Spain – Camino del Norte

April – May 2023

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The Camino del Norte starts in Irun where Spain meets France on the Atlantic coast. It largely follows the coastline west before taking a southwestern turn toward Santiago de Compostela. The numbers in the map suggest specific stops over 37 days, but we did not follow a set itinerary. After arriving in Santiago de Santiago in 39 days, we took a bus trip to Muxia and Finisterre, which was once considered the end of the world:

Vietnam and Angkor Wat

December 26, 2017 – January 6 2018

vietnam cambodia trip route
December 15, 2017: Arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam

Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam! We arrive in Hanoi at 10:55 PM, traveling 26 hours and stopping in both Dallas and Tokyo before landing in Hanoi. Vietnam is 12 hours ahead of Florida – an easy calculation, but an adjustment that may require a couple of days to physically recover the travel and time difference.  

December 16, 2017:  Hanoi

Today, we get to explore Hanoi on our own. Our bicycling adventure officially begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm this evening. This is when we meet others on the trip and our tour leader.

Our Meeting Point
May de ville City Centre 2 Hotel
57 Pham Hong Thai Street
Hanoi, Viet Nam

December 17, 2017: Hanoi

This morning we will explore the capital of Vietnam in more depth by bike. Full of parks, lakes, and tree-lined boulevards, the city is known for its relaxed atmosphere. We will visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, which includes the Buddhist temple One Pillar Pagoda and the former residence of Vietnam’s most famous revolutionary, Ho Chi Minh. There will also be time to explore the vibrant Old Quarter, an architectural museum where blocks of ochre buildings give off the air of a 1930s provincial French town. In these ancient ’36 Streets we will see shops that sell everything from souvenirs to silk clothing, jewelry, beautifully embroidered tablecloths, wood carvings and lacquer ware – sounds like a bargainer’s paradise.

The day will include a chance to warm up our jet-lagged muscles by riding around the city (approximately 25kms). This sounds like the perfect place to get to get a sense of Hanoi street life and traffic. Lots to explore in Hanoi: walk around beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, with the reflection of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and the tangle of ancient streets in its still surface, or maybe we can check out the Vietnam Fine Art Museum or the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. This seems like a good night to explore Hanoi Street food with hole-the-wall eateries that serve up steaming bowls of Pho Chay (vegetarian) for us.

Riding Distance: 25kms

December 18, 2017: Mai Chau 

This morning our cycling adventure kicks into gear. We leave Hanoi and travel by bus to Hoa Binh (approximately 2 hours). When we arrive, we will jump on our bikes and cycle 40kms to Cao Phong, traveling through ethnic Thai villages. This promises to be a tranquil ride through rice paddy fields and maybe a chance to interact with local people. The road is bordered in green, and limestone peaks climb in the background. We will take regular stops to enjoy the view across the lush valleys. After arriving in Cao Phong, we will take a short 30-minute bus ride to our next ride, stopping for lunch at Man Duc.

The bus will take us to the Da River Reservoir. We will stretch our legs again cycling along the Da River, passing spectacular karst cliffs, through rice paddy fields, and viewing the lush panorama of the Mai Chau valley on the way (approximately 20kms). The peaceful town of Mai Chau is situated in a stunningly beautiful valley surrounded by verdant green mountains. Mai Chau is famed for its breathtaking scenery. Tonight we will enjoy local hospitality in a simple stilt-house homestay in the village of Poom Coong. Our hosts will prepare a home-cooked meal, and there may even be a chance to sample some of the local rice wine produced in the region.

Riding Distance: 40kms & 20kms

December 19, 2017: Ninh Binh

This morning we say farewell to our homestay hosts and cycle from Mai Chau to Mai Hai and then on to Co Luong (approximately 50 kms). We will ride through more rice paddy fields and test our riding skills (or the bike’s suspension) trying to avoid the shallow potholes that can be found on the road. We will pass pineapple farms and farmers riding atop their load drawn by water buffalo. We will also ride through small towns on our way through lush green fields, towering limestone mountains, tranquil waterways, and charming historic sites.

A bus trip will take us along the Ho Chi Minh Road with a lunch stop before the second part of today’s ride to Ninh Binh. If we arrive in Ninh Binh with time (and energy) to spare we can take a ride around the surrounding area. This is a chance to see everyday rural life in action as well as take in the beautiful countryside.

Riding Distance: 50kms & 35kms

December 20, 2107: Ninh Binh – Overnight Train

This morning we will cycle from Ninh Binh to Tam Coc, a ride that promises one of Vietnam’s most spectacular views – limestone karst peaks thrusting out of serene rice paddies. This ride offers both the sounds and views of the river, which winds through the fields and has boats parading up and down its length. When we arrive in Tam Coc, we will visit the Hang Pagoda (an ancient cave pagoda) and then see Vietnam’s largest pagoda, Bai Dinh, in nearby Trang An. We will also cycle to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam under the 10th-century Dinh Dynasty, the remains of which can be seen in the lasting beautiful archways and temples. Here we will take a lunch break at the Dinh or the Le Temple. Today’s cycling is approximately 50kms. Then it’s back on the bus to return to our hotel, where we can use the day room to take a shower and freshen up. After an early dinner we will transfer to Nam Dinh for an overnight train to Hue. We are told that the train accommodations are quite basic.  The sleeper trains typically have four berth compartments (occasionally six berth depending on seasonal variations and group configuration), which have bench seats that convert into sleeping bunks. A sheet, pillow and blanket are provided. Sounds like we will be sharing a compartment with local travelers.  Although most trains have a dining carriage serving simple food, we think we will stock up on fresh bread, cheese and fruit prior to our departure.

Riding Distance: 50kms

December 21, 2017: Hue

Our train arrives in Hue, and we hop back on our bikes to begin our exploration of the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Our travel information says that Hue holds the treasures of Vietnam’s royal past and is a curious mix of bustling streets and tranquil settings. Today we will ride (approximately 20kms) through the fields to visit many of Hue’s remarkable sites, including temples, bunkers, tombs, ruins, pagodas and spectacular scenery.

We will also visit the Imperial Citadel by bicycle, including the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost totally destroyed during the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, but the foliage-covered ruins are still atmospheric and the gaping holes left by bombs give an idea of the destruction wreaked upon the country during the war. Our itinerary is flexible today, and we have ample time for stops along the way to admire the sites. Later in the day, we can relax in a cafe or restaurant. Our travel information says that Hue’s cuisine is considered by many Vietnamese to be the best in the country. It is influenced both by its imperial heritage (small dishes and a focus on aesthetic presentation) as well as its strong Buddhist heritage, reflected in the high proportion of vegetarian restaurants in the region. The bustling Dong Ba Market offers a wealth of goods and foods to see and snack on. This is a good place to try some of the local specialties that graced the Nguyen emperors’ banquet tables, such as the ‘banh khoai’, Hue’s answer to the pancake.

Riding Distance: 20kms

December 22, 2017: Hoi An

Today promises a lot of riding and spectacular views. Leaving Hue, we will do some mountainous riding (approximately 80kms in total) as we travel the Hai Van (Ocean Cloud) Pass on the way to the tropical south and the laid back town of Hoi An. The pass is a stunning stretch of highway that winds through the Truong Son mountain range for about 20kms (10 kms each way) and provides views across the Bay of Danang to the south. It is 500 meters above sea level and the up/down slope ranges from 5-10%. Wish us luck! We are told that there are plenty of breaks along the way to take in the views, snap some photos, and rehydrate. After the rewarding vistas, we arrive in the town of Hoi An – with lantern-lit streets, vibrant markets, skilled tailors, artisan shops, ancient houses, colorful temples. Hoi An is described as a Vietnamese wonderland and was recently made a World Heritage site. Our travel information says that Hoi An is being beautifully restored and preserved, with parts of the town looking exactly like they did more than a century ago. This should make the streets perfect for strolling. We hope to soak up the atmosphere and maybe rest our legs at a local restaurant after  day’s ride.

Riding Distance: 80kms

December 23, 2017: Hoi An

This morning our leader will take us on a walking tour of the town, which used to be a busy port for the Cham people before the river silted up. There’s also a strong Chinese influence in Hoi An that should be evident in the pagodas and assembly halls that we will walk past. On our walking tour, we will see historic houses, the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall, and a museum. The afternoon is free for us to do whatever we would like. Our travel information says that there are many opportunities for shopping in Hoi An, including paintings, handcrafted woodwork, ceramics, embroidery, lanterns and more. Hoi An is also famous for its tailoring, and we can apparently choose a fabric and a design and pick the custom garmet up the same day. There is an optional 15-20kms ride into the surrounding countryside, cycling to nearby Cua Dai Beach, or taking a stroll through fields of rice, sesame, banana and peanuts.

Riding Distance: none

December 24, 2017: Quy Nhon

Continuing south, we ride to Quy Nhon today on scenic Highway One . The road to Quy Nhon is a route that is traveled by visitors and goes past rice paddy fields, wheat drying for Beer Hoi, and locals playing chess. It is approximately 45kms to the coastal city of Quy Nhon. This city is filled with long stretches of beach and relaxed boulevards, and it sounds like a great place to get a sense of coastal life.

Riding Distance: 45kms

December 25, 2017: Nha Trang

Today’s ride is approximately 95kms, and it is supposed to be one of the most breathtaking stretches of road that we ride. The highway hugs huge granite cliffs and looks out across the deep blue South China Sea.

Following parts of the Reunification railway, we will enjoy scenery of islands, lagoons and sand dunes. The coastal town of Nha Trang, once referred to as the Cannes of the Orient, has a sandy palm-lined beach and an island-dotted bay. Nha Trang has consistently good weather, a vibrant nightlife, and excellent diving.

Riding Distance: 95kms

December 26, 2017: Nha Trang

Today we swap our bikes for a boat and head out to explore the islands off the coast of Nha Trang. Starting on the main boat, we then take a small basket boat to shore and visit a fishing village, do some snorkeling in the turquoise waters, and enjoy a fresh seafood buffet for lunch. The rest the day is unplanned, so we can read in a beach chair, go for another swim, or take a mud bath in the warm mineral water to soothe away sore muscles.

Riding Distance: none

December 27, 2017: Dalat

Today we head up through the Bidoup-Nui Ba Pass into the cooler climes of the South Central Highlands (approximately 65kms). This is where some of the Vietnam’s best fruits, flowers and coffee beans are grown. The road is winding and steep, so hopefully we are ready for the challenge. If we don’t go the whole way on our bikes, we can catch a lift from the bus. Whichever way we get to the top, the views promise to be magnificent at the summit. After a short stop at the top, we will descend to Dalat. Dalat is said to have a Swiss-French feel, with lakes, palaces, pine tree-covered hills, flower gardens, and pagodas, Dalat is often called the ‘city of eternal spring for its temperate climate.

Riding Distance: 65kms

December 28, 2017: Ke Ga

This morning we take a city tour of Dalat, making the journey to Bao Dai’s striking regal summer palace. Bao Dai was the final emperor of the Nguyen dynasty and the last to rule Vietnam until 1945. We will also visit Hang Nga Guesthouse, popularly called the Crazy House. Designed by architect Dang Viet Nga, its unconventional design resembles a giant tree and has twisted tree roots, cave shaped hallways and animal themed rooms. We will stop by the train station and the central market before continuing to Di Linh, where tea is the main industry and there are large plantations in the surrounding hills. After lunch, we pedal down the forest-lined Gia Bac Pass, then cycle along from Malam to Phan Thiet and on to Tien Thanh and Bau Mai Resort near Ke Ga (approximately 60 kms in total). Ke Ga is a seaside village known for its French colonial lighthouse and wonderful ocean vistas.

Riding Distance: 60kms

December 29, 2017: Ho Chi Minh City

This is the home stretch of our bike trip, and today is our last cycling day. Before heading forHo Chi Minh City (HCMC), we enjoy the views along the beach from Bau Mai to Lang Long. After a picnic lunch, we bike approximately 60kms to Cu Bi. HCMC is known for its traffic congestion and not easy for biking, so we take the support bus the final leg into the city. The final night of our bike adventure will give us time to explore the food stalls at Ben Thanh market and maybe a glass of street-side beer hoi.

Riding Distance: 60kms

December 30, 2017 – January 1, 2018: Ho Chi Minh City

Our Vietnam cycling adventure ends today – and Judy arrives! We will meet her at the Alcove Library Hotel around noon and begin our exploration of Ho Chi Minh City together.

January 2 – 4, 2018: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

On January 2 we take a 1 hour and 10 minute flight on Vietnam Airlines to Siem Reap, Cambodia. From here we will explore the Angkor Archaeological Park and surrounding area.  Siem Reap is a resort town in northwest Cambodia that is close to the temples of Angkor. Siem Reap offers markets and museums as well as fishing villages and silk farms in the countryside. On our first day,  we will settle in at the Cambana d’Angkor Suites and walk around the town.  For the two days that follow, we plan to tour Angkor Wat and surrounding areas with our guide, Pilu, at Affinity Angkor.

January 5, 2018: Ho Chi Minh City

Today we return to Ho Chi Minh City for a final night at the Alcove Library Hotel before returning home to Lakeland.

January 6, 2018: Depart Vietnam

We depart Ho Chi Minh City at 8AM this morning. Barry and Sharon are on the same flight as Judy to Tokyo, but split up as she returns to San Diego and we make our way back to Florida.