Vietnam’s coast and Highway 1 are a study in contradictions. It’s not uncommon to see a truck passing a bus, passing a car, passing a motor scooter, passing a water buffalo all at the same time and bearing down on oncoming traffic at 60 miles an hour, horns blaring. At the same time, you’re likely to view a quiet, pastoral scene, a family at the communal dinner table or a solitary worker, her white, conical, bamboo non la in stark relief against the dark green of a rice paddy.
Unlike in the cities, out in the ‘bush,’ bicycles seem to be one of the main modes of transportation, especially with the young. We often found ourselves among groups of school children dressed in their smart, crisp uniforms, riding two and three to a bike. They would see us and smile, shout out greetings and wave happily. Many times I feared for the childrens’ lives as huge trucks and busses sped past on the highway mere inches from where they were riding.
Camping was not an option along Highway 1, there were just too many people and very few unoccupied spaces where we could set up a tent. That meant we had to stay in hotels, which were clean, safe and cheap. We rarely spent more than eight dollars U.S. per night. We usually had breakfast at the hotel, but lunch was a variable option. Often, it consisted of whatever we could find at one of the ubiquitous food stalls or truck plazas where I once had a garlic-flavored ice cream cone and some kind of ginger-tasting peanut brittle stuck to a disc of hard rice bread.
Neither of us was prepared for the withering heat and energy-draining humidity of coastal Vietnam. We would make good time in the early mornings, but by 2:00 in the afternoon, the wind had usually picked up, the heat set in and we slowed our pace and stopped often for shade and water. The last 10 or 12 miles were taken at a leisurely pace, and we would start looking for a hotel by midafternoon. We’d check into our hotel then seek out a place to eat. Dinner would be a rice- or noodle-and-broth dish with bread and a Tiger Beer. Back in my room, I’d grab a quick shower, watch some Vietnamese TV, then, by 8:00 p.m., I’d be in bed and asleep by 9:00. For breakfast, we’d have a couple of fried eggs, sliced cucumbers, rice and tea all for about 25 cents U.S.
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