Basic Guide to Ordering Viet Food

Ever walk in a Vietnamese restaurant and order a bunch of food only to get a massive boiled chicken cut in a way that was impossible to eat? Bones and Cartilage in every bland bite for a good 300k? Well That happened to us when we came here 3 whole times. I wish I had a list of how to order back then but over the years i’ve leveled up my ordering ability and made this cheat sheet.

This guide is a good guide when your at Bia Hois, traditional vietnamese restaurants, and hotels that seem to have nothing but Fried Rice, and Fried noodles for foreign guests. Really ordering these things from them usually brings a big smile to their face. Keet it simple, and be understanding and remember to say.

“Không Sao” – Don’t worry

This post is organized like this
-Cooking
-Veg
-Meat
-Spices
-Carb
-Dip

For the past 6 years I have poorly learned how to eat and order Vietnamese cuisine. However I have managed to get by and here is my guide to eating out in Vietnam.

1st off Eating out in Vietnam is usually a group thing. When you order dishes they are going to come out huge and be for 2-4 people. Split evenly each meal should be about 100k per person to 200k per person depending on how lavish your eating and drinking habits are. Between my wife, son and I we usually hit around 180k to 220k, beer included.

Its actually pretty easy to order in most places once you realize all the dishes are Food+how its cooked+seasoned

Bo Xao Ot
Beef fried Chili

Or

Suon Nuong Moi
Ribs Grilled Salt

When I arrive at a Vietnamese Eatery I order the spread. Meat, Vegetable, Tofu and Carb. Each time I see a new thing on the menu I try to understand it and order it.

How its prepared. Should be the second expression, but I write it first as it works with everything and I use the terms while talking about each of these.
Xao – Stir Fried
Luoc – Boiled
Chien – Deep Fried
Rang- Batter Fried common with Pork and Chicken
hap – Steamed
Tai Chanh – A rarer one but it means soaked with lime.
Nuong / Quay – Grilled up. Always a treat when they’ve got the barbecue going. Quay is on a spit.
Xe – Pulled. Amazing with beef.
Kho – Dried

Veggies
Vegetables vary alot. A popular one fried “Morning glory” Also known as River Spinach is
Rua Muong Xao Toi (Or any Veggie Xao Toi.) However anything not poisonous that grows from the ground tends to be fair game for the kitchen and menu. So the way I usually order veggies is simple “Veggie” plus Xao Toi. If I want to change the flavor I get a Chanh Moi Ot, or some Soy Sauce.

I pronounce Rau like Wow but with a Z, Zow.

For Vegetarian meals look for signs that say “Chay”.

Rau Muong – Morning Glory or River Spinach or Swamp Cabbage.
Rua Mung – Maribor Spinach.
muop dang – Bitter melon.
bap cai – cabbage
Dua Chuot – Cucumber
Mang – Bamboo
lá bí – Pumpkin Leaf
đậu xanh – Green Beans

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But simple saying “Rua Xao Toi” usually leaves the veggie up to the chef and its the easiest understood across Vietnam. Its a basic meal and even when theres nothing like it on the meal they always seem to have some on hand.

Ways to spice Veggies
bánh đa – With Peanuts

Meat

Meat is back on the Menu! So is the bones and cartilage too adding flavor and texture to every bite, if you know how to eat it. If not, then a mouthful of little bone bits and chewy cartilage will ruin your meal. Here is a rough guide on what to expect when its on the menu but I also encourage people to try the cartilage cut though from time to time, because once you master it, it becomes amazing. The other option is to say “Rút xương” after the meat, which means boneless but not everyplace is able to accommodate this.

Thit lon – Pork – Sometimes pork belly
Suon – Ribs
Bo – Beef – Simple and easy
Trâu – Buffalo usually cut with fat and a chewy bit.
De (pronounced Zay)  – Goat. Sometimes Skin, fat and meat cut.
Ca – Fish – Will usually have bones
Ngao – Clam
Ga – Chicken, Usually cartilage Cut, but sometimes when its Chien it’ll be wings
Canh Ga – Chicken Wings
Muc – Squid – Unless its in a noodle dish its usually baby squid.
Vit – Duck – Usually Cartilage Cut
Ngan – Musk Duck sometimes confused with Goose. Also Cartilage cut unless in Soup (Mien Ngan).
Thit Cho – Dogmeat
Ech – Frog

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Spices
Muối và hạt tiêu – Salt and Pepper (Common with Pork)
Ớt thái nhỏ – With Chili Slices. I see it usually as just Ot.
Ớt chuông – Fried with bell peppers.
Xa – With Lime Leaves. (Usually for Chicken or Fish)

Carbs
So here the easiest one is always Com or rice, Com Xao for fried rice. But as we’ve got a Major Danger we tend to order Khao Tay Chien or french fries. Sometimes they’ll have Khoai Lang Chien which is something like sweet potato fingers.

Khoai Tay – Literally means west potato for potato. Khao Tay Chien is french fries.
Khoai Lang – Sweet potato
Dao Phu – Tofu. Best ast Dao Phu Sot Ca Chua(With tomato), or Da Phu
Com – Rice. get a com Xao ga(chicken), or com xao bo(beef), or com xao rua(veggies)
My – Instant Noodles. Same variation as above.
Pho – Flat Noodles. You get the soup if you just say Pho, but if you add Pho Chien it turns into a nice puffy fried noodle.
Bun – Round Noodles.
Mien – Clear thin Noodles

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Dips –
These revolutionize eating for me and spiciness. Very few dishes in Vietnam are inherently spicy, but next to them are dips that let you change the flavor of each bite. Made from fresh ingredients that you mix yourself.

Chanh Muoi Ot – Lime, Salt, and Chili. I get this almost every time.

Mam Tom – Fermented Shrimp Past usually with Chili and and a dash of oil. Pungent with a smell and taste of vomit. I’ve learned to like it in that “stinky tofu” sort of way.

Nuoc Mam Cham/Ot – Fish sauce with Chili. Also amazing though the smell can be off putting. Its incredibly salty but carries the tastes better than soy sauce.

xì dầu – Soy Sauce

sốt chua ngọt – Sweat and Sour Sauce. A tangy sauce usually used with fried spring rolls.
Next if you’re looking for some fried chicken with cartilage don’t be afraid to order Ga Xao Xa, but if you want to have wings Canh Ga Chien. Or keep it simple and get a Bo Xe, or Bo Xao Ot, for fried beef and chili.

So this is a basic guide just for Vietnamese restaurants to give others a chance to explore this amazing cuisine without ordering things they can’t stand. I’m missing out on quite a few things such as the variety of salads(Salat Nga or Russian salad gives your diced veggies and ham covered in Mayo) you can order.  A large variety of Nems, spring rolls, Banh’s and regional dishes.

Its also a rough draft and guide, if anyone has any suggestions and or corrections let me know.

Phong Nga and Ke Bang – Cave Capital of Vietnam

Battered from Dao Deo Dao, we rolled into our homestay and pretty much collapsed into the pool before nap time and the fulfilling my online lesson obligations. We’d made it to Phong Nga, also known as Ke Bang the homeplace of the worlds largest cave.

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The wind gentle sways the mountains east

Of course, we wouldn’t be able to make it to the Hang Soon Dong cave. Its has a tight waiting list and a several grand fee. Same goes for a few of the other caves that cost $400-500 to visit on multi-day treks. We’d settle on spending a few days relaxing and the Monday and Saturday.

Back at the hostel and our days relaxing. One thing I’ve noticed is that these places have English menus that are pretty much safe for a tourist ordering food, they’ll get something basic, like fried rice or egg and bread. So I looked at the menu saw all the basic dishes but nothing really “Vietnamese” Vietnamese so i just started ordering off menu using my own Viet language skills, and letting them finish my sentences.
“Oi, Ruoi Xao toi…. Bo Xao… Chanh? Bo xao.. ot? Dao Phu Xot…?”And then we got decent meals at a much better price than before.

The first place we visited was the Song Nga and Tan Sien caves.

Phuong Nha –

 

 

 

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They load you up in a boat that costs around 400k and sends you down the river.

 

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The Entrance to the Phuong Nha Cave. To the right is the path up the mountain to the Tien Son Caves. You can visit both as part of the boat package.

The boat ride goes on for about 30 to 40 minutes. Part of me really wanted to go deeper and see the end of it but really if everyone was allowed to do this there’d be more damage to the pristine parts of the caves. As we went around the caves it was obvious some of the patrons didn’t care and littered their trash down onto the cave floors.

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Inside its surreal as the boat navigates down the thin river between the rock shelves.

Tien Son
– Tien son Caves follow a long flight of stairs. So many, many stairs. Inside it is quiet

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View from the way up to the Tien Son Cave
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Descending into the Tien Son Cave

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Paradise Cave

As with all the caves we needed to hike up flight and flight of stairs. This round wasn’t so bad though.

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Stairs leading into the Paradise Cave

Paradise Cave was by far the best cave we visited. Massive, wide and with unique shapes that it felt straight out of this world. While the basic ticket gets you a chance to walk around, there is an option to going kms deeper with a stiff price of $400.

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Major Danger dances in a different world.

We probably spent about an hour walking around, taking in the different sites. I tried to do the cave justice with my camera but haven’t been able to capture just how large or wide they really are.

 

Cycling the area proved to show us a different side of the city. Taking a few shortcuts we wound our way through villages, a dilapidated bridge and some short but steep climbs.


On the way back though one kid kept hitting Zuza trying to get her to speak English. One satisfactory slap later and he ran off to attack some bulls. His friends just laughed up in their little cove.

Pho Cao to Phoung Nha

Pho Chao to Hung Khe 55km

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Refreshed and relaxed we woke early and said goodbye to the pools and luxurious rooms. Below us the farmers worked gathering mud and crustaceans from the riverbed.  Quickly we moved into another type of landscape as we cut into the narrows between to national parks along a small stream. This day of riding became absolutely stunning.

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The hills define the edge of the Ke Go Nature Reserve

Here the road was mostly flat. I knew soon we’d have a climb so seeing the hills and the tightening corridor gave me a false feeling of dread.

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Riding besides ancient aqueducts always gives me a giddy feeling.

Monuments and Dams along the way made for wonderful shots.

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Peeking through some bushes reveals.

Hung Khe houses a small lakeside town. We paid 300k for a room with two beds, and a variety of food throughout then evening cost us equal amounts.
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Like a rural hanoi. Bia Hoi and a bridge. Ok not like Hanoi at all.

Hong Khe to Dong Le 54km

More riding and the road began snake up and down in front of us causing ourselves to break a sweat early. Mia Da’s begin to taste better and reach a more crucial state. At this point we were checking to make sure we had ice water in all of our bottles before leaving every morning and after every Mia Da.

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To further shade Major danger from the beating sun we placed a damp shirt over the top of the Burley bee. Its tied on with a series of knots and hair clips.
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When we stopped for a heavy amount of Mia Das and Coconuts we found ourselves sourrounded once again by school children as we were trying to leave. Thankfully only a few tried to reach out and grab Major Danger before we got him in his chariot.

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Dong Le was a pretty bare city but we found a lovely Nha Nghi with a lady who treated us honestly and with a warm smile. The com Binh dan where I got dinner(after teaching online again), loaded me up on fish, cartilage cut chicken and vegetables for only 40k(1.8usd). And enough rice for the following breakfast.

 

Dong Le to Nha Nghi Linh An 30km
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Was the start of the day. Climbing and climbing and climbing and everytime we thought we were done we were visited by another sign. Then came our slope down and all was wonderful till we reached the basin. Then we had to start climbing once again, but this time steeper, and with no Mia Da stalls to offer us respite. I did curl up next to a thin mountain stream to wash and cool my skin but had to leave it behind to climb even further.

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From the top of the first climb

Soon all my water was gone and I was pulled over to the side of the road with my bottles empty. The heat got turned itself on high. My shoes burst hours ago from excessive sweat and I must have had a shiny sheen on my body that attractive selfie goes because 3 girls had pulled over and were asking if they could take a selfie with my beet red but shiny face. My vision blurred and i muttered out “Nuoc”. Soon Zuza passed me but the girls returned with cool bottles of water and I thanked them profusely and they left without even the selfie. With that last bit of energy we pushed forward up, and Up, and UP, AND UP till we made it to the top and then coasted the rest of the way to our homestay. I had a headache but after a few salty lemonades it was gone.
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And the homestay/Ngha Nghi was amazing. The Major could run around, and they fed is plenty and welcomed us as if were were apart of the family. Rooms were clean too. Though we did get a visit from the house centipede living in the sink drain in typical horrowshow fashion.

 

Nha Nghi Linh An to Phong Nha “Deo Da Deo” 54km

It was beautiful.
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It was smooth.
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It was wonderful.

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Until it wasn’t.

The whole time we road through this mountain valley the Karsts towered over us. And I knew a terrible secret. There was no way out of here but up. As we slid along the stream and awed in the beauty of these untouched area’s in the town we kept waiting for a good Mia Da stall and the last one we’d see turned out to be closed.

We were greeted by a gentle slope full of hot tar and we made room from the vagabond looking construction workers. They waved to us with looks of incredulosness and then we hit the slops.

Up and up we went. It didn’t even take a rising sun for the sweat on our bodies to drench our clothes. I downed all the water in my bottles and asked Zuza for her spares. She began to push he bike which gave me secret moments to rest as I waited for her every 30-50metres before lightly peddling up. The incline started off at 10% then cut upwards to 20 and 30%, by the time it started leveling off I was out of water and my legs, my heart, and head had began losing the battle. Even the flat planes felt like slopes as they led to bends that led to even more slopes. On a particular discouraging climb , i worried about Major having far too much energy for us and asked him to burn some off. The traffic was extremely light and we kept him between us at all times. I managed to fumble with my camera to take the only picture of the ride up.

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Then without a guaranteed warning we reached the top. Zuza was thrilled and ecstatic. I finished off the last of her water, drinking a total of 4litres from the start of the hill. She smiled as gravity did all the work.

My head pounded, my throat closed up. My hearing turned wonky as my ears began to magnify everything internal. We flew down, her like a racer and me more like a listing and broken ship. 10km we rode downhill. I’d stop at an army checkpoint midway and refuel my water only to drink it all over the next ten minutes.

Another 4 or 5 km and I pulled into a town and found a place to collapse and drink, knock off sprites, salty lemonades, and an energy drink.

I’d later figure out I was probably suffering from water intoxication and dehydration at the same time.

We rolled slowly into town, found a place called Amanda Homestay and laid out in the swimming pool.

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Hello mo mo cows.

Cycling Tan Ky to Pho Chao. A tale of 2, 500k hotels.

 

Tan Ky to Somewhere (HCM and QL46c Intersection) 66km

At the start of this we we’re already exhausted. Still at 5am to 6am we took our bags down to the 1st floor and carried them to the basement to loaded up the bikes and took off. There was a plan to take an extra day break at “Site of Interest” on googlemaps as a place popped called “Tea fields” among an are of little lakes. It appeared to be the only spot for awhile so we saddled up and flew through the once again amazingly beautiful countryside.


Though on arrival, through dirt roads we’d discover our first tourist trap. A guy who made a single small hotel and managed to place about 12 different ‘points of interest’ on the googlemaps. Boat docks that were just dirt paths, a restaurant, a hotel, and a tourist office that looked like separate entities were all just his house. The 500k bungalows had no bathrooms or AC and the “family” room at 300k was just a bed in a solid concrete block of a room, another family that we me described it as “not safe for children”. Anyways he wouldn’t budge on the price so very annoyed and quite worried we took off from there.

I was pissed! This place was supposed to be the choosen one of easy spots, and it turned out to be crap. Let it be clear I’ve no problem with staying in a place like this, but absolutely not for that price, especially considering the place we’d get soon after being cheaper. So annoyed and chuffed we left giving Major a chance to walk alongside us.

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When we left the guy started to take photos of us and ran when I returned the fire. Then kept texting zuza saying we should think of the children.

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The man running from the Camera

We’d go another 15km to get lunch and ask the owner if she knew of any place to stay. 30km away she said or and she pointed back in the direction of the of the bungalow, and I shuddered at the thought of having to pay extortionate fees. So We begin to search for hotels and homestays but Nothing!

“Nga Nghi” Zuza changed her search to the Vietnamese word for accommodation and 5 popped up behind us and on an intersecting road. When we’d go to check them out 2 we’re closed for good, 1 didn’t exist, a fourth had no windows and had vibes of being a brothel, and the 5th also had the vibes of being a brothel but was cheaper, had good wifi, and windows. So for 160k or 6.9usd, we stayed there.

During a walk, I’d chat with a local fruit vendor about the prices of limes. Children looked up and stared, some followed and by the time I got back to the place I had accrued a group of 12 kids all interested in us, when they saw the bikes I did get nervous that they might started playing on them, BUT when one tried the rest told him to cut it out. They were interested in us and very very very interested in playing with Major. But I had to teach online and so I left them and Major went inside with us as well.

They even came to the door during the lesson to ask to practice English, and while I promised them I’d come out after, when I did it was dark and they had vanished.

We’d get dinner across the street and I’d get a chance to read kids stories to the family of the restaurant/bia hoi, and Mr.Danger would play with the children then over knock-off legos, and some the best bananas I’ve ever had(think the exact taste of the new extinct candy banana).

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If the beds hadn’t been so hot, and if we didn’t need to kill 6 gargantuan roaches in mid daylight giving me the heebie jebies for the night, I would have liked to stay in that town for longer. I felt like leaving so suddenly took away from our trip.

HCM to Pho Chao  38km

Off and Away. Cold rice and coffee for breakfast.  The roads are long but the climbs for the day were gentle.

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The day was hot, and full of gentle ascents. We’d see beehives dotting the countryside and grab a few photos of the beekeepers collecting honey. Here we have one young tatted boy communing with the bees.

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While going down the final descent we saw a fancy hotel, with large grounds, swimming pools and near an amusement park.

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We decided to check it out and priced at 500k a night with breakfast. So after checking with a cheaper backpackers place in town we’d return, negotiate 900k for two nights and get a chance to relax, poolside.

 

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The food was OK, but sustainable here, and as we walked around the countryside we were greeted by many picturesque moments.

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Sifting though the rice paddies.

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A local lady walks through the rice fields with baskets of soil.

Ho Chi Minh Road – Thac May to point 0km Tam Ky

Thac May to Ho Chi Minh Road  10km

The morning of Thac May wasn’t too bad. We had two hellish climbs out but the fact that it wasn’t 40(105f) degrees anymore, made the world of difference. The twisting paining feeling I’d get in my stomach was gone and while the 20-40% grades were hard, we made it through them without hating ourselves. A beautiful road to the home-stay on the HCM trail.

 

200k for the three of us to have an entire floor, in a stilted house. No AC still but the three fans we’re great. The whole place looked beautiful and Major Danger spent most of the day playing with a group of boys which made us very happy.

Ho Chi Minh to Lam Kinh 68km

We meant to visit the temple here but due to our indecisiveness with the hotels(first one no windows, second one had a listed price of 200k but kept telling us it was 300k), I wound up napping under a table, and then we stayed in a brothel for 160k. In the evening I over ordered food at a hotpot, stuffed ourselves and got some leftover rice for breakfast. Frog, beef, chicken.
Major discovered that he can take his small notes and exchange them for ice-cream.

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Lam Kinh to Yen Cat    34km

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A short 34km right, a bit of cartilage cut chicken(amazing!) a cheap and large hotel and a nap. The rolling hills of the HCM prove to be just challenging enough without really wearing us down. The hotel we’d stay at had a huge fountain and large grounds for major danger to run around.

 

Yen Cat to Dong Hieu  54km

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Rolling hills again. Its so much different than I ever thought. Stunning displays of scenery, blooming flowers, and an odd array of farmlands. Its hear I begin to really feel that this is the route 66 of Vietnam. Interesting characters all around. We stopped by a Mia Da place and a stunning women with a giggle that lit up everyone’s smile came out to serve us. Two, haha ohh three Mia da’s, She said with elevator eyes. It reminded me of the southern belles you hear about that can’t stop flirting with the passerbys. Her husband was a nice guy too.

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500 Volts for the Ho Chi Minh!

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Hotel was small, full of ants but thankfully none in our room. The restaraunt next to it was pretty sweet too and we loaded up on food including an amazing Banana fish dish.

 

 

Dong Hieu to Tan Ky “HCM Road 0km” 40km

Ground Zero of the HCM road. There was even a monument. First hotel we went to was closed down to maybe foreignors or maybe everyone. Thankfully we went to the HCM 0 hotel which was quite nice for 300k. Only problem was they charged us for the water which confused me. Fine, they got an extra 50k out of us, no big deal.

We grabbed some pictures of us and the monument the following morning and set off down the road built over the hidden trails of Ho Chi minh.

 

 

Over 1000km down. The bare minimum post.

So here are the maps, distances and analysis of our trips through strava.com. We’ve been pushing hard from day one and working to get things up in a timely matter but of course when it comes to cycling, parenting, working online, drinking 10litres of water a day, blogging and photo/video editing we sometimes fall behind.

Here’s the skeleton of some posts to come.

We’ve covered about 1,200km total.

Hanoi to Hung Yen– 70.5km

Hung yen to Nam Dinh 49km

Nam Dinh to Village “38 degrees of Hell” 28km

Nam Dinh to Ninh Binh (With Ferry) 32km

Around Ninh Binh  102km

Ninh Binh to Cuc Phuong 32km.

Bear Sanctuary to and from 23km

Cuc Phuong to Thac May Waterfalls “1st Day of the Ho Chi Minh Road” 57km

We almost gave up on a 40degree/40degree moment. (40celcius with a 40%grade)

Thac May to Ho Chi Minh Road  10km

Ho Chi Minh to Lam Kinh 68km

Lam Kinh to Yen Cat    34km

Yen Cat to Dong Hieu  54km

Dong Hieu to Tan Ky “HCM Road 0km” 40km

Tan Ky to Somewhere (HCM and QL46c Intersection) 66km

HCM to Pho Chao  38km

Pho Chao to Hung Khe 55km

Hong Khe to Dong Le 54km

Dong Le to Nha Nghi Linh An 30km

Nha Nghi Linh An to Phong Nha “Deo Da Deo” 54km

Phong Nha Around 76km

Phong Nha to Dong Hoi 56km

Dong Hoi to Ho Xa, Vinh Linh 69km

Nice.

Ho Xa, Vinh Linh to Dong Ha   38km

Dong Ha to Hue  76km

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The Ho Chi Minh Road Part 1 (A summary of things)

We’re not trying to win any records here. Previous cyclist and motorcyclist with less gear and children burned through these roads years ago, over and over again. In fact we are using both H2h’s maps, as well as the motorbike guide the Vietnamcoracle.com to map out our ride, and choose our hotels.

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Every morning we wake up and hit the road. Our horses of steel sliding across the Ho Chi Minh road. It feels how everyone described route 66 in America. Long swaths of farmland, rolling hills, interesting people, diners, hotels and restaurants. The food goes through variations of Vietnamese food, and even the accents, dialects and attitudes are beginning to change between shorter and shorter distances.

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Every ‘diner’ and roadside stall has a small bottle of what appears to be complimentary Vietnamese Moonshine, or “herb” infused Rice spirit ranging from 30%-60%. Some places proudly display their concoctions like our first home-stay on the trail.

 

 
We’ve been followed back to our hotel room by a group of children interested in Major Danger after a quick lunch. Had decent conversations with locals in broken English, our broken Vietnamese and google translate. Though still it was a bit superficial I’d like to increase this. Major Danger’s been meeting friends he calls “The boys” at every other stop. Some good, some well, not disciplined and rude but we talked about each interaction with the Major afterwards.

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Though right now the great feeling is all the vistas and beautiful landscapes we get to see.

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There’s so much to write about this road and whats going on that I’ll later dedicate several pieces to its food, people, routes, and our average day to day.

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The Waterfalls and Ride back

On this trip we’ve started feeling at our healthiest in years. A great routine of a solid carb breakfast, cardio exercise for 4 hours, a lunch, nap and then work to reach an early bed. When all these things are met, our fatigue is momentary and our drive is strong. Miss one of those though and our finely oiled cycling and working machine gets replaced with irritation and discomfort.

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A group of vendors at the entrance

Starving we ordered food, and it only took an hour ten minutes to arrive. Forty five minutes in, noticing the grill inactive I asked about our food, “Oh you want it now?” I croaked yes. The ecolodge would turn out to be the upstairs of a stilted house. Major would sleep well, I terribly. Vietnamese Karaoke until 10:30 and then the police would come at 11:30 to check our passports. With us asleep the owner unlocked our door, came in and turned that lights on to be met with our irate irritation. So thats how I ended up in my underwear pushing a cop out of our room handing him our passports. In my defense he was smoking a cigarette while trying to get in and I didn’t want him to wake Mr.Danger. Once all and all was done the resident rooster would begin to mistake the night for the sunrise every ten minutes till 6am where we were promptly awaken by construction on the home-stay.

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Major Danger eating. All of us too tired to notice he’s not holding his spoon correctly.

While I wouldn’t recommend staying overnight there (seriously the homestay at the 10km entrance was amazing), the place was awe inspiring.

It felt like a local American type attraction but with Vietnamese. Tons of families and small tour groups all squeezing the most out of a saturday, sweat, sunscreen lotion, tons of beers, children in lifejackets, roasting chicken and large fans cooling yourself off. Hammocks on the side and cold drinks along long tables where the groups ate dinners, drank tea and smoked thuc luoc(strong tobacco done in bong hits). Everyone’s eyes on getting up the hill to the waterfalls and enjoying their mini-vacations. Despite all of this they were surprisingly modest. Only one or two asked for selfies and only a few grandmothers grabbed at Major Dangers face. In the afternoon after the crowds had left we got to have the waterfalls to our self and one other couple.

To people who want to immerse themselves in Vietnamese culture I’d suggest spots like this where their is a common ground and self interest. Just having a good relaxing time.

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The following morning we’d cycle the 10 kms meeting the two hills from the day before. They were steep and oh did my body twist against them. For the first time in years I hopped off and pushed the bike with all my might.

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After it was easy riding and got a few snapshots of the things around cementing my belief mixture of Vietnamese classes and culture exists here, and it is beautiful.


On a bea

 

The Hellish Ride to the waterfalls

“Just a 10 km Push!” I said, “C’mon It’ll be easy and we can turn back anytime”. It was 10:30am after an easy 50km day getting to and on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The sun had been easy on us so far a long with the road. We had 3 hours till me lessons started, “Look theres some sketchy looking ecolodges by the falls so we’ll find something, No problem”, so the plan was to arrive around 11:30am, eat, nap and I’d(mr.Travis) would start my lessons while Zuza and Danger would swim in beautiful waterfalls. Easy peezy Lemon Freezy!

Ahead of schedule we made a right down the road, an immediate short slope, we could see the children getting out of school as we dodged their “Awes!” and “Whoas!” Quickly passing them that traveled on food, motorbike and bicycle alike. Ahead of the game we pulled ourselves down a shallow slope for several kilometers.

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And it was beautiful. The whole time we followed a blueish river with a few small climbs. A group of boys on bikes rolled up to us asking if we were going to the waterfalls and I confirmed, he showed my the up and down motion of the hills. Armatures I though, these roads were easy.

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We saw boys singing kareoke and some leaping from trees into the cool river besides us. Oh, i thought, soon we’ll be doing the same. The sun was getting hot and our ride a bit more labored but we were just three km away at this point. 11am was just rounding the corner and if things kept the same we’d be there in just 6 or 7 minutes.

Though there was the first real slope, and I hit it with the enthusiasm of a champion about to finish.  At first everything was fine, though it grew to be more difficult. My breathing slowed and I tried to concentrate. Glancing back to Zuza I saw a focused look but barely any change from my location and looking up it seemed to go on for miles.

What percentage was the slope? I have no idea, its the kind of ascent that only exists off main roads where they don’t take into consideration stalling motorbikes or cars, where they may have just started dumping cement from the top and letting it drip down to be decided by gravity. Something between 12-40%

The sun at least promised to evaporate the layers of sweat my body produced and soon my stomach twisted. Every glance up to the top of this turning slope gave me a new pain of regret. The bike wheels slipping underneath the weight of bags forced me to stay on. I kept thinking of the cold sugar cane juice that probably waited at the top. Each step on the bike brought different feelings of delirium but then I saw it.

A shop. At least it looked like a shop or maybe it was a bike repair place with a freezer. Knowing Vietnam it was both. I lugged myself and the trailer holding the Major to the side and next to shop. My legs wobbled and my head hurt, i unhooked Mr. Danger and then collapsed in front of the two unlookers. My head saved by my helmet.

“Mia… Da..?” I think they replied they didn’t have any more maybe I just knew already… “Chanh…. Moi?” This time I had turned my face to kind of face them.

After a Mia Da, and a few minutes I was standing, my wet imprint on the ground quickly evaporating when Zuza reached the top.

She repeated the same. Off the bike and collapsed half in shade half in sun. It was now 11:30am. I pretended I had just done the same.

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This wasn’t even the worse part.

A few more cold drinks, a liter of water finished. We figured the first of the ecolodges “Cloud Ecolodge” displayed on google maps did not exist. With some basic vietnamese the people informed us that us there was a place to stay though and it was very near, that or they told us the waterfalls were near. Either way we choose to continue on.

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The sun is always hottest between 10am-2pm. Due to the exhaustion I began to worry about my ability to teach for the rest of the way, well we had just 2km left, maybe if there was a stiff cup of coffee I’d manage without my nap. Lets go.

And it wasn’t easy at first. We kept going up, and up. Not as bad as the first bit but with every flat plane there was another short upward ride that made my question our ability to do this at all. If we couldn’t conquer just 10km here then how could we finish 20,000km back to Europe?

A truck passed us by and I dreampt of asking for a lift. Probably because I was too tired.

Then it happened.  A sharp sudden downturn. The wind at first pleasant against my face, turned sour as I realized the hell we’d have to go through to climb this again. A grade steeper than the way up we held onto our brakes till we made it to a small and short valley.

Then another climb. Larger, longer, steeper and hotter than the first.

We began. My stomach turned and twisted, my pores pushed out sweat, my legs screamed and yelled in my head and everything felt wrong. I worried for Zuza who sat near the begining staring at me and mentally prepping for what I was going through. Why? Why was this so hard? Was it the weight of bags and the bee? Would we be able to get to the top? If not where could we go?  Straight up was losing itself as an option so i began to criss cross the road just to keep going.

After a quick stop I finished almost the last of my water.  It took excessive strength to hold the bike and trailer from slipping down. Then I saw salvation a sign! But I couldn’t see what it said. I pushed.

Pain, twisting agony, my stomach in binds again. I’m sure I was hungry somewhere in some other form but here my mind raced and slowed, twirled and straightened and as I neared the sign on the house, the sign that could be a Mia Da sign it turned into just an ad for farm equipment. I couldn’t go on. There was no shade but this driveway in front of me so there I went into the yard of someones house hoping they didn’t house an aggressive dog. We pulled in and a meek lady looked at us with indifference. More like we were stray animal coming in for shade that she didn’t particularly want there. I’m not sure.

After a few moments of her not kicking me out I released Major and then sat on a mound of hay. Zuza rolled up as near death as myself and while she didn’t have service I had just enough. I had to cancel my lessons. The second saturday in a row to do so(last saturday the internet went out for Ninh Binh area).

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Hay is for horses

Major Danger hopped out of the bee and quickly found toys and sand to play in, our exhaustion may have prevented us from setting quick ground rules though.

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The Major as chipper as can be with a large piece of bamboo for some reason.

What happened next was completely out there, here’s what I wrote to a friend the next day.

So we were going up this hill and the sun turned up the heat. Our bodies were dying, zuza was pushing it up this hill and worst of all we has just come down a steep slope so turning around wasn’t an option. I saw a house with an ad on it and hoped it was for mia da.
So stood up in the biked and pushed against the pedals going up and up, my stomach began to cramp and i learned a new lesson in how much sweat my body could produce. The bike moved in jolts up this inclined and the sign revealed itself to be an old one for nothing. Just a call this number if you need a tractor cable or some nonsense like that, but my heart was slamming in my rib cage and my mind said no more, i pulled into the shade of the house. The residents meekly looked out and gave us odd looks as i collapsed into a small pill of hay. They seemed disinterested in us and went back inside as Alex played with some toys he found in there yard. He was fine btw a little thirsty but just joyfully walking around, happy to get out of the bee.
Then after 20 or 30 minutes of watching the sun get hotter and brighter we heard a familiar sound of a family sound. It was a loudspeaker sound of the sticky rice guys on bikes. “Da da da dem”. On repeat and over the next few minutes we could hear it slowly getting closer. Zuza commented it sounded more like a religious prayer, but to me it meant food.
Slowly coming in the middle of the afternoon to feed us, too slowly to be a motorbike. Could he really be om a bicycle? In this heat? The around got closer so i stood up to look over the wall It was a man, but not on a bicycle or motorbike. No sticky rice either. Just his fingers in his ears, and as he got closer he removed them revealing the large knife in his far hand.

He didn’t stop repeating the chant however So we just ducked down and hoped he wouldn’t notice us He went by, seeming to slow as he approached the gate. Looked around, returned his fingers to his ears and continued on. Saying his chant over and over again”

Awhile after that a teenager came and sat on the motorbike and just looked at us for a good five minutes. No looking away, no saying anything just stared, and not even in an aggressive way, more like we were animals in the zoo, maybe a little bit to make sure we weren’t wild, but that was it. Eventually we started to talk with him. No news about a home-stay in the area but apparently we were just 500m from our destination. I looked out, halfway up this hill, maybe. The heat burned at 38 degrees at this point. Well, its either this or drink wit the half naked neighboor who had started calling for us to join him. So we pushed on.

We made it 50m, I saw a store and pulled in immediately. No Mia Da, but they had cold drinks and it looked to be food. Tons of rice wine of all kinds of infusions thankfully no bear foot infused ones. We drank water, salty lemonade, and fanta while Major played with some boys blowing bubbles and shooting a round of pool.

It took us about 45 minutes to ask for food our minds had turned into that degree of mush and another 45 to leave after discovering the sign for food, outside the restaurant, was for the place next to the waterfalls. Niether Zuza or myself had service on our phones at this point and I worried about the “Thac May Ecolodges service” for my evening lessons.

We pushed out and onwards once again. Sweating, panting and suffering under the never changing 38 degrees of Vietnam weather once again. Then we hit the final slope downwards.

We made it to the waterfall parking lot full of tourists getting off air-conditioned buses on the forced weekend vacations. Our frail bodies and weakened minds were no match to their confusion, drunkenness and gawking. We sat at a table and hated ourselves and situation, waiting on food to alleviate our mood.

Starting the Ho Chi Minh Trail

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Made it to the Ho Chi Minh trail. The road greeted us like an vindictive lover offering us quick romance at first with the promise that we’ll pay for it later. At least it will always be easy on the eyes.

In the morning we left the Cuc Phuong Bungalow in the dust and wrapped ourselves around the cliff edges of the Cuc Phuong Rainforest.

We hit the Ho Chi Minh Trail with a cold Mia Da and something just connected with us and the road as we slid onto it and wound ourselves across a stunning set of landscapes.

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The road winds itself through wide valleys.

Before we made it to the Trail, i had had my own imagery in my head of what to expect. A tight and hot road covered in jungle, miles and miles of nothing but dirt and dust under a canopy that would lead us to the heart of Vietnam. While the last part may be true the rest hasn’t been. Full of amazing Vistas, rolling fields, rivers and Karsts.

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Hills and descents galore, the latter taking a quick majority as we pedaled down slopes with the wind against our face and awe in our eyes.2020-05-30 09.20.56

On the smooth road we pounded our pedals and cool water down. By 10:30am we reached our goal of 50km and landed and a wonderful homestay by the tiny, recently paved road to the Thac May. Over a cold drink we debated whether to stay at this convenient place or push that last 10km.
“Lets push it! If we hit a big hill at the start we’ll turn around. It will be easy! I’ll be teaching by the late afternoon and you’ll be swimming in beautiful waterfalls.

It was not easy.

Find out more in the next post.