ln which we meet an unexpected mountain

We set off from Hue mid-morning, passing by Hue cathedral, which has a very interesting three-tiered pagoda-like steeple. Though we had conflicting reports on distance, it seemed like it was going to be up to 100 km to Danang. It might just have been the sunny weather, or the restorative effects of four days relaxing in Hue, but the scenery seemed nicer and the traffic lighter on Highway 1 south.

The first 60 km were almost entirely flat, except for a small hill pass which we had to cross to get into Lang Co. Lang Co is a small town on a sort of peninsula, with the sea on one side, a salty lagoon on the other, and mountains rising on all sides that aren’t ocean. At this point the GPS was confidently predicting that we had only about 20 miles to go to Danang. We were feeling pretty good about life, right up to the point where we discovered that two-wheeled vehicles were barred from the nice new tunnel, and that we would instead have to follow the old road up and over the mountain to the south.

So that added a 1500 ft ascent and maybe 8 miles to the day, and meant we eventually arrived in Danang in the dark. It was tough going, as we have been spoiled into laziness by the flatlands in the last two weeks, and particularly as we had no clear idea of how high we were going or for how long. But I think it was no coincidence that with the climb and the old road we also got some of the most beautiful, quiet cycling we have had so far in Vietnam. The fading light over the ocean and lowering clouds over the mountains were spectacular. The pass itself, the Hai Van Pass, was an eerie place. The ruins of a former American bunker loom over the road, and were almost lost in the darkness and clouds by the time we got there.

Danang is one of Vietnam’s biggest cities, and the economic centre of central Vietnam. I quite liked it, though it’s not a typical tourist destination. The crazy traffic made us feel like we were back in Shanghai, and there are even some small “skyscrapers” by the river. The only official tourist destination in Danang is the Museum of Cham Sculpture, which made for a very interesting morning. The Cham empire ruled this area of Vietnam between the 2nd and 10th centuries, and were influenced by Indian culture and religions. The sculptures on display were mostly made of sandstone; many of them very intricate and well-preserved. We hope to visit some of the Cham ruins where these artefacts were found later in the trip.

In the afternoon we set off on the 30 km ride to Hoi An, via Danang’s beach, My Khe. The beach was really nice, but oddly deserted – probably as swimming is prohibited due to strong currents. We rode on small roads to Hoi An, and again it was much more enjoyable cycling. We’ll probably start trying to use the smaller roads as we continue south. But Hoi An is another Unesco site, and we’ll be staying for a few days to enjoy it.


Photos from this post can be found here

~ by Elephants on December 15, 2010.

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