Thursday, 3 February 2011

Week 13 Tra Vinh to Hon Chong 236kms cycled

Highlights: Some nice people, truck free narrow road following a canal
Low blows: Chest full of gunk, incessant blaring of horns, traffic, overcharging
Music of the week: Dukes Cookies – Duke Reid Group

Tra Vinh
Local news cast started at 5:30 but managed to doze off again. Wanted to have a proper look round market so stayed. Bought some jackfruit and ate it next to river, then nipped across river on an old lady’s boat to look at another gh Id spotted but same price, although maybe a bit quieter. Went to temple grounds nearby where herbs drying in the courtyard and a tree being sculpted into shape by huge rocks hanging from it’s branches tied with old monks robes. Now have a hacking cough, gross. Cycled around a bit up to Mekong, then retired to room with a packet of biscuits in afternoon to accompany a pot of green tea. Funny to see locals in a newly opened supermarket, like some sort of amusement park for them, still don’t know how to queue though, the woman behind me shoving her things onto conveyor and hustling me to get past even though I was waiting for person in front to be served.

Herbs drying in the sun
Street market

Tree weight-training

Business end of the barge

Floating garden centre

Pottery for sale

Tra Vinh to Soc Trang  68km
Had gut rot in night and runny bum in the morning, probably from the fruit I didn’t wash yesterday – stupid! Bought some bananas as a blocker and felt weak as I cycled, but a straight forward ride. Stopped at 11 to put on sun cream and felt dizzy so sat on a bridge while school children cycled by eyeing me with curiosity.  Interesting to see houses with concrete front and thatched sides (as has been the case in all this region), must be to keep the insides cool and ventilated, or maybe they can’t afford the sides. Vast rice paddies, some being harvested and some wet and being tended. 2 people with 3 pronged hoes seemed to be plucking out rice plants and then popping them into another place, maybe thinning the area? Seem to plant rice a lot more densely in Vietnam. Some areas threshing the rice and making haystacks.
After asking directions at 2 crossroads found the ferry station. Sat in a hammock drinking a cup of tea and chatted with an English teacher who also owned food shop until time to leave on the smallish wooden boat, loaded with motorbikes, a few foot passengers and me on my bike. Feeling weak and wanting to sit down. 20 mins later landed on jetty then a 1km stint across small concrete path winding its way through the vegetation and over small bridges across an island. Small houses set back from the ‘road’ and people sat on varandahs talking and drinking. Must be weird having a rush hour in such a quiet place every time the ferryboat lands. Lots of rattan, banana palms, fruit trees. Eventually land opened up and came to another queue for the ferry stop. Had a sit down at a café as feeling ropey. This boat a bit bigger so had a seat on it too and journey a lot shorter straight across the river to a small town. Had a brief chat with a girl sat next to me from Korea who had married a local bloke – we communicated using a translator on her phone. Cant be long now before a speech version is made, thatll be so good! Would certainly help travel in Vietnam that’s for sure.
Decent road for rest of way and not too busy until we hit town. Feel very hot. Found gh to stay in after looking at all options, but even this one is near traffic noise. Starting to get to me this relentless beeping and peeping of horns, annoying and unnecessary if they drove properly. Had a bit of a wander around, lots of people selling lottery tickets, sometimes three sellers at once would come around. No where to sit down and relax, just busy roads and noise.

Island hopping

Soc Trang
Feel bad so rest day. Had some breakfast and a wander round the big market. Impressed by the super clean fish section, which shone compared to the grotty red meat market next building along. Cycled around town down back streets to find a huge yellow Chinese Buddhist temple, popped into park for a Pepsi (not much sugar in it in Vietnam so tastes bland like soda) then went a few kms out of town to the ‘Bat Temple’, where a few fruit bats roost in the trees. The way back saw the beginning of  a quest for a cheese sandwich, but stalls here only sell meat, or rather the fatty cuts youd usually give the dog. Ended up buying some baguettes and a box of laughing cow from a deli. Cheesey sarnies to match the cheesey movie on telly in afternoon. Had a long nap.

Soc Trang to Can Tho  61km
Feeling a bit better so made a move to Can Tho. Started the day hacking up large amounts of green phlem, bit like a scene from the Exorcist. Busy road and not much fun, for a long way the road ran parallel to a canal which on the other side had some pretty houses on its banks, boats chugging or rowing down the canal and rice fields beyond. Kept wishing there was a small path over there that I could follow rather than being stuck on this hellish road. Beep Beep, honk honk, and the truck/bus drivers have a high pitched screetchy siren too as well as a fog horn for back up. Got blasted eardrums a few times. Hot day. Had a brief stop in a town marked as having a floating mkt but no one around so too late at 12 noon I expect. Had a rest and annoyed for 20mins by a fat woman trying to sell me a lottery ticket who just wouldn’t go away.
Arrived Can Tho in afternoon. Full of Westeners. Got a room quick enough but roasting and fan only as cheap $6, touts very quick off the mark to try and get you on a tour, but nice of them to show me their map cos theres a mkt just 6kms away near the road. Picked up a pinapple and ate it on riverfront then had a ride about. Busy noisy city, lots of big bridges connecting the surrounding land. Ended up going down a small alley for a long while which was interesting to see everyone just relaxing in and out of their homes, some places quite stylish with paint and décor. Chatted with some English blokes and had some beer which probably wasn’t such a good idea as head all blocked up with snot.

Floating market nowhere to be seen

One of many canals in the delta area

Flowers for New Year

Festive dragons decorated with oranges

Unloading nearly-blossoming bonsai trees for sale on the quayside, popular gifts for New Year

CanTho to Long Xuyen 60km
Bed super saggy and room really hot so bad sleep. Woke up at 6:30 and cycled up road to a floating mkt only 6km away so there in no time. Followed a small road adjacent to riverbank but view blocked by houses and buildings. Popped into a few people’s warehouse things and down a few narrow alleys to get access to riverside and the scene on the river. The best view came when I was heading back and came across a builders yard with a big open view over river. Went and sat on a mooring post and watched the activity below. Mainly a wholesale market with people selling to other boats on the river – carrots, radish things, cabbages, yellow flowers, anything and everything being transferred from one boat to another, and in the main channel huge boats going past. I actually got there before most tourist boats arrived, some people on small craft, other large boats had only 2 people in them which was ridiculous, and a few boats came fully loaded with tourists (I reakon that’s the cheap tour!) best one was a posh boat set for breakfast so obviously the hoi poloi. A bloke bought a load of cabbages from a big boat, then came to settle in front of me to check them into a big basket and weigh them into another boat next to him, his daughter adding up all the baskets weight – couldn’t understand why the other boat didn’t buy directly from big boat but what do I know. Seen enough so back into town for breakfast and then took out dong and eventually managed to change them into dollars at a jewelry shop (5% mark up on rate) as banks wont sell dollars without passport, airticket, senior citizens railcard and accompanied by your great grandparents -  a pain in ass.
Slip, slop, slapped and headed into the fray at 11:30am. Horrible road, very busy with trucks/buses blaring their airhorns in my ears and passing very close as only a narrow road. More disconcerting were the spray paint markings of past accidents where bicycles had been hit and then dragged 60 meters down the road – all in graphic spray paint detail. Kind of switched off and plodded along. Arrived Long Xuyen and got cheap room in Karaoke hotel – 100k no sink as broken, but cant see point of a sink anyway as you only spit toothpaste into it! Nice town. Had a cycle around lots of yellow flowers, bonsai and orange trees for sale along riverside quay. Also found a barbers street, the length full of barbers chairs and mirrors all evenly spaced out, the days cuttings strewn around. Nice layout of town, busy but not overwhelming, quietish room! Everyone friendly. Interesting designed church in 60’s concrete. Dinner expensive fish steak. Everyone buying new year plants. Had a look at a boat for tomorrow that goes to my destination but looks uncomfy so don’t fancy sitting in that all day.

Floating market seen from the road bridge

Floating market up close

Long Xuyen to Rach Gia 65km
Up early with the govt noise broadcast at 5am, but managed to ignore till 6ish. Had food up the road in a posh place which actually turned out to be cheap, so for sure Ive been getting diddled at these skanky places. First 35kms a drag, following a road that appears to have been built down middle of an old canal, which they are now in process of filling in one side to widen the road. Stopped off for a sugarcane juice and chatted with a student and her sister, had a winge about Vietnamese overcharging for everything and told her it wouldn’t make anyone want to come back here again.
Second part of day turned out to be an absolute gem. Small road alongside a wide canal and basically I went past everything Id wanted to see to make a trip to the Mekong Delta worthwhile – quaint little painted houses, pastel greens, blues, turquoise, shades of grey, and carved colourful wooden inserts in some balconies. Fancy satin window and door sashes. Formica fronted houses with a bamboo print, some really beautiful wooden houses with clay tiled roofs. Small temples. People weaving baskets and them being loaded into barges. Fruit for sale, people in hammocks, people in the fields, boats going up and down. Going over rickety wooden bridges over smaller side canals. Everyone happy to see a stranger riding by.  Superb!  Arrived in Rach Gia and got a room for 90k next door to the LP recommended one which is now charging 200k for the same type of room. My gh turned out to be a whorehouse, but it was clean and they were fun and nice people.
Went for a cycle round town, everyone very friendly. Ended up in one rough neighbourhood, with large boats being built and everyone out on the streets and tons of kids playing. Got invited to drink a few rounds of rice whisky till I made my excuses and left after the 4th pass – didn’t wanna get battered. Further up road 2 blokes splayed out sleeping off the efforts of their afternoons drinking. Ate in a good place at night. Had big piece of fish, veggies and stuffed gourd for 25k. Chatted with an old US Vietnamese guy who’d come over to visit. His wifes family owned the resto. He left in 1975 and didn’t dare come back till the 90’s. Went for a beer next to river near hotel, big shipping fleet moored altogether in middle of river. Ended up sat at a shop near hotel banging tin cymbals while dad played a drum and his 10 yr old lad danced around in a dragon mask and cape which they mustve bought him for TET. You could close its eyes and mouth by moving strings inside, and it had flashing lights on its head and eyes. Woohoo.

Very long, very wide canal

Typical riverside house

Industrial scale nesting barn for swifts (harvested for birds nest soup)

In the town

There shall be a tv for each and every home

Relaxing with rice whisky

The bones of a boat to be

Rach Gia to Hon Chong 82km
Pork steak and eggs on broken rice for breakfast, pretty damn close to bacon and eggs, and a hot coffee. 26k. Road not too busy. Lots of small bridges to go over, crossing wide canals which stretched off perfectly straight into the distance. Mustve been quite an engineering feat to dig all these out. Chatted with a lad at lunch, basically ate same food as breakfast as it was all they had left but for some reason it cost 10k more. The Vietnamese!
Got to fork for beach road and went down it. Several big cement factories along the way, slowly eating their way into the nearby limestone mtns. The last one right at the end spewing smoke from a chimney onto the nearby village. Feeling tired as I arrived at destination. Couldve gone for a 80k room, not bad, but the 160k room was far better so took that after haggling them down fom 180k. Went for a walk on beach and over into next bay which actually had nice sand but the fishing village on the beach had put paid to any beauty it might have had – plastic bags everywhere, stray dogs, even pigs rooting around on the beach. Got to the grotto area at the end which was a really pretty beach set amongst limestone rocks – big real estate opportunity! Had a wander about and was gonna have a beer but they wanted silly money for a bottle so couldn’t be bothered. Walked back to gh then cycled up road for dinner. Had fish and chips – the fish was the same kind Id had in the resto last night but for some reason here it was 50k for the fish alone! Whatever, Im leaving here tomorrow and nice enough view over sea I suppose. Had a few beers then got some more from shop next to gh and back to room as mosquitos on a mission tonight. Almost spent all my Dong so head for the border tomorrow!

Chickens enoy the seaside too

Fishermens homes on the beach front

Bashing in nails

Outside the corner shop

End of my last day in Vietnam

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