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Motorcycle Diaries - Mekong Delta

Big Canals, Big Smiles, and Big Raindrops

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Our adventure South started with some ducking and weaving as we made our way out of Ho Chi Minh. The shear volume of traffic is the first obstacle and with most people on motorbikes it constantly seems to be moving as people try to find ways through. Staying still is not something they like to do and this often means red lights are not adhered to and people will go the wrong way down the street if necessary. This happens frequently because there are a lots of one way systems, so I was very impressed with how Adam handled it and we were soon free of the city. Only to be confronted with some severely rain damaged roads which when combined with heavy traffic made for a muddy, stop-start beginning to the trip. Adam seemed to enjoy himself though as he picked out his path and avoided the larger puddles. I definitely found gliding past the larger, stationery traffic a satisfying experience, something I've never had the pleasure of doing before.

There is only one main road which heads South and getting round is very simple really even though there is a distinct lack of sign posts. Our first stop was Ben Tre, as we'd read this was a good basis for exploring the surrounding area. It was about a 100km to get there and was pretty easy going, not exactly beautiful though. The roads are generally quite busy and often the land is simply flat and nondescript. However this was not the point, the point was we were free to go where we wanted when we wanted. Now I realise that you may think this is what we have been doing for four and a half months, and we have to a certain degree, but we are always tied to where the buses or trains go. Now we could really explore, if a road looked interesting or we saw something in the distance we had the means to investigate.

In order to get to Ben Tre we had to go over a very large bridge and we got our first proper view of the Mekong Delta.
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This part of Vietnam is characterised by it's rich, agricultural land, all of which is carved up by a web of rivers and getting from one place to another either requires a bridge or a short ferry hop.
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When we reach Ben Tre we were disappointed, it was as far as we could see a bit of a nothing town. We stopped for a Spot of lunch at a little pavement eatery, we got a few odd looks as we sat down on the plastic furniture which would have fitted very nicely in my Wendy House, but people were soon smiling and trying their best to understand us. We gobbled down a couple of baguettes, which may sound odd considering we're in Asia but they are readily available, they are a left over from the French colonisation. As soon as we were re-fuelled we retraced our steps a little bit and then turned South West to reach the town of Can Tho. Getting here required a trip on the ferry, so we bought our first drive-thru ticket and then entered a gated area which filled up with other motorbikes as we waited for the ferry to dock. Once it had the barrier was lifted and it was like horses being released from their stalls, and we were off , all jostling for position, everyone wanting to be the first off at the other side.
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In the end it was a leisurely ride over. A man came over to have a chat with us, he seemed impressed that we had ridden all the way from Ho Chi Minh. As we would soon come to realise the number of Westerners in this part of Vietnam appears to be very few. Those that do come tend to go on an organised day tour. Once in Can Tho we soon found a hotel and were pleased to be off the bikes to give our bums a rest. It was quite a large place and had a fairly lively atmosphere which we weren't really expecting. Most of it was coming from the local large appliance store which was blaring out dance music well in to the night. We found a place to eat and the staff were falling over themselves to accommodate us, which may have been because we were the only ones in there but nonetheless they were incredibly friendly. Again to us it would seem the bad reputation was unfounded.

The next morning we woke up to heavy rain, not a lot was visible from our hotel room as the torrential downpour distorted the view.
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In the end it seemed the worst was over and we decided to move on again. However we did not get very fair when the heavens opened once more and we were forced to pull over to don our ponchos. Adam was in yellow and I was sporting a red poca-dot number, thankfully we really did not stand out. We drove on for as far as we could but at points it was really silly and despite our best efforts to stay dry, by the time we reached Long Xuyen our bottom halves were soaked. It wasn't our choice destination but it was going to have to do because venturing any further seemed a little foolhardy.

We were starving so tried to find some food but were initially unsuccessful. They have a lot of Cafes in Vietnam but they do not serve food, just drinks. We pulled in to one and both ordered a coffee, and we were given ice coffee which is standard here. It is basically an espresso shot in a tall glass with lots of ice and a long spoon. You then ram the spoon up and down to break up the ice to add water to the coffee and mix in the healthy serving of sugar at the bottom. We were both surprised how much we liked it and we have enjoyed many since. After consuming the coffee you are given a pot of green tea that you pour directly into the same glass, which usually contains the dregs of the coffee. A little odd but you get used to it and it's really refreshing.

Now we were both re-hydrated we set about finding a hotel room, which we did with ease as there are a lot to choose from in Long Xuyen. The people running the hotel did not understand a word of English but with some gesticulating on both parts we managed to get a really nice room. They all seemed incredibly amused by our presence but were once again so full of smiles and you soon get used to hearing people giggling as you pass by.

Although Long Xuyen is the capital of the largest island in the Mekong Delta it doesn't boast any great attractions and some may even call it quite dull however we enjoyed ourselves there. We ended up having to stay two night because of the weather but during that time we met some really friendly people. This mostly occurred when we were eating, and one thing I can say for the South, it has the best food in Vietnam. As no one speaks English we learnt how to say thank you and people really appreciate it when you make an attempt to communicate with them. Although we couldn't sit and have conversations with people there was always a warm atmosphere, lots of smiles and it definitely made the experience for us. We went back to the same girl several times to buy fruit as we tried some things we had never happened before and Adam got his Dragon Fruit fix. She really seemed to appreciate the repeat business.

The morning that we left one of the young girls at the hotel beckoned us to follow her up to the top floor and from the back window we looked down on to a crocodile farm. It was feeding time and they were all worked up in to a bit of a frenzy. It was so sweet of her to make sure we saw this and we all laughed and she watched as we snapped a few photos.
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It was another intermittently wet day as we worked our way further South and we were often pulling over to yank on our ponchos. We'd invested in better quality ones although they did still rip really easily. At one point the rain fell like a sheet and we were forced to pull into a little cafe, where once again there was a smiley women to serve us coffee and her little short legged dog darting around to keep us entertained. We were aiming to get to a place called Hon Chong which is situated on the coast, there were meant to be some idyllic beaches and islets like the ones found at Halong Bay. It wasn't exactly beach weather but we persevered and as the day drew to a close we saw the sea for the first time. Thankfully we found a nice little place with a deserted but good hotel. We had noodle soup served to us with friendly smiles and a bit of broken conversation before calling it a night.

The next morning we continued on to the beach and found ourselves at Vietnam's equivalent to to the English seaside. There were lots of little stalls selling a whole variety of items, a lot of it was the tat (as you would expect) but we did find some nice little vases which really cost nothing. It was not raining which helped and there were some very pretty islets a little way of shore; mounds of rocks rising out of the water.
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We did try to get on a boat but it seemed to have been hired by other people and we couldn't communicate well enough to establish whether we could go too. We visited a little Buddhist temple,
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consumed some deep-fried crabs and prawns which we ate whole (shell and all), and then looked at some strange looking lizards both alive and dead, then decided it was time to be on the move once more.
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The hotel owner oiled up our squeaking brakes, the noise being generated from a distinct lack of brake pads and we waved good bye to Hon Chong. We tried to get away from the main road and go along the smaller coast road which we did do for a while. It was nice to get away from the traffic and see a little more rural Vietnam. We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because we ended up basically doing a loop and we hadn't actually covered much ground. Knowing we had some distance to go we pushed on, however we didn't get very far before we forced to a halt. We had a punctured tire. It could have been a whole lot worse though, with the number of motorbikes on the road, a repair shop is never too far away. Adam only had to push the bike about 100 metres as I trudged behind with the backpack. The man was already tending to one bike so while we waited our turn his wife made us a coffee and we continued our primitive communications of nodding and smiling.

There is quite a community feeling despite most of the villages being strewn out along the roadside. I'm not sure whether it was word of mouth or if this little repair/convenience shop is always this busy but there were a steady stream of people who came through. A lot of them lingered a little while as they gazed at us, our broken bike and then chatted amongst themselves, all the while laughing at the apparently amusing situation. It was never done in a horrible way though, nor did they make us feel uncomfortable, I felt they were pleased that we were there. The man removed a huge nail from the inner tubing which it transpired had already been repaired once, and with the large gash in it was now beyond saving. With a bit of cajoling he got the old one off and a new one on and soon enough we were ready to set off once more. We waved goodbye to our little audience headed North to Chau Doc.

We spent most of the day off the main road and the sun made a few appearances which really helped the scenery. The river systems are extensive and we were continuously crossing over little bridges which navigate you over the water which stretches off, poker straight into the distance.
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Low lying boats chug along and the pace of life is set to slow and relaxing. Little villages cling to the banks, the houses built on stilts above the water on one side and then back on to large fields of crops on the other.
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By the time we reached Chau Doc the day was almost over. It is the closest I have ever come to Cambodia and is often where people cross over the border, so for the first time in the last few days we saw a few Westerners. We didn't really have time to do much exploring but it was a colourful little town with a square in the centre which is where we stayed for the night.

The next day we were set the fairly daunting tasks of making it all the way back to Ho Chi Minh, about 300km. We set off early and made good progress as the roads are all in pretty good condition, the only problems were our bums which by now had had enough. Getting back in to the city we faced similar problems with the damaged roads and it was painful at times. Not helped by our bike which was really on its last legs, the brakes were now completely shot, and it was continually back firing and often cutting out entirely. We saw some interesting things though, such as a man with a few baskets full of ducks.
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I don't like to think about where they were heading or the fact that they looked a teeny bit squashed, it was just something I have never seen before.

Soon enough we were back in Ho Chi Minh and found our way back to the bike rental. I was quite pleased to be reliant once more on my own two legs, even if they didn't really feel like they belonged to me any more. That said we had really enjoyed the last few days, and although we hadn't seen the most amazing scenery, which wasn't helped by the weather, we had experienced a very warm welcome. As things stood that bad reputation was well and truly out the window.
More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 04:04 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world

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