We've been a little quiet for the past couple of weeks, the reason being that we wanted to experience more of Vietnam before we made more comments as a lot of negative things happened all at once. As we sailed past Hanoi heading south we decided to change our route away from the mountains and head towards the coast. The main highway in Vietnam, QL1, runs down the coast line and becomes one of the few options if you wish to see some sea and beaches. As previously mentioned, we were in a rush to get to Hoi An to meet Mike's dad and the extra day we spent in China with the cycling community put a little more urgency on getting the kilometres covered in Vietnam. We took the plunge and decided to join the highway and if it was awful, we'd figure out an alternative.
After a few hours we actually felt safer than we did on the smaller roads. On occasion, large lorries would barrel down the small roads honking their ear-bleedingly loud horns demanding space to be made for them without so much as hitting the brake. On Highway 1 they mostly kept two lanes over from the shoulder which we had mostly to ourselves. We were making really good progress down towards Hoi An and had more pleasant experiences with the locals. We didn't get turned away from restaurants again, nor did we get sworn at again. However, on one of the first days on the highway we passed through a town where Mike got groped by another man on a moped. This weirdo lent over and patted Mike's belly, laughed, lent over again and grabbed a handful of Mike's nether regions, then rode off laughing at the horror across Mike's face. Utterly bizarre.
The first time we saw the sea again was initially quite a triumph for us. We hadn't seen the sea since taking the ferry from Istanbul to Yalova, and before that it had been in Latvia, so it was with a huge sense of achievement that we stopped and took a moment to look at the sea in Vietnam. Unfortunately, three kids came running over trying to sell us things and when they realised we weren't going to buy, they took a bike light as a souvenir. Luckily, I spotted the sticky fingers and got the light back, but it did put a bit of a downer on the moment. You hear of this happening everywhere so it's not a comment on Vietnamese kids, not at all, it's just bad timing when we were trying to take a video of that moment.
Fortunately, earlier that day we had been invited in for lunch by a man and his excitable puppy (except the puppy did none of the inviting) when he spotted us outside his house, sitting at the side of the highway dipping bread into condensed milk. Whilst that is delicious, he provided us with a more nutritious lunch of noodles and a shot of liquor. So the day had its ups and downs.
As soon as we reached Hue about 130km from Hoi An there were westerners everywhere and most locals spoke English. It happened so suddenly it came as a bit of a shock but we took the opportunity to begin to pile on the calories again with some western food. The next day we made it to Da Nang but the weather had been so bad we saw zero point in crossing the Hai Van Pass. The Hai Van Pass has mostly been made famous by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear and since I despise that man I felt no disappointment when we decided we would take the tunnel. Why is it so famous? It's just got a good view for some of the ascent, not even the whole way. For us it had been raining the entire day and the mountain has covered in cloud. Did we see a point in ascending 500m to see cloud? Nope. Only large vehicles can go through the tunnel but luckily a shuttle bus is provided for a very affordable 10,000 dong fee (30p) each. They took our touring bikes with a little extra money and 15 minutes later we were on the other side of the mountain and back on the bikes and cycling into Da Nang along the beach front but still getting rained on.
Taking the Highway had turned out to be the best option for us. Whilst at some points it was really boring, we never worried about having no choice for food or places to sleep. Da Nang and Hoi An are only about 30km apart and we were a day early for our hotel booking in Hoi An so we stayed in Da Nang and waited for Mike's dad to arrive by plane from the UK the following morning. Mike met him at the airport for a brief 'hello' and we blasted down the coast to Hoi An to meet him for a lunch time beer.
The next week was spent drinking more 9p local beer, eating plenty of calories, relaxing on the beach and on one particularly hot day we went to the Marble Mountain. This tourist site is super easy to get to from Hoi An - get the number 1 yellow bus from the bus station and pay 20,000 dong per person each way once you get on board (a man will come and ask you for money and probably claim it's more than 20,000 each) and alight at the mountain. There's a lot of walking through some pretty hot and humid caves so remember to take plenty of water with you and maybe go on an overcast day.
The process of getting our wedding clothes made whilst in Hoi An was a surprisingly stress free one. We had always planned on getting them made here in preparation for our Yosemite wedding in April (and our second wedding back home in Fife) but in the run up to actually arriving in Hoi An, I was becoming quite nervous about going through with it because of the negative experiences we'd had in Vietnam. I didn't want a bad memory of getting my wedding dress made, that's for sure. But since we had already booked to stay in Hoi An for a week, and we really needed the rest, we went to investigate a couple of tailors I'd read up about. To get a quote and a feel for the tailors I went through the design with each shop and ended up settling with Kimmy's. It's a pretty famous tailors and I knew people who had been there and had something made already so it was on our list of places to visit. After discussing the design from a photo I had on my phone, I was taken away from the shop to a building full of extra fabrics to look through them. There was lots of choice and it took a while to settle on what was eventually the final plan, but we were very well treated and not rushed or pressured into any choices. Finally, our designer (Chi) took my measurements, we paid a deposit and asked to return in two days to have the first fitting. In the meantime, Mike made decisions on his suit and he was to return at the same time for his own fitting.
We were impressed with how together the suit and dress was on the first fitting. Minor adjustments were made to mine to fit nicely around my bust and shoulders and the length of the train was cut as I stood there. It's an obvious thing to say, but if you're planning on getting this done, take your wedding shoes and bra with you so it gets done properly. Luckily I had these!
One day later and we returned again for our second fitting and my dress was perfect. The only thing they didn't have was ribbon so I'll get that in Bangkok, but otherwise I'm thoroughly impressed with the workmanship and professionalism of the entire process. Chi really made me feel comfortable, especially as I had no mum or best friend there to give me advice or reassurance. Mike's suit took much more adjusting since there are so many more parts to it. He needed to come back again for a third fitting to get the shoulders right. We went back for the third fitting a few hours later on the same day as the second fitting, and then once more an hour after that. Better it be taken in little bit by little bit than to go too far, have to undo and have stitch holes be visible. In the end, it's perfect.
The morning we left Hoi An we had a very sweet goodbye from the lady running the hotel we stayed in. I don't think people normally stay for as long as we did so she became very friendly with us. The journey down the coast from Hoi An is very quiet as we could avoid the highway easily and Mike was complaining of stomach aches. He'd had a few of these in the weeks preceding and we'd put it down to the heat.
A couple of days passed of flat cycling along the coast and we finally reached Quy Nhon where we were due to stay with Simon, a warm showers host. Once we got there we decided to take a rest day because we were still quite tired even with a rest in Hoi An, and it's lucky we did because by lunch time Mike had developed some pretty crippling diarrhoea and a very worrying fever. I've never felt skin as hot as that, but thankfully paracetamol brought it down. I'm writing this blog on rest day three where Mike is improving and we should be ready to leave the day after tomorrow. We're as yet unsure whether we will get the coach to Ho Chi Minh City to avoid the hills coming up to make sure we don't put Mike's body under undue strain after a nasty bug, or whether we'll continue and just take it very slowly so we can keep a joined up line the whole way to Singapore.