Not a Typical Day

We set off from Dong Hoi, a reasonable sized town on a river, with the intention of cycling the 95 km to Dong Ha, south of the former DMZ. This would leave us 60 km to get to Hue, our first real tourist destination. As an aside, forgive us for constantly switching between kilometers and miles. Our brains and our GPS work in miles, but the mile markers are actually kilometer markers as that is standard currency here.

30 km into the day, Alison’s back tire went flat. We pulled into a small roadside shop with the hope of getting some food and fixing the tire in a leisurely manner out of the wind. As soon as we started working on the flat, a crowd began to form. At its peak, we were dealing with 30-40 people crowded extremely close staring wide-eyed. Seeing a couple of white people fixing a flat tire is fascinating. There’s a lot of variation in staring you get as a foreigner throughout asia. Mostly in China and Laos it’s less obtrusive since they usually remain where they are and stare from a distance. In Vietnam they insist on getting right on top of you and have no qualms about poking or grabbing you or your things. This annoyed us to no end, so we stopped halfway through to snack and read, in the hope that the crowd would disperse.

This only worked to a certain extent. Once numbers got below ten we decided to continue with the bikes. Unlike these apparently unemployed Vietnamese men, we didn’t have the time or patience to sit around all day waiting for something to change. Needless to say, as soon as we started working again the crowd multiplied. Eventually we got the tire fixed and back on, and prepared to leave. Which was when Matthew noticed that his KIndle was missing. Much panicked searching ensued, and the crowd also started to get worried. Apparently they had assumed Matthew’s Kindle was a laptop, and somebody in the crowd had quietly lifted it from the open bag as we were fixing the tire.

Of course, no-one spoke English in this roadside shop in a village in the middle of nowhere, but our guidebook did include the phrase ‘call the police’ and we were able to illustrate with sign language the item that we were missing and what had happened. The policeman, when he arrived on his old scooter did not inspire confidence. But after listening to the tale from the shopkeeper he mumbled something and left, motioning us to wait. A new arrival, a middle-aged lady, spoke some form of English, and explained that he had actually gone off to knock on doors and look for it. This didn’t sound too hopeful, but who knows what police methods are here and how effective they may be. So we sat tight for an hour or so.

After two hours of waiting, the shopkeeper won some sort of argument with English-speaking-lady, and led us (bicycles following his scooter) to the nearest ‘official’ building. Not a police station, though some police were there. Maybe the HQ of the local communist officials. Of course no-one really spoke English there either, but someone claiming to be a local English teacher ‘translated’ for us. The teacher’s level of English explains why no one speaks English around there. All we wanted at this point was a police report so Matthew’s travel insurance would reimburse him. Conveying that verbally proved to be impossible, so Alison resorted to drawing a diagram of a basic “report” and its requirements (address, names, incident, and stamp). Our translator disappeared; we later discovered him at a computer in a back room creating a ‘police report’ modeled on Alison’s fairly laughable diagram. It was all we were going to get, so we enthusiastically praised his efforts and accepted our report. It was at least signed and stamped by the local police.

We finally got back on the bikes around 4 pm, light already waning, to see how far we could make it that day. Within a couple of kilometers of the “station,” Alison’s back tire went flat again. New hole, completely different cause. After patching it in a rush, we discovered our pump was broken. Good times. We strapped the flat tire to the back of Matthew’s bike and he went off to find someone to inflate it. We set off once again and night came quickly. We asked at local shops where we could find a hotel and were able to get consistent directions for one a few kilometers away back the way we came. Alison’s tire once again goes flat.

No light, no pump, and not near a hotel is not the best situation to be in. A few locals were able to lead us to a bike repair man who dealt with Alison’s flat for us (sadly, our rushed patch job had failed). Since we hadn’t seen the hotel when we passed it the first time, and cycling at night on the now quiet highway did not feel dangerous, we decided to forge ahead to the next town which we heard was only 10 km away. It ended up being slightly further than expected, but we made it there without further incident. We never did find the time to get lunch, so dinner that night was much appreciated.

As we had covered so little distance, the next day was our longest yet, an impressive 102 km. Mile markers initially suggested it was only 90km, and later amended themselves to suggest it was 110km. We also had to make an unexpected stop in the morning, as Alison’s back tire had still not been fixed properly. A bulge in the inner was causing unpleasant bumps every time the wheel went round. A second bike repair man seemed to have fixed it…but as soon as she tried it out, the inner exploded as he had put too much air in it. Bike repair men and mile markers are not to be trusted in Vietnam. But we made it, as planned, to Hue, which we will discuss in future posts.


Photos from this post can be found here

Other Pages Updated: Pictures, Maps, Statistics, Food

~ by Elephants on December 11, 2010.

3 Responses to “Not a Typical Day”

  1. Very much enjoying your reports and pictures. Hope you won’t have too many frustrating days of repeated punctures. Love the descriptions of scenery and encounters and look forward eagerly to reports from Hue. Early Christmas greetings to you both.

  2. I had no idea what a Kindle was so had to Google it. I’m clearly not down with the kids.

    Maybe if you pass through again in a couple of years they’ll all be speaking English from the books they’ve read on it!

    I’ve got to go now, there’s a new cardboard bow in the living room that needs tearing up. Toodles!

  3. How stressful! Hope things are more positive now!

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