Cycling from Ho Chi Minh City to the Ha Tien/Kep Cambodian border
Wednesday 9th March
Our first job of the day was to pick up our bike from Saigon Bicycle Shop, where we’d had a few new parts fitted.
One thing we would be leaving the city without was our popular, comedy-value bike horn. Somebody had nicked it while the bike was being stored in a car park. It’s quite ironic that the only time we’ve had a theft occurred during the only time we paid to safely store the bike. I didn’t complain to the unfriendly non-English speaking staff – it seemed beyond pointless, as they wouldn’t understand, and if they did, I don’t think they would have cared! They were really not nice at that car park.
Thursday 10th March
Piled-up pyramids of fruit and veg, chopped hunks of meat and fish laid out on tables, vendors squatting by their wares and people stopping by on bicycles and motorbikes. The air was filled with the energetic sound of voices and engines. People yelled hello to us and we yelled hello back.
Further down the road I saw what I thought was a pig carcass being halved. Once we had passed, Eric informed me that it was a dog.
We rejoined highway 1, and it was back to the familiar scene of honking coaches and lorries.
We took a wrong turning which added another ten miles onto our journey. Eric berated himself as we turned back. I didn’t really mind. We get there when we get there, I thought… I think this is what sitting on the back seat for ten months has done to me: no control, no worries.
In the north of Vietnam we almost never saw supermarkets, but here in the south there are quite a few. Nothing makes us happier at the end of a day’s cycling than to be right next to a Coop supermarket in Vietnam. No wandering the streets for half an hour looking for an open restaurant. No getting ripped off at the local market because you’re a foreigner. No searching for a corner shop to buy a pack of Creme-os. Everything you need, all under one roof at a set price. When you’ve been cycling for six hours this is something to appreciate. And it always has AIR CONDITIONING.
I also enjoy wandering around supermarkets in foreign countries because its so interesting to see the similarities and differences compared to supermarkets at home. One interesting thing about Coop supermarkets is that there’s always a live seafood area with a few different types of fish and shellfish.
I don’t know whether they kill them in store for you or hand them over live in a bag of water.
A couple of days back there was a tank full of live soft-shell turtles, which I found amazing and a bit heart-rending (Eric and I used to keep pet turtles).
Our hotel room’s air con was old and useless, so this evening we lay above the covers. We switched the light off. Then out came the mozzies…
Friday 11th March
I checked out of our hotel, and went outside to see Eric by the bike, shaking his head. When I asked him what was wrong he gripped the back wheel and rattled it from side to side. It was loose again.
The last time this happened was just outside of Chiang Mai, and we had ended up getting a whole new back wheel. Hoping that history was not repeating itself, we went knocking around various bike shops until we found one where a guy (who looked about fifteen) was willing to take a look. He rattled it, grabbed a spanner, tightened the back wheel axle and… hey presto! And he wouldn’t accept any money for it, though he did consent to a few of our coconut sweets.
People following us on their motorbikes out of curiosity has been a fairly normal thing in Vietnam, but today a man rode alongside us for six miles! I wanted to take a photo of him (which I think is allowed after someone gawps at you for thirty minutes) but knew it was better not to. Finally, he gave us a wave and drove off. I think he was just curious and also making sure we were OK, but… half an hour is a long time to be followed and stared at!
Today’s hotel room mozzie kill count: fifteen.
Saturday 12th March
Though we did notice that there are more poor-looking people around here than the other places we’ve seen in Vietnam. The same goes for the villages along the Delta – it’s the first place I’ve seen Vietnamese people living in huts.
Our devotion to Coop supermarkets was put to the test today when we walked a mile in the blazing afternoon sun, all so that we could buy milk and cereal for tomorrow morning’s breakfast. The things we do for Coco Pops.
Sunday 13th March
We both woke up still feeling tired, and Eric has a cold which is gradually getting worse. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s short cycle and the following rest in Kep, Cambodia. For now though, there was a big distance to cover.
Eric discovered a flat back tyre this morning. We have only just had a new tyre and inner tube fitted, so the worry is that the puncture is caused by some sort of undiscovered underlying issue. Hopefully we were just unlucky.
As Eric reattached the back wheel he noticed that doing so had caused the axle to come loose again. Now we knew the cause. As everyone rides motorbikes, Vietnam is full of handymen, and so we didn’t have much trouble finding one on the way out of town. He tightened up our axle and after waving away an offer of money, accepted the 50,000 dong I pushed into his hands. He gave me 40,000 back, meaning that he kept 30p. Although we have occasionally been overcharged in Vietnam, the vast majority of people have been honest and frequently very generous.
As it was Sunday, we saw lots of families hanging around together in their hammocks, playing cards, relaxing and chatting. Vietnamese people don’t seem addicted to their phones like westerners (yet). They appear to spend a lot of time together. It’s nice.
We were said hello to so many times that Eric complained it was “breaking his rhythm” (insert rolling eyes here). Though he seemed very pleased when a man and his two small sons came up and all shook hands with him.
Heaven on a hot day… a cold drink.
We arrived in Ha Tien by 1PM. Our hotel was located right by a very interesting and extremely pungent market. There were many live sea creatures in water bowls, some worried-looking live ducks and chickens… and bananas, bananas as far as the eye could see.
The smell of rotten fish in the heat was terrible, and we were pretty sure that the wet, smelly path we crossed over was covered in rotten fish juice. All part of the “authentic” experience of course.
(The best bit of tool charades was when the owner of the store pulled out the right spanner and Eric exclaimed “Aha!” The woman laughed delightedly and repeated: “Aha!” She thought that this word was really funny, and thinking about it I can see why.)
Tomorrow we cross the border into Cambodia.