We are now officially on the road and up and running, bikes packed like donkeys (well Tash’s bike is…) and learning to navigate the roads like pros.
Ho Chi Minh City
Our first venture out took us across Ho Chi Minh (nothing like what must be one the the world’s most conjested cities to get you in the cycling mode) to meet Mr Khoi CEO of Wildlife at Risk (WAR). We were up at the crack of dawn to beat the ‘rush hour’ traffic across the city, although, every hour seems to be rush hour in HCMC and by 5.30am the roads were chocka. We had stayed the night at Thibault’s, a warm showers host. To get there we had to navigate the alleyways of HCMC which opened up a secret world unbeknown to the average visitor; full of laid back and peaceful coffee drinking suburbs which was a vast contrast to the hustle and bustle of the main city streets despite being just a stones throw away.
Having never undertaken a cycling venture of this kind, the concept of warm showers was new to me and at first I wasn’t sure what to expect when Tash suggested staying at a complete strangers house, but I couldn’t recommend it enough, our hosts were brilliant despite the fact they hadn’t received Tash’s email and had no idea we were coming!
Back to the cycling…
We decided to avoid the main highway out of Ho Chi Minh and took an alternative route out towards the Mekong Delta along Le Van Luong. As we zig-zagged our way across the dense traffic we soon learnt the ‘Vietnamese way’ of driving; ignore traffic signs, set off precisely four seconds before a traffic light turns green and only ever worry about what is in front of you – this is perhaps the most important rule of the road, never ever, under any circumstance look behind you! Do this and you are set to cause absolute chaos… Oh and ahem, probably die.
That said, cycling in Ho Chi Minh wasn’t half as bad as we’d expected but nonetheless, we were definitely relieved to leave it behind and venture out to the oh so green pastures new, along the small roads and gravel paths towards My Tho. Our friend Dave had told us it would be a sweet ride and boy was he right…. We cycled with huge grins on our faces as we passed beautiful countryside with small villages and towns immersed amongst plots of dragon fruit, small scale fish farms and rice seedlings popping up everywhere.
These small roads passed multiple rivers which the guide books will tell you makes travelling here rather laborious. I beg to differ. We crossed the rivers with ease via the brilliant and non stop boat system the Vietnamese have in place, i don’t think we waited more than five minutes… However, when I say ‘with ease’ we did have one minor altercation when Tash failed to pass one such river smoothly due to a delightful old Vietnamese man who took a rather strong liking to her bottom…chasing her on to the boat with arms stretched out wide, the poor man was fixated and only wanted to continue his little squeeze and tickle but was restrained by the boat guards. At first I, Lucy, thought he wanted a look at the bike saddle so didn’t say anything to a blissfully unaware Tash. However, a few pinches later and Tash was suddenly well aware and firmly on her way! I watched on highly amused at the whole situation. I think this is a very good reason to start a ‘new pair of shorts fund’ for Tash… The current pair are being patched up with gaffa tape…
We eventually reached My Tho at around 8pm after taking a premature right hand turn (Tash sounded like she knew this was the way) which added a lovely 10kms or so on to the journey. We had decided not to cycle in the dark but this rule was quickly broken. Lesson two was also learnt today… Always refer to a map at junctions!
My Tho was not quite the sleepy Mekong town we had both pictured and instead seemed liked a mini city metropolis. After cycling 90+ kms we had both had enough and decided the busyness of the place was too much to handle so we found a hotel and restaurant on the outskirts, both heads swiftly passing into the land of nod as soon as we lay down.
Day two saw a slightly slower start with both of us unable to move until past 8am. This slow start then became even slower as Tash acquired a puncture whilst leaving the city which saw us sat in a cafe whilst an ever growing audience of Vietnamese men watched in disbelief at Tash fixing it herself!
We cycled along one of the Mekong’s tributaries to Cai Be, famous for its floating markets. We were too late to see this main tourist attraction but we were treated to an almighty shower as the heavens opened above us. The day then got even better with a hideous 15km cycle along a main highway, non stop beeping and fumes galore accompanied us the whole way. We couldn’t have been more relieved to see the turn off for Sa Dec (our sleeping spot for the night) but were then treated to yet another downpour. This time we didn’t have time on our side to retreat under cover as we were keen to avoid a repeat of day one and arrive before dark. We almost made it but still found ourselves cycling laps of Sa Dec trying to find a place to stay. Give us time..we will eventually nail our timing ….