Cycling to 'Song Cu De'
  • written and photographed by: John Thompson

    15 March 2014

    I started my trip with a coffee in one of the great little cafes on Ngo Xuan Thu street.

    From here I headed West along the valley, underpassing the AH1 bridge and continuing on the small road skirting around the bottom of the hills. Already it seems like perfect cycling & photography countryside – flat, sheltered and full of beautiful bright green rice paddies and friendly locals.

    At the moment the sun is high in the sky, so I'm figuring most of the day's shots will be taken on the way back. After about an hour's cycling I spy the suspension bridge to the South side of the river. There's a small community here and a photo opp. with a lady walking her water buffalo – no problems with shyness, she's happy to pose for a few shots. It's still very bright so – shoot down not up!

    Over the bridge, buy some water, say hello to numerous locals and West again along the South side of the river. As I pedal onwards the valley is now beginning to look more like Northern England than Vietnam! It reminds me of hiking in Northumberland along the Tyne River. Soon I spy a perfect spot at the edge of the river to park up and rest a while. However, it's not long before I sense some movement a few metres to my left behind some shrubbery. Aha, water buffalo – photo opportunity methinks. Unfortunately they're facing the wrong way (from the sun) and since it looks like a bull, cow and calf, I suspect getting amongst them to 'direct operations' could be foolish. The bull doesn't seem over-protective, however and decides the leaves on the tree behind him are too tempting to worry about his wife and child! The other two are more inquisitive, allowing me to get a few shots closer than I expected.

    Time to move on and it's not long before I come to the end of the trail, although not before a relatively more exciting stretch of shallow downhill dirt track – just for the craic!

    Turn around and now the sun is starting to create some nice light. After a short delay behind a nice cowherd couple I speed up a bit to get back to the rice paddies before it's too late, although I can't help stopping after the suspension bridge again for more water and some craic with the locals who are now up and about with their kids.

    Along the way I encounter an old man with a photogenic face, so I stop, chat him up a bit and get the shot before heading on.

    Approaching the last few km and I'm rewarded with the opportunity of 'mixing it' with some local farm workers who are busy beating bean sprouts by a sugar plantation. They actually call me over from afar – can't believe my luck! The light is great and I spend 30 mins with them taking photos, trying my hand at beating the bean sprouts and 'chewing up' some freshly cut sugar cane. Nice!

    On the last stretch now but I'm beaten to a sunset by some low horizon clouds and the surrounding hills. However, the birds in the fields are now on the wing, making their way East, just past me, out of the valley, offering some final opportunities for a photo.

    A great afternoon and some nice shots – job done!

    By the time I get back along the coast to civilisation my legs are more than ready for beer and food. Time to call into my favourite local seafood resto on Nguyen Tat Thanh (about 100m after Ha Khe Street, see a San Miguel sign). Several San Miguel and Goi Ca (raw fish spring rolls) make a perfect end to a great day's cycling and shooting.

    Enjoy your trip!