Instantly it felt like a different country. Cheaper, more relaxed, less developed, and friendlier. Not that I had much time to observe China as my head was down and my legs were pumping like pistons in an engine. Apparently about 0.5 horsepower.
The Vietnamese side of the border had less pavement, which was nice to see, but made for a more narrow “highway” and less or no shoulder at times for cycling on.
I was cycling through a tea growing region. Ever since I worked at a teahouse in the rockies I‘ve wanted to explore a tea growing region of the planet. It would have to wait as I was on a mission to meet Rein in Hanoi.
I had an ambitious goal of about 180 km that day and it was looking very feasible in the afternoon. I fuelled up on some fresh sugarcane juice and all was good. Then I got a flat, the road narrowed further, deteriorated, and became hilly. Then it got dark and I got another flat, and another flat. The third flat of the day ended in disaster.
Due to my exhaustion and the lack of light I didn’t make sure the chain was properly aligned. I mounted the bike slowly rolling downhill and took a strong pedal and heard a loud snap and the sound of something breaking. SHEEEEETTTTT. My rear derailleur was snapped in half beyond repair. I was unable to pedal my bike any further. If necessary I did have tools to shorten my chain and turn my bike into a single speed but that would not be much fun.
For the moment I was on the side of a dark highway surrounded by jungle and loads of bugs. I started to roll downhill for as long as possible and then run bike like my nieces had taught me. I came to a couple uphills where I walked her up but they weren’t so bad. After about ten kms of this I came to the outskirts of a town and a guesthouse for 250 dong (14$ CAD).
I asked about a bike mechanic the next morning at breakfast (pho!). A few shouts later I had someone escorting me to the mechanic. He was of course on a motorbike, as is everyone in Asia (nobody walks anymore). I was running/pushing my bike along. He became impatient and that’s when my biggest nightmare and greatest fear came true. He came up behind me and pushed me with his outstretched leg. I yelled at him . Noooooo!. Angry at him but well aware he was just trying to help. How he could he know I had avoided being pushed by a motor for almost two years. There’s a * on my trip now. :)
It wasn’t much farther for me to push and roll myself to the bike mechanic. We arrived at a bench on the side of the road where a few older gents were shooting the shit. One of them had his feet up on a wooden stool. Or at least that’s what it looked like until it was clear to him that I had bike issues and the stool transformed into a bike shop. It was a box with all of the tools my new friend would need. It didn’t contain the new rear derailleur I needed but that would not be a problem.
He disappeared down the street and returned with a used but solid enough looking replacement. 15 mins later my bike was good to go (250 dong plus a nice tip of gratitude).
Then Rein called me in a panic to inform me ha had missed his flight. I couldn’t believe it. I was pissed. I thought he might bail on me. Thankfully he was able to rebook for the next day. I was happy and relieved to have an extra day of breathing room to get the 150km to Hanoi.
The highway was mostly flat and good pavement for the rest of the journey to the big city. There was more and more traffic as I got nearer to Hanoi and that came with lot’s of horn honking. If I wasn’t cycling on a busy highway I could easily think I was somewhere back in time in Asia, as I passed ancient looking people with hunched backs working in the rice paddies.
I made quick friends with all of the Vietnamese I met and realized they were very comfortable with touching people they had just met. It was common to have new friends (mostly men) start feeling my leg muscles and talk about how strong I was. Sure I liked the compliments but the touch was a bit uncomfortable when it was a drunken Vietnamese dude who I couldn’t read his intentions easily. Thanks for the sugar cane juice but I need to keep riding.
I stayed in a little guest house in a little roadside town that night and then rolled the last 50 km into Hanoi the next day. I entered the downtown core of Hanoi on an infamous bridge that cars are not allowed on. Motorcycles and bicycles only. I had a special feeling rush over me as I pedalled those last kms. I had just cycled 1000+ km in 8 days through Southern China and into Vietnam. I was going to see my good friend Rein in the first time since we started this journey together almost two years ago. I was stoked.