Saturday 5th March
Miles cycled: 10 (including 8.5 miles of being lost)
We paid 250,000 dong each for our tickets, plus another 250,000 for the tandem, which the staff carried on board while gleefully tooting the horn (everyone loves the horn!).
During the journey they played old muted episodes of nineties TV shows, including “Magicians Secrets: Finally Revealed” (remember this show?).
We arrived in HCM by 1.30. When we first entered Vietnam from Laos, the sign posts were saying “Ho Chi Minh City: 1365 KM”. It felt good to finally get here.
First thing on the list? Get lost.
It wasn’t far from the docks to the hotel we had booked, but somehow we took the wrong turning. Navigator Eric was very confused until he eventually realised that we hadn’t been dropped off at the location labelled “Hydrofoil dock” on our map. We had disembarked somewhere else, which is why nothing seemed to make sense. From this point he was able to figure out what was going on. Well done Eric!
I had heard and read a few things about the intimidating traffic of HCM, but really, after a month cycling along highway 1 and through Vietnamese towns and cities, the traffic wasn’t as bad as I had envisioned. It was perhaps 20% more crazy than usual.
Having said that, I was gripping my handlebars very hard on occasions.
We found our hotel, and upon checking in learned that we would not be able to store our bicycle there. This was a bit of a surprise, as this has never been a problem before – so many people have motorbikes in Vietnam that it’s almost a given that hotels will accommodate them. However, HCM has a lot of people in not a lot of space, so we should have seen this coming.
The hotel receptionist told us that for a little bit of money we could store our bike in a nearby motorbike park. We went off to look for one in the park opposite us, and found three, all of which refused to store our bike, waving us on to the next motorbike park every time (you can bet Eric was grumpy about it!).
At the fourth and final one the attendant once again shook his head, even though there were a bunch of bikes already in there. I basically begged. He relented, though he didn’t look pleased when we told him we would be storing it for two days (which could actually become four if a bike shop can’t fix our bike up – I decided not to mention that). I don’t really understand why everyone had a problem with storing a bicycle. Motorbike – bicycle – what’s the difference? I should have honked the horn. People love that horn.
Our bike was safely stored. Phew.
On the way back through the park, a Vietnamese man who looked about our age struck up a very one-sided conversation with us. I am going to try and remember what he said, but there was a lot of slightly odd stuff in there:
“Hello! Where are you from?”
“England! I am trying to learn my English, and so I come here because I want to practice… so that I can marry a foreigner! Ha! Ha! I want to talk to you, to tell you my story, do you know YouTube?”
“I am on YouTube, telling my story. I want to tell my story to people, because it is interesting. My story makes me… STRONG. You can watch it. My name is Tan Luu Vo. I can write it down for you.”
It’s OK, we’ll remember.
(He opens a notebook). “Here my name: Tan Luu Vo. I’ll write it for you. Also, read this.”
I lean in closer and pretend to read the sentence he is pointing to.
That’s very interesting, I say (thinking, how do we politely leave?).
As I straighten up I notice a tiny older man standing behind me, and jump out of my skin. He is smiling benignly, but this suddenly feels very fishy. I immediately open my bag to check that he hasn’t just stolen something from me. Everything is still there.
The first man has written his name on a scrap of paper and hands it to us. After a few more words we say goodbye and walk away.
“Don’t worry,” said Eric. “As soon as that man came up to you, I was watching him.”
Were the two men working together to pickpocket us? Or was it just a friendly man… who was randomly standing behind me in an uncrowded park?
As unlikely as it sounds, it’s difficult to tell, because in Vietnam there are a lot of very friendly people who will approach you because they want to say hello and ask where you’re from.
Whatever was going on, I’m just glad that Eric was more switched on than I was. Well done Eric.
So we had found our hotel. Our bike was safe. Our possessions were still ours. After a late lunch we bought snacks and retreated to to our hotel.
Our hotel room has everything that we could want, apart from a window. And space for both of us stand at once. This hotel takes the term “bedroom” extremely literally.
As I shut the door I thought: “Being in prison must be really awful.”
I don’t like confined spaces, but Eric doesn’t mind them. And indeed I looked across to see Eric drinking his 1 litre carton of milk and watching sumo wrestling on YouTube. Yes, he was quite happy.
I was feeling a bit depressed after the stress of cycling through the city, getting lost, trying to find a place to store our bike and possibly nearly becoming the victim of a sneaky pickpocket. Why are we here? I thought. I don’t even really like cities. We’re just on a pointless tourist tick box exercise. Waaaaah!
PS. Tan Luu Vo does have a YouTube channel. It’s all in Vietnamese, and he comes across about as sane as the traffic.