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Blog 109 Ghia Nghia to Chon Thanh

13th January

In this never ending adventure I set off with renewed well slept positive energy. Once again it was sunny with a blue sky like yesterday and of course it will be the same tomorrow and next week, in fact for the rest of the month and then the month after. The rains fell a month ago and it is the dry season. 

Bike packed I ride 20kms and buy a sandwich. and it’s delicious.

A Bit of Information

The word bánh mì, meaning "bread", is attested in Vietnamese as early as the 1830s, in Jean-Louis Taberd's dictionary Dictionarium Latino-Annamiticum. The French introduced Vietnam to the baguette, along with other baked goods such as pâté chaud, in the 1860s, at the start of their imperialism in Vietnam. Northern Vietnamese initially called the baguette bánh tây, literally "Western bánh", while Southern Vietnamese called it bánh mì, "wheat bánh".[

Nguyễn Đình Chiểu mentions the baguette in his 1861 poem "Văn tế nghĩa sĩ Cần Giuộc" (known as a great poet of Vietnam in the second half of the 19th century, he was recognised on November 24, 2021 by UNESCO as a World Cultural Celebrity.) The baguette he wrote about was and remains an important part of Vietnamese life.

Due to the price of imported wheat at the time, French baguettes and sandwiches were considered a luxury. During World War I, an influx of French soldiers and supplies arrived. At the same time, disruptions of wheat imports led bakers to begin mixing in inexpensive rice flour (which also made the bread fluffier). As a result, it became possible for ordinary Vietnamese to enjoy French staples such as bread. Many shops baked twice a day, because bread tends to go stale quickly in the hot, humid climate of Vietnam. Baguettes were mainly eaten for breakfast with some butter and sugar and the sandwiches they make in the morning are delicious.

20kms further along I stop for a coffee. Unless asked for, it is served without milk and sugar and is without bitterness, smooth and reputedly amongst the best coffee in the world. I am still in the Central Highlands of Vietnam where all their coffee is grown.

On the tables around me groups of men chat, smoking, drinking their coffee, everyone else is on their phone. Towns are appearing more prosperous; presentational hoardings are fastened more securely and lie straight. There is less rust. Perhaps I see more attention to the detail of selling but sell they will, fix and dismantle, repurpose, it is in the spirit of invention as a characteristic of Vietnamese life to sell.

By Dong Xiao, I am on smaller back roads but the streets are smarter, still no cafes until I turn to a parallel road and find one, not cozy; but the coffee plus milk and sugar comes layered. The Italian idea of coffee hasn't percolated across to South East Asia; no Cappuccino's or Flat Whites but frozen yoghurt plus macadamia nuts comes as an excellent accompaniment.

I need this. It's the familiarity that settles me. I don't need to be reminded of home but I need to be reminded of me.

The Tipping Point Comes from Nowhere

It took a moment longer to find a hotel, on the outskirts of town on the side of a busy dual carriageway and after purchasing my accommodation, £9, I ride a kilometre back towards the small city where I found an outdoor restaurant to eat. Google translate is a phenomenon unknown to me until recently and the Babel Fish app works equally well, and when I said “anything except dog,” he looked blank as if mis-reading his phone, “fish, pig, chicken with or without spice?” 

The sun set and I see the busyiness of the road and how it bided badly for the morning as I was close to Ho Chi Minh, but soon would turn away from the main thrust of the traffic towards the border with Cambodia. I would leave Vietnam tomorrow. And sitting with my back to the kitchen the chef was chopping loudly, it sounded very alive and I didn’t look round in case it was for me. 

From the Central Highlands I have now descended to the plains. A brisk breeze builds up behind me as the sky turns ruby red, perhaps it’s an end of day convection stealing the wind, drawing with it the remnants of a day but it calmed my roasted body.

Map of the Day

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