Rivers and rice paddies: from the Mekong Delta to the sea

Cycling from Ho Chi Minh City to the Ha Tien/Kep Cambodian border

Wednesday 9th March

Miles: 36 

Map: Ho Chi Minh City to Tan Ana 

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. 

Normally leaving cities is a bit of a drag, but heading south west out of Ho Chi Minh City really wasn’t too bad. The traffic died away fast, and it was just a short cycle to Tân An.  Cycling out of Saigon 

Thursday 10th March

Miles: 66

 Map: Tan An to Vinh Long 

We took a smaller road in the morning which led us through a local marketplace.  A local market in Vietnam 

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. 

Big bridge, little bridge. Bridge in Vietnam  

Bridge in Vietnam 

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.  Coop Supermarket in Vietnam 

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). 

We were right next to a good restaurant, and tonight’s seafood and pork rib udon was photo-worthy. Seafood and pork rib udon noodles 

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

Miles: 60

 Map: Vinh Long to Vi Thanh 
The mozzies may have had the upper hand last night, but a bloody mozzie retribution was held in the morning. 

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. 

Today we really entered the Mekong Delta, passing through rice paddies and over rivers all day long. Cycling along the Mekong Delta  

Cycling along the Mekong Delta 

An impressive bridge, built in part by the Japanese. Cycling along the Mekong Delta 

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

Miles: 42

 Map: Vi Thanh to Rach Gia 
We were able to stay off the big roads and found ourselves cycling through little villages along the Delta. The atmosphere was so laid back and friendly, it was a true pleasure to be there. 

Bridges at frequent intervals connected our road to the little concrete or palm weave huts on the other side of the river we followed. They ranged from concrete arches…  Bridge along the Mekong Delta 

… to a log with a stick handrail – as homemade as it gets! Bridge along the Mekong Delta 

Lots of the river was choked with this plant, which looked beautiful but is probably a pest to the people with boats. Village along the Mekong Delta 

Our target today was Rach Gia, which is a lively, colourful town. Cycling into Rach Gia  

Cycling into Rach Gia  Cycling into Rach Gia 

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

Miles: 61

 Map: Rach Gia to Ha Tien 
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.

We followed a sparsely populated road alongside a river for most of the day. Cycling along the Mekong Delta 

Also passing through the odd town. Cycling along the Mekong Delta 

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. 

A bump in the otherwise flat land for the first time since Vung Tau, five days’ journey ago.  Cycling towards Ha Tien 

For the final fifteen or so miles we joined a gorgeous coastal road, which was occasionally spoiled by beeping coaches and lorries. “I won’t miss the driving in Vietnam,” said Eric. Cycling towards Ha Tien  

Cycling towards Ha Tien 

Heaven on a hot day… a cold drink.

Cycling towards Ha Tien 

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.Ha Tien Market 

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.

Leaving the smelly market, we found a hardware shop, and after a fun game of tool charades managed to get hold of a number 17 spanner. Next time we can tighten up the back wheel axle ourselves.   

(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.


3 thoughts on “Rivers and rice paddies: from the Mekong Delta to the sea

  1. Great reading! We just left HCMC yesterday and amazed at your bravery cycling out of there- we were terrified just crossing the roads! Hope the back wheel holds up!

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