Monday, 18 October 2010

From the Sea to Saigon; 8 months and 7000 Miles

The view from our beachfront balcony

A duck wrangler

The volume of bikes at school closing time puts Amsterdam and Copenhagen to shame. Unfortunately in a few years these girls will be recreating this scene on a scooter instead of a bicycle.

Two fishermen laying their nets in a break from the squalls

My first attempt at wakeboarding. Coolness factor minus 10 for the cyclist tan

Do I go left or right? Remember: if you look at the obstacle you hit the obstacle.

A regular sight, along with pigs, chickens and ducks. I tried to confirm with the rider of the scooter that these are on the back of whether they were for eating or if he worked for the Vietnamese RSPCA. He seemed to say yes, very tasty. I was relieved though to learn that 'chien' on the menu means 'fried'...

Approaching a town, riding home with the happy, enthusiastic kids

Another 1000 down and we're in Saigon! A sweaty 1248 miles and 24 days of riding from Hanoi has encompassed 2 mountains, 4 beaches, 2 historical towns, 1 beautiful bay, 3 battle sites, more noodles than any one person should eat, more mystery meat, animal fat, whole chickens, honking and scooters, rice drying in the sun on the highway, monsoon rain storms that hurt, blistering sun, terrifying trucks, friendly roadside food stalls, shared vodka shots with locals, overloaded and underattentive riders, horrific karaoke, hotel rooms and tiresome breakfast and dinner missions, lots of bartering, condensed milk coffee, arguments, chance meetings and re-meetings, áo dài wearing bicycling schoolgirls and race-me boys, 2 punctures (mine), 1 crash (mine), 1 stomach bug (mine), very little English, and very much attention.

Vietnam has so far been the easiest and safest country I've ridden through. There exist none of the water scarcity issues of Turkey and Iran and none of the food scarcity issues of the same. None of the spice and hygiene (and later on, bowel constitution) issues of India. None of the continual mountain climbing of the Himalayas, Turkey, The Balkans or the Alps. None of the extreme dry heat issues of the desert, and none of the accommodation issues of the more scarcely populated parts of the world, as well as none of the navigational problems of anywhere else. This leaves the adventure a little wanting, but saves a lot of energy by cutting out the worry. I think Cambodia will heighten the adventure a little more, but we are still in the heart of backpacker and gap-year territory so the only real stress is self-created.

Nha Trang, a few days' ride south of the previous post, provided a welcome beach break and a chance to scratch my boardsports itch a tiny bit with half an hour of wakeboarding. Other itches also scratched to a greater or lesser extent include the wine drinking itch and the romance itch. Let's just say my eyes have been opened and China is now firmly back on the route plan...

Another few days' ride south was the smaller version of Nha Trang, Mui Ne. In typical tourism style the actual town of Mui Ne is 10 km away from the Mui Ne that we visitors know, where the resorts and tourist amenities have been slowly growing. Luckily with our route in and my poor navigation (congrats to Georgie for getting it spot-on and letting me lose graciously) we got to see the real fishing village as well as the alternately white and red sand dunes out of town, allowing a guilt-free day on the beach with no pressure to see or do anything for fear of missing out.

Saying farewell to coastal Highway 1 which has been alternately a beautiful, tedious and infuriating path to follow, we followed the ever decreasing kilometre markers to TP. HCMC which began way back in Hanoi at 1719km. The traffic increased steadily to the point of gridlock and we flowed downhill threading the needle with eyes only for our last hotel before the final morning push into the city.

Now, after arriving safely and promptly yesterday through the (relatively) quiet Sunday streets, thanks in part to our impromptu scooter guide in pink, it is time to explore the streets of Graham Greene's Saigon in The Quiet American. And drink some proper coffee.


  1. Incredible stuff matey. Inspiring. Awesome to hear you're still going strong and loving it - most the time! After reading through this, I think it's almost time to jump back on my bike and get back out there..

    Keep it up, always good to hear your updates!


  2. Wow! Fascinating read. Proud to be able to call you my LB! Your photos are fantastic - each one telling its own story (especially the wakeboarding one. Looking like a pro (except for the tan lines, as pointed out!)
    Missing you as always.BS xxx