Hoi An

A Special Place

The next morning we left early for the most epic ride of the tour and it was... raining. At least the temperature was warm and it felt good to be on the road. As we left the city the road was scattered with large puddles and hundreds of potholes caused by the flooding. Weaving and flats would be in order for those who had brought their racing bikes. My mountain bike felt slow, but handled well over the bumps, ruts and wet road. When I reached our bus up the road I was told they had been unable to catch Horst or maybe he had stopped along the way? The closer we got to Hai Van the more the rain and wind worsened and climbing up there was still repair work going on to fix the sections that had slid during the previous month. The 6-mile climb was slow going and wind from the southern typhoon whipped the top but by the time I crested the summit only three riders had had enough and were drying off in the van.

Speeding down the Hai Van I caught up with Jim who had flatted again. It was like the tortoise and the hare with the flats slowing him down. We slogged on together with his wife Debbi but they soon left me behind. As the flat miles wore on I would occasionally find a local on a bicycle who wanted to "dua" - or race - and let them get ahead of me so I could draft off their wheel. I was really struggling now but soon ran into Jim who had flatted again. We rode the last ten miles into Hoi An together which was a very long and very wet ten miles.

On the stairs in front of the hotel was Horst, draped in towel with his hands high in the air in a victory salute. The oldest rider on the tour - 30 years on at least a few of us - had finished alone 2 hours before. It was the fastest anyone on the tour had ever done this ride. What a champione!

The bus pulled in shortly but Minh, Sinh, and Dunh had grim looks on thier faces. We had lost Tim. Sinh grabbed a motorbike and headed back up the road towards Da Nang to see if he was along the route still and had just been missed. But a half an hour later he called from Da Nang with a negative. It was not until another hour that Tim came rolling in - still on the bike after 8 hours. He said he had passed Hoi An and went about ten miles further down Highway One before turning back turning our long ride into a longer century.

Washed, scrubbed and warmed up we enjoyed a delicious meal at Miss Ly's - Ichibod described it as the best food he had eaten so far although a half-day on the bike can make food taste awfully good. But the real treat was Hoi An - always the favorite stopover. Although tourism and tailoring are now Hoi An's largest business, replacing furniture making, the town has been preserved. So much so it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Not only has the town survived the recent flooding - the worst since 1964 - but it's unique, old wooden houses show little damage. Aside from architecture and a scenic setting on the riverfront, Hoi An's people are wonderfully friendly and the food is some of the best in Vietnam.

The weather remained constant for the next few days, spilling more rain down, often in heavy sheets that were loud enough to wake you up at night. Everyone was content to eat well and shop for tailored clothes in between exploring the fascinating maze of shops within Hoi An. We also sampled Cao Lao Soup -- a pork soup served only in Hoi An -- of which one bowl is never enough. Ichibod said it was the perhaps the best food he had ever eaten.

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This 16-day bicycling tour by twelve Americans and Canadians involved traveling the length of Vietnam, from Hanoi to Saigon, with plenty of time to stop and see the uniqueness of the cities and people along the way. Although cyclists ranged in ability from beginner to champion racer, all found a way to explore Vietnam at their own pace and in the best way possible -- as most locals do -- on two wheels.

This diary was written and updated each day during the trip as it happened during the tour according to the perspective of the author who makes no claims of accuracy to the events happening as described herein.

The Hoi An had built a new simming pool which mocked our presence under the grey, drizzly skies. We could have saved weight and left our swim trunks behind. Fortunately, Hoi An held far greater enjoyments. The few hundred steps up Marble Mountain brought us a spectacular view. From the other side we could see storm-ravaged China Beach. Craftsmen at the base of the mountain carve out all things marble, such as Buddhas. It is said Cau Lau soup can only be made with water from one particular well in Hoi An. Whatever the reality, this pork specialty is only found in Hoi An and was surprisingly a tour favorite for a few people considering how well we had eaten..
Wildlife at last! Debbie discovers perhaps the world's tiniest frog on the climb up Marble Mountain.

Hoa Nghiem Cave inspires a silent moment for Tim and Barbara. The cave served as a Viet Cong hospital dueing the American war and the light pokes through holes created by US bombers. This enlightened dog contemplates at Linh Unh Pagoda

A typical lane in Hoi An Old Town where nothing much has changed for centuries except that gas station. Ear cleaning is as common as getting a shave in Vietnam. The "barber" uses a complimant of tools to dig it all out and you would not believe how much there is. Hoi An retains much of it's original wooden architectural which is very unique within Vietnam.

Photographs by VeloAsia 1999 [More Photos]
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