After breakfast, transfer a couple of hours out of Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho – the gateway to the Mekong Delta. Today’s ride will lead you right into the heart of rural Mekong. Start cycling after the ferry journey across the Tien Giang River at My Tho.
Pedal narrow roads and lanes, past banana plantations, fields of sugar cane, through the lush green landscape of the Delta, crossing rivers and canals by numerous, ubiquitous, fascinating ferries. A section of biking cuts off road onto gravel and dirt lanes, and weaves around hamlets, across water channels and through quite dense vegetation. This makes for superb biking. A final ferry across the gaping expanse of Co Chien River leads us to Tra Vinh, a pretty tree lined town with a large population of ethnic Khmer. Dinner & overnight in a hotel in Tra Vinh.
I was woken by my alarm at 6am and was so pleased to have slept well, although it is still early to be getting up! Unfortunately at 1:30am the hotel fire alarm went off and once I worked out what was happening and started to get out of bed, it stopped. I wasn’t best pleased but thankful it was only ringing for a short while.
We checked out and got on the bus to leave a rainy Saigon. The streets were busy and we travelled south towards the Mekong Delta. I was feeling quite alert probably due to a good night sleep, but also the two Vietnamese coffees at breakfast! I love looking out the window at the crazy traffic with the constant stream of scooters and everyone going in all directions. I see electricity cables draping from street poles and buildings, shops, houses and factories all right up against the road – so much going on everywhere!
Quite suddenly the scenery changed to open fields and we went through a toll onto a highway with no bikes allowed. This is the old highway 1 which goes north over 1,500 miles to the border with China and apparently averages only 30mph. We crossed a huge bridge over one of the nine arms in the Mekong Delta, locally known as the Nine Dragon Tributaries.
After an hour and a half we got to the bikes and thankfully the rain had stopped. All the mud on the bikes from yesterday had been washed off and they were lined up waiting for us. We pedalled along a main road for a short while and then turned off into the countryside. Today we were cycling through what Thai called ‘coconut kingdom’. It was not open fields but a jungle of coconut palms.
We cycled down a lot of very narrow concrete roads most of which were only one lane wide, at the most some perhaps only a metre wide.
All the time there were bicycles, scooters and the occasional small van travelling in both directions and we had to be alert in order to miss everything. Saying that, at one stage Keith was cycling behind me on a particularly narrow part of the path when all of a sudden I hear a thwack and Keith shout out “the bu**er” hit me. The wing mirror of a passing motorcycle had hit him. Fortunately no harm done. Talking of no harm done, Alan seems to be okay after his close look at the road yesterday – only a slightly sore arm today.
We cycled along some very straight and some very windy paths, some in the countryside and some through towns. Mostly there were the usual houses, shops, businesses and schools all right up against the road. So much to see on both sides all the time! Often we were cycling through overhanging palm trees having to duck to get out of the way of the leaves.
It was one of the most enjoyable days cycling ever – although I do feel I say this quite a lot on these blogs and for that I am eternally grateful. We stop every hour for refreshments and water, at which time the van driver, Mr Long, provides us with some excellent lime juice water which is cold and sweet with a citrus zing.
Shortly after we started cycling we went through a town which was even busier than where we had cycled previously. It was a challenge to stay out of the way of everybody else, but we managed it.
It seems that every time we turned a corner the scenery changed – from a town and a busy high street , to a riverfront to a wider side road, to countryside. It threatened to rain again and we stopped to protect any cameras, phones and so on. We had taken with rain jackets but decided to not put them on as it was so hot we probably would’ve got as wet from our own sweat inside the jacket as we would’ve done from any rain. This was probably a bit of a mistake.
A short while later we were cycling over a huge bridge when the heavens literally opened. Within a few seconds we were soaked through and rivers flowed down the road but we could not come off as it was a bridge and there was no getting out of the rain. At the bottom of the bridge Thai directed us to a roadside cafe where the van had stopped. We sheltered from their rain and watch it come down in rods. It turns out that this was a scheduled refreshment stop and it is just a shame we weren’t there five minutes earlier. Anyway, we wrung our gloves out but didn’t need to do much else to the rest of our clothes as within 30 minutes they were practically dry just from the heat of the day. Fortunately at no time did we feel cold and not wearing our rain jackets didn’t really make too much difference in the end.
It doesn’t come across very well in this blog but such an experience is actually quite a laugh, and I did find it really funny when we were on the bridge in such heavy rain. It doesn’t happen very often, if at all, and why not make the most of it when it does.
Whilst cycling through the little villages, watching the rural world go by, quite often children would shout ‘hello’ and of course we responded the same. Some people would wave and quite a few would just look at this with blank or probably amazed faces.
This part of Vietnam is strongly Kehmer, communist in its origins and still anti-American. We stopped at a war memorial and I asked Thai what the sentiment of the memorial was and he confirmed it is still very anti-American with them and the south causing so much death and destruction during the war. I still can’t get my head around how the country operates as a society because it is still under communist rule, but is very much entrepreneurial in the way it operates. Also quite a few of the older generation must have fought in the war and I do wonder what they and the younger generation think of us six western men cycling through their country. Especially because there is still a lot of anti- American and anti-Western propaganda taught in the schools and generally put out in society.
We crossed many small rivers over a little concrete bridges and sometimes wooden bridges. The wooden slats seem to be mostly loose and jumped up and down as we went over them, sometimes there were holes in the slats to get around which made it even more interesting! They were brilliant and great fun.
We crossed larger parts of the Mekong on two ferries. I have chosen to not look that closely at the health and safety aspects of the boats we go on. I just look at how far the banks are should I need to swim! On the larger ferry I did notice they had life-jackets although goodness knows when they had been checked.
Some of the scenery looks like it was straight out of some of the films in this area, but I think I said that yesterday I can’t really describe the scenery too much more and really do hope I can remember it in the years to come. It was a very special day.
The restaurant we stopped at for lunch, if that’s what it was, was such a mish mash of tables, chairs, provisions and even some motorbikes, shoes and clothes that people had left there. After eating I went to the toilet which was at the back of the building and passed the domestic area where a lady was doing the washing up for the restaurant. I’m pleased I saw her after I’d eaten because hygiene left quite a bit to be desired. Saying that I thought the food was tasty and so far there have been no bad effects from eating the local food.
I was making some notes during the day when Thai was talking to us on the coach and rather than type them out again I shall just list them below:
- More rural cycling today through Coconut kingdom
- Cross Mekong 3 times Ferry or swim if we want!
- Has 9 arms to the sea and is called 9 dragon river in Vietnam. Mekong now a lot dryer as Chinese built dam a few years ago and took 40% of water.
- Raining in Saigon- better weather in Mekong
- Mekong is where Thai’s family came from.
- Highway 1. 1500 miles to Chinese border. Business and houses right on the edge.Average 30 mph in whole length.
- Building new one parallel.
- Mekong delta only 400 years old. 200 years ago still jungle but now cleared for paddy field and farming.
- Last few years county more open and lots of foreign investment. Inflation 20% a year.
- His family used to have catfish pond they dug as the toilet. The fish aren’t fussy! They recycle everything! Now have normal toilet but they are reasonably affluent and also live very near the main road so get the services easier. Their rubbish is now collected but a few streets back it is still not.
- Mekong Delta covers approximately 40,000 square kilometres which is roughly the same size as Holland.Many similarities.
- 20 types of coconut
- Cycling in a VC stronghold in war.
- Fighting cockerel costs up to $10,000 for champion. From $100
- Little wooden bridges loose planks clonking. One huge hole.
- Ducking under overhanging palm trees.
- Cocoa string making.
- All kinds of smells
- Getting soaked
As for the actual cycling! Well, I mentioned that the Mekong has a lot in common with Holland and given that Holland is incredibly flat I would say this is one of the similarities.Mekong Delta covers approximately 40,000 square kilometres which is roughly the same size as Holland. The biggest hills we have had to go up are when we go over a bridge and from what I understand it won’t change at all. I can’t say I’m particularly sorry about that as mountain bikes take a bit more effort than road bikes. However I am finding the cycling very nice and most enjoyable. The heat and humidity is quite extreme but doesn’t seem too bad when we are moving, although when we stop during the day it is very hot and sticky.
We arrived at the Cuu Long Hotel in Tra Vinh at around 3.30 pm and I must mention I had a very nice massage at the end of today and also got all of my washing cleaned at the hotel. They only managed to ruin one of my cycling shirts! The food at dinner was local style and included at one stage a complete fish being served up along with various other sides and vegetables. We looked rather confused, at which stage the waiter explained what to do – which turned out to be a fish version of peking duck and pancakes. It was actually quite tasty!
Tomorrow we cycle to Cantho, which is about 50 miles away and we have no transfers, cycling from hotel to hotel which I very much prefer. We also get a lay in as it is an 8am start!
Goodnight all.Tomorrow we go to Cantho which is about 50 miles away
Day 2 Stats
- 43 miles
- 10.4 mph av
- Including ferries
(*) Extract from Alan’s blog:
After we’d stopped for lunch, as we were leaving, we saw a guy riding his moped with brand new, full size fridge freezer, still in it’s box on the back. In fact we quickly discovered that the rules when riding a moped are that there are no rules. Mopeds appear out of the narrowest of alleyways and turn in front of you without looking or braking.