Monday, 24 January 2011

Week 12 Hanoi to Tra Vinh 122kms cycled

Highlights: Local’s prices, tasty coconut sweets, fruit shakes, some quiet roads
Low blows: Bad chest and throat from really dusty road
Music of the week: Spiral Staircase – Kings of Leon

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by plane
Boxed up the bike and got taxi to airport at 10. Only had 1 carry on bag so bloke just accepted the bike without even weighing it – I reakoned the box was about 25kgs with all my crap in it, so saved me excess baggage! Nice enough flight, clouds started to clear halfway down the country. Bike came through on conveyor. Luckily taxi Id booked was a big SUV so bike slotted in easy, although expensive for the 12kms into town (12 USD). Woman Id spoke to earlier had said Id got a booking at Madam Cucs Hotel, but it turned out to be like a holding pen with them farming out all the excess farang to nearby hotels. Room not that great, would’ve walked but have the bike box. Went for a wander in search a new place to stay and later for Bia Hoi, Farang area will be like Kao San Rd soon enough, a lot busier than before. Had aircon on at 25 degrees in night which usually makes me feel really cold, but it didn’t feel that bad at all now Im conditioned for silly cold temps.

Bike in a box

Moved hotels and got a well lit spot on a roof away from noise for $10. Put laundry in for a machine wash as very skanky. Wanted to visit the chicken and duck street Id seen last time but since bird flu all poultry was strictly controlled so that had now gone. Went for wander up to nearby mkt, only clothes and tat. Ate some food there then picked up bike from hotel and had a spin around town.
Went to botanical gdns/zoo which was more zoo than anything else, 2 white tigers most impressive and very frisky as looking out for keeper near feeding time. One kept pacing up and down behind the massive glass window and then running and jumping into pool and climbing out inches away from my face. Vietnamese couple next to me very jittery. Otters entertaining as usual, but a gang of blokes were taunting them with a plastic bag of sugar cane juice which they eventually lobbed in and of course the otters ripped it apart and ate most of the plastic bag. Found a warden to tell her what happened then she dressed down the bloke for being stupid.  Drank bia hoi at night at a place just round corner from new gh. Really enjoyed the sun and warm weather today.

Mobile aquatic shop

Inside an old temple

Government poster

Bikes as far as the eye can see - rush hour in Ho Chi Minh city

Hired a motorbike for $6 and went to Chu Chi Tunnels 60kms away. 40kms of ride along very busy roads. You’re supposed to stay in a lane separated from cars/trucks by concrete bollards but I kept nipping in and out to get round traffic and nearly got nabbed by police a few times. Stopped off and found a bakery for 2 fresh cheese baguettes as beer from last night kicking in. Later stopped for coffee and gave a lift to a bloke up the road.

Eventually got to Cu Chi. Was instructed to join a group of people and had an interesting tour around tunnels which turned out to be a group tour from HCM. Man traps the most interesting with various methods to spike a soldier in the field, Tunnels were built on 3 levels. There was also a shooting range which was very VERY loud. A scots bloke I chatted with had a go on an M60. Cant imagine how anyones ears withstand firefights as deafening 20 meters away. $1 a bullet so good money to be made here by military. Last bit of tour was through a 100m stretch of tunnel which was cramped and hard on the knees, these tunnels had been widened for westerners too. Drove back and busy mad traffic for last 20kms into HCM. Could ride in it and enjoyed the novelty but would be a drag to do every day.

A sniffer dog trap. The grass surface would be sprinkled with fish sauce to attract the dog. When the dog stood on the door it would spin round and the dog would fall into hole onto the spikes. This is how kebabs were invented.

Looking down onto small alleys around my guesthouse

Thick, rocket fuel coffee and fresh green tea to clear the palate

HCM to Go Cong Dong 66km
Pho is the most economical thing to eat around here and had a coffee in alleyway opposite gh. Set off 9:30. Girl from gh had written me a 3 phase instruction card to help me get there as she came from the place I was going to. Started down main avenue which actually had a big bike lane, although this ended after a few blocks. Only a couple of blocks more, then up over a bridge and straight. Stopped off shortly afterwards in a petrol station to check. All the girls that worked there said I should go back the other way. Found some older blokes in same place and they confirmed I was going the right way, always need to find someone who looks like they know their area. After that pretty boring straight bumpy road and being prepared for resurfacing so clouds of just dust and gravel thrown up by the regular buses and trucks that plied this route. Traffic thinned later on, but still a lot of dust. Ate lunch at roadside place, had a plate of rice, plate of fish, plate of veg, a bowl of soup and a big bottle of water – all for 27000. Local prices, at last! Everyone really friendly too, lots of schoolkids saying hello, girls all dressed in beautiful flowing white silk gowns (Ao Dias).
Arrived at ferry boat at 1:30 ish and boarded after a short wait. 1000 dong fare. Group of motorbike drivers having a heated argument because one of them had cut the other up, which must have been pretty drastic as that type of maneuver is usually standard here. A bloke came and split it up.
Once off ferry only another 15km along a really dusty road. Last 5kms on smooth tarmac hurrah! Did an 8km stretch to the place I thought I wanted to be in, but turns out to be just a small town with no ghs. The main town I wanted (as named incorrectly on my map) was the one Id just come through so had a glass of sugarcane juice and back up the rioad. Lush verdant green rice paddies on eitherside of road, several small bridges going over waterways lined with rattan and coconut trees.
Only places to stay in the town were actually on the arteries leading into town and after asking was taken by a lad in a motorbike shop 2kms out of town to a Karaoke/massage hotel. Room 70000 dong and fine. Interesting that the top 2 floors of the hotel had been turned into a swifts loft (nests used for birds nest soup) so the walls had small circular holes in and birdsong came from loud speakers on the roof, swifts flitted in and out. This might explain why theres a lack of hotels in town too as several buildings right in the town had been sealed up to allow only the swifts as guests.
Had a spin around town, which was a pleasant functioning town. Small orange and bonsai trees for sale as gifts for Tet holiday. Had dinner in a small place, ordered several plates, one which looked like an omelet with meat in but turned out to be very sour and salty, so they changed it for a quiche thing fo me. Had meat stuffed gourd soup, quiche thing, fish in bamboo, veg and rice. 20000.  As soon as you’re off this tourist conveyor belt things get to how they should be!
Went in search of beer. Only 1 scruffy bar in the town which only had little bottles of Heineken for 19000. No Ta. Tried another shop that wanted to sell small cans of summat for 15000, pah. Ended up sat in a wholesale beer shop drinking beer with free rice whisky chasers and snacks with the owner. Chatted with him for a few hours while the mosquitos nibbled me. Funny thin tube like things that look like grass seed when they are biting you-  stick out straight in a very thin line. Their dog in hot pursuit of a big rat running in and out of the stacked crates of beer.

Go Cong Dong to Ben Tre 56km
Small pray mantis sat on wall as I left my room. Had bf in same resto as last night Pho and coffee and super cheap again. Annoying to know that these are the right prices and everyone else overcharges. Quite a busy road to My Tho and dusty in places too. My chest was hurting from yesterday so I put bandanna on today for bad bits. Maybe that’s one of reasons people cough and hack up so much is cos of dust (and smoking).
Green rice fields either side of road, gravestones in the fields and same crappy concrete houses you get in Laos but stylish windows, paintjobs and finishing to houses make them look good. Stopped off for sugar cane juice. Had 2 glasses of rather posh stuff with a bit of pinapple in it, a scoop of creamy froth and a dash of roast peanuts on the top. Also had some bananas and a stickyrice thing wrapped around a grilled banana. Very nice.
Continued on to My Tho, big city next to river. Immediately accosted by touts on motorbikes for boats trips/rooms. Had a look on my own at a few places, but pretty grotty and not worth the money, also not much to see here as far as I can tell, just sprawl, although atmospheric next to river. Had lunch in another normal priced place and then decided to carry on to Ben Tre.
Went over huge bridge, the island spreading out in front. The road was a big busy road and not the coconut fringed backroad Id imagined.  Arrived in Ben Tre 2:30ish, had a look at some gh’s once Id got my bearings and stayed in a government run place which is quite nice. 160k for ac room inc bf. Rooms get cheaper as you go up each floor, but are same inside. This towns action is actually next to riverside, so wandered along the lanes full of shops selling, fruit, hardware, clothes, food, flowers, etc etc and popped across river on small bridge for a bit aswell. Lots of boats going up and down loaded with coconuts, loads being unloded from boats into the back of waiting vans and one shop taking the remnants of the husks off before storing them inside. A new road bridge is being constructed too, although one is visible upstream – looks like theyre getting the area connected. Went for a spin on bike later too. Had Pho for tea and took a baguette back to room for later which had pate, pork, strips of fat, and sausage meat in it. Took the non-desirable items out.. Some function going on in dining room with a lot of drunk people going for it on karaoke.
Nice spot for a burial

Big bridge over the Mekong river

Sorting coconuts

Busy bridge in Ben Tre

Ben Tre  
Hacking up a lot of phlem and got sore throat today. Also mozzy bites from other night really itchy.Went over bridge and cycled along narrow lanes – huge rattan plants, coconut trees, fruit trees, small canals. People selling fruit from their gardens. A few grassroots factories making something from coconuts, having big vats with coconut meat in. Hundreds of plastic trays being washed and stacked to dry outside so I presume they will make some kind of paste and put it in tray to dry? Passed an artist carving  a fish out of a huge log. Passed some young boys on bicycles and they wanted a race so we raced for a bit - they went pretty fast to say no gears on their bikes. Eventually came round in a circle and realized I was back across from the town, only 11km later! Quite sticky so back to gh, a wedding reception going on downstairs. Later went to buy some local sweets later made from coconut and other fruits, good energy for riding! Then went for a haircut. The lady who ran the place seemed delighted to have me there and I ended up getting 2 head and shoulder massages, an ok haircut, and a bowl of pork soup, managed to get out of there an hour and a half later! Wanted to buy some fruit but was getting quoted stupid prices so didn’t bother, had a fruitshake instead for 8000.

Fresh honeycomb at local market

Spikey teeth in the dried fish section

Not good for pot pourri - dried shrimp

More than you bargained for at the hairdressers

Magician turns tree into fish

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