Riding into town just as the sun is setting I realise that so enormous is the grin that I am wearing I am in grave danger of being taken as a simpleton. Children jump up and down on the side of the road waving excitedly, ‘hello hello hello’ they shout, adults smile and wave a slightly calmer greeting than their offspring, but the sentiment is the same, a warm friendly and genuine welcome to Vietnam.
I roll into the hotel courtyard at the back of the dust encrusted group of cyclists that I am responsible for. They dismount, some looking hot and weary – not a surprise considering they have flown from a UK winter to cycling all day in 30 degrees of heat – some laughing and joking and looking remarkably fresh. ‘Beer’ I shout, there is little hesitation as 14 hands rise in unison. I organise the rooms for the group and join them a few minutes later. There is nothing that washes the dust away whilst relaxing the body and soul quite like a cold beer at the end of a long hot day of physical exertion.
The cycling in the mountains of north-west Vietnam is quite splendid. The natives here are not so used to western tourists and so their welcome is genuine, from the heart. The roads are, in the main part, fine and not so busy although the imminent flooding of a valley ensures that we finish at least one day caked in a layer of dust that gives the group a satisfying Indiana Jones feel; and the scenery is just stunning with kaste mountains rising from rice fields and tea plantations and small villages of wooden house rising from the ground on stilts to protect their inhabitants from flood and snakes.
This is a fine to job.