Mizzly Drizzly Tasty Mistake: Cycle Touring in Vietnam

By Jane | February 8, 2014

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Warning. There is a possibly not suitable for work and/or kids picture below. That just entices you more, doesn’t it?

According to Stephen, last night I slept through a horrendous pounding rainstorm. This is the first real rain we’ve had since being in Shanghai, so I suppose it had to happen sometime.

Still, waking up in Vietnam, just a couple of kilometres from the Chinese border, we couldn’t believe how much the weather had changed. Yesterday we were so hot on our bikes, we could barely function. This morning, after leaving the guest house and heading to a cafe, we had to pile on the layers to stay warm. All of a sudden, I need to wear my long pants, a sweater, long-sleeve gloves, and my rain jacket.

Sheesh. It’s like Nature knows that we just left the balmy southern part of one country, and now we are in the cold far north of another, and she has changed the temperature accordingly.

Miserable Mizzle And Decorative Dirt

Though the rainstorm had stopped by the time we got up, not long into our ride, a hazy misty drizzle started to, not fall exactly, but condense around us. It was like someone turned on the mist machines at Six Flags in the middle of January.

“There’s a word for this weather,” I told Stephen. “It’s mizzle.”

Without missing a beat, a stony-faced Stephen replied:

Shizzle.

Ha, so true.

The rain gave the colours on the houses and in the countryside a fuzzy vibrance, like a watercolour painting. The soil here is a very different colour from that on the other side of the border. It’s somewhere between a deep rust and a dark burgundy – it wouldn’t look out of place in a nice glass of Merlot, or maybe a cup of Welch’s Grape Juice.

In Vietnam, there are far more colours than we’ve been seen in other Communist and former-Communist countries.

Typical tall house in Vietnam. This one is more grey than most.

Typical tall house in Vietnam. This one is more grey than most.

Aside from the overuse of red and gold on signs and banners, China is very grey. Grey buildings, grey trees, grey houses, grey sky.

In Vietnam, the houses are painted an array of bright purples, blues, and yellows. This use of colour is limited to the front face of each house. Around the sides and back, they are painted grey or left with bare plaster.

Colours in Vietnam.

Colours in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese flag is everywhere. Its gold star on a field of bright red alternates with many flags displaying a gold hammer and sickle.

Where’s The Pho?

We gained an hour when we crossed the border into Vietnam, so we were starving by the time lunchtime rolled around. Luckily, we passed through a small city right about noon. There were plenty of signs out offering Bun, Pho Bo, Pho Ga, and many types of food of which I’d never heard. The problem was, none of these places were actually open.

There was one open cafe that also seemed to serve food. Stephen went in to ask if they could make something vegetarian and got a quick “no”. After passing through the entire town without seeing another open restaurant, we were on the point of giving up. Finally, on the outskirts, we saw a woman cooking at a place that boasted the usual offering of Bun Pho (noodle soup). We pulled into her yard, but she pointed us across the road.

There was a bigger eatery that we hadn’t even noticed, since it was quite far back from the road. No one was eating there, but we didn’t have much choice, so we decided to go for it.

Lunch wasn’t spectacular, but it’s nice to be eating a slightly different combination of the same old foods. We managed to get rice, tofu, greens, and eggs today, but at least they were spiced differently and not nearly as oily as the same dishes would have been in China.

Lime, chiles, and seasoning to flavour our steamed tofu. Yum.

Lime, chiles, and seasoning to flavour our steamed tofu. Yum.

The eggs came from chickens living behind the restaurant, so I was OK with eating them, and we both admitted that they were delicious.

Stephen’s note: I am reluctant to eat eggs. But, at least in rural Vietnam, it seems it might be necessary in order to get enough nutrients. Today’s excuse is that the restauranteur had told us he didn’t have tofu, but could makes eggs. So we relented. Then he brought both…

The other nice change was that the man running the restaurant spoke enough English that he could tell us what they had and didn’t have without us needing our translation app.

Hallo, Honk, Honk, Hallo, Hallo, Honk, Hooooonk

People were pretty excited to see us in China, but here, it’s a little ridiculous. It seems everyone under the age of 20 is duty-bound to wave, smile, and yell “hello” at the top of their lungs.

We dutifully smile and wave and yell back. It’s incredible to be able to make kids squeal and laugh and jump up and down in excitement just by being, so we will probably never get tired of it. It was a little exhausting today though, and after a while, we took turns responding, so we’d each only have to do half as much yelling.

Several times as we continued down the road, we could hear the faint continued hellos from people we’d passed minutes ago, still calling out to us.

We were also greeted with many honks from passing busses and trucks. OK, they weren’t greeting us so much as sending out a warning that they might possibly run us over. We are used to honking by now, and Vietnamese honking, at least on this road, actually seems a little less obnoxious than Chinese honking.

For one thing, instead of the deafening shrill blasts of an air horn the busses in China give off, the Vietnamese busses have a pleasant lower-register toot that comes with built-in reverb. It’s like they have a doppler effect in the horn, so that before they even pass you, the tone twists and descends as though they’ve already whipped by.

Yeah, it’s hard to describe, but the important thing is, it doesn’t make me leap out of my bike seat and loose a string of foul language the way the Chinese busses do. Here’s hoping this more mellow aural assault is the norm as we move further south.

Stephen’s note: Thanks to the internet, you don’t have to imagine what the horns sound like. You can listen. Not all the trucks and busses have the same horn sound. This video explains why.

Seriously Dude, Where’s The Pho?

We are staying in a very small town, Tien Yen, that seems to be all but closed down. We made our way up and down most of its streets before finding any sign of a guest house. Luckily, the one we found, despite having the appearance of being completely closed, was open and ready to offer us a room.

It’s nice not having to stay in giant empty hotels anymore, and it’s nice that the prices are so low. Tonight’s room, with all the amenities, cost around $10 (which is 200K VND). Stephen didn’t bother bargaining, because quite honestly, it’s already a bargain to us.

It’s a little rough around the edges, with a few dirty patches, but it’s perfectly OK for a night. Plus, it has a real toilet, so that makes me happy.

It also has a beautiful piece of tile work in the bathroom.

If you’re easily offended by the human body, um, too late. Sorry.

Naughty tile work in our Tien Yen guesthouse. Wonder where she is now?

Naughty tile work in our Tien Yen guesthouse. Wonder where she is now?

Tonight’s dinner search was a repeat of lunch, with only a few of the tens of restaurants being open. The first place we tried just waved us away before we even walked in. I guess they weren’t really open? The next two places said they couldn’t make us anything vegetarian. At the fourth, where they were making Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) and fried rice, we finally just told them, by pointing, what we wanted to eat from their limited selection.

Fry that rice with some egg, and serve us a bowl of the soup without the meat on top, OK? They thought that was pretty weird, but they did it anyway. They managed to make the whole thing with only a few tiny slices of chicken added to the rice, which we politely put to the side. Of course, we also had the beef broth from the soup and an egg in the rice.

But it would be faintly ridiculous to starve altogether, so we’ll take what we can get.

After dinner, we made the mistake of paying the first price we were quoted for a few oranges. Now, the woman who runs the market stall has an extra 30,000 VND to her name, and we are out a buck fifty. I hope this unexpected extra income made her day a little brighter.

Her oranges were pretty delicious, so at least our mistake was a tasty one.

Soundtrack: Vinter, a Spotify playlist by my friend Sara | Jane’s starred tracks on Spotify  

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5 comments

  1. Comment by michael moldofsky

    michael moldofsky Reply February 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    nothing was open because it’s TET right?

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane February 22, 2014 at 5:11 am

      We’re still not sure. It seemed to be only that one village that was half closed, so might be for Tet, or just because it’s off season. Hasn’t been a problem since.

  2. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie Reply February 10, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Love the video of the horn demo! That horn needs to start showing up in some club anthems somehow.

  3. Comment by Patti

    Patti Reply February 9, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Hi Auntie Jane,
    We were so excited to read about Vietnam. Why doesn’t the lady in the picture have any clothes on? Mom said she thought this was a family blog. Anyway, we still loved the photos, and K thought she saw a fish in the pictures of the boats. We just went out for Pho this week, and we wish we were eating in VN with you.
    C, R, and K

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane February 10, 2014 at 4:06 am

      We also wondered why the lady on our bathroom wall didn’t have any clothes on. It’s a mystery. Sorry for subjecting you three girls to nakedness!

      I wish you could be here too. I will take lots of pictures for you and think of you every day.

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