I was from the United States as Switzerland instead, but that's somewhat my fault, as I have learned no one understands United States, only USA, or better, though less accurate, America). He offered for me to come back to his home, but I declined politely, having miles to make. He turned off, as I rode on out of the city. Most of my problems with dogs in Asia have been while walking, but there was an exception late in my ride that day. I had a pack of three dogs come after me and drive me off the shoulder, a semi blaring its horn behind me. I'm actually thankful for the semi, as I think it's what finally scared them off. Then of course, right when I relaxed, I heard that terrible panting, and saw another dog in my mirror running after me. I sprinted at over 20mph to not let him catch up. Dogs... But they were wiped from my mind quickly as I then rode through a gorgeous valley of rice fields with mountains on either side, by far the most scenic part of the day right before arriving in Vinh. I got a fancy hotel (central air!) with a great view from my room. Though when I went to dinner at the hotel restaurant, I found myself barraged by every kind of meat option and almost nothing for me. And the hotel is a little far from everything else, so I felt some regrets.

I took a personal day the next day with nothing but a couple chores planned. So far every day before that I haven't been on the road has involved a lot of walking around, often some biking, and a great deal of sight seeing. I finally opted for a day doing none of that. I woke a little late, stuffed myself at breakfast, and came back to the room to chill and watch a movie. A little before noon I went out into the foggy, rainy, and windy weather, which I actually found quite welcome. I found the clinic that I hoped to go to the next day, closed, but hopefully open in the morning. I walked to Central Park, and also found it disappointingly closed. I got a large lunch at a vegetarian place, stuffed myself to bursting. Then after a short walk, I got doughnuts at a bakery (can't say I'm not at least trying to put my lost weight back on). I then shopped at a convenience store to get a bunch of junk food for when I soon won't have access to it in Laos. Somehow, I ended up paying for and getting hot sauce that I never set on the counter and have no idea where came from. A mild irritation at best, but it bugs me a little that I have nothing to really do with it but throw it away. By the time I got back to the hotel it ended up more walking than I planned, but I still had quite a bit of time in the evening to just relax.

This morning after breakfast I successfully got rabies shot number 4 without any difficulties at all. Somewhere in Thailand I will have to get my 5th and final shot in two weeks, and then I am done at last. Today was a very short 30 mile ride, to stage myself closer to the border, ensuring I can get across and to a place to stay tomorrow. It was a beautiful ride. Google directed me along some wonderful side roads through scenic countryside and small villages. I saw impressive cemeteries in the midst of rice fields. I got to see water buffalo being used to work fields and to pull carts down the road, as well as other glimpses at rural life. I had the chance to stop at an interesting temple with not a tourist, or anyone else for that matter, to be seen. It was a short ride, but not an uneventful one. I got to my hotel in the early afternoon. I thought it was the only option, but some after the fact searching shows there is another, seemingly far nicer hotel just a bit further, which also would have put me closer to the border for tomorrow. Oh well. It is far from the best (the bathroom is fairly moldy), but cheap, and not the worst I have been in so far by far. As I walked through town here, a group of women called me over to join them at their meal. I could only eat the oranges, but it was really nice and I enjoyed chatting with them through a neighbor boy who came and served as interpreter. I am going to miss Vietnam, the people, the chay restaurants, the walkable sidewalks, vending machines, the beautiful scenery... It will be hard to say goodbye tomorrow. But Laos will be a new adventure, and one that will bring me closer to home.

No comments:

Post a Comment