Archive | July, 2013

‘Hello Coco’

22 Jul

Hello. I left you with the prospect of riding out of Ho Chi Minh City. Which I did. It took me 3 (slow) days before I was out of built up areas and could actually see something other than buildings from my saddle. I wasn’t feeling very energised after my time in HCM and was plodding along the unspectacular road. I was enjoying the company of the Vietnamese though; I spent a few nice nights in towns learning to play billiards and drinking with students and middle aged men.

The drinking culture here is a bit different. You don’t sip your drink but rather ever 5 minutes or so someone holds up their glass for a toast where you take a big gulp of the beer watered down (by ice). If they touch the bottom of the cup you drink the whole thing in one. If you are lucky (or lunlucky depending on your view) there will also be some local rice wine floating about to take a shot of every now and then. There are normally snacks floating around to pick at as well. And copious amounts of cigarettes. It is amazing how generous the guys are (there are never any women), whenever I have been in thesesituations they have absolutely refused any money for their hospitality.

Anyway, aside from drinking men under the table, I did do some riding too, which got better as I went along. However, I had a frustrating day when trying to take the road 14C, one I had been eyeng up on my map for a while. I left Dak Mil and rode 20km downhill on a small dirt road that skirted up the border alongside Cambodia, but was stopped at an army checkpoint and told I couldn’t go any further. After asking for a while one guy took my passport and went off on his moto to ask someone else but to no avail. They wouldn’t even accept a bribe to let me through because judging from their gestures, people had guns. So I rode back up the hill into the town and spent the afternoon assessing my options.

A couple of days later I bumped into Coco, a French guy who is in SE Asia during his university holidays. This is his first bicycle tour, he bought a bike in HCM and is riding to Ha Noi. Since we met we have been riding together except when his inner tube completely deteriorated and he had to hitch a ride to the next town where he bought some spare tubes and a pump (I was amazed he started without them). It’s been nice to have some company on the road and to share the inevitable strange experiences of travelling with. Since we met the road has been much nicer, lots of ups and downs giving rise to excellent views of the surrounding hills. We will probably ride together to Da Nang where I will extend my visa for another month, maybe even Ha Noi where I hope to meet my pal Chelle in the middle of August.

So that is all for now. We are taking a day off today because of heavy rain and to give our legs a little break. An afternoon of coffee and chess is on the agenda.

Ps. My photos and map have been updated

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Beach Bungalow Bumming

6 Jul

Hello again. I am writing from Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), South Vietnam’s big city. The last time I wrote I was in Phnom Penh. From PP I rode South West 240km over two very wet days. I arrived at the seaside as the storm climaxed with strong winds that blew water through the holes in my rickety bungalow overlooking the water. The weather was bad for another couple of days before things brightened up.

Sihnoukville I didn’t fall in love with. The whole city seemed to be cattered to tourists, making it hard to find the places where locals eat and relax. Most visitors stay nearer the city, but I opted for Otres beach a few kilometers out with a more chilled out atmosphere but pricier food. I spent my days reading and swimming and the evenings hanging out with a nice circle of friends I made. Other than a couple of stunning sunsets, the most eventful moment probably has to be the worst drink experience of my life; a ‘whiskey’ that has a small cobra and a scorpion (hanging from the mouth of the snake) in it. I don’t know if it supposed to taste that bad, or if the bottle had been open too long but the predominant flavour was of putrid salty fish sauce and sour notes. I believe it is supposed to increase your ‘power’ or sexual virility  but I can’t say that I noticed any effect.

From Sihnoukville I rode to Kampot, a smaller and nicer place with flourishes of French colonial architecture. Yet another cheap bungalow to call home, this time by a large slow moving river, more pleasant to swim in than being bombarded by waves. One day was spent with 5 other people and 3 mopeds on a little expedition to a waterfall. It was hard going and a little treacherous but we were rewarded with the stunning little spot in the jungle to ourselves. I spent a couple of nice evenings in Kampot before the short ride to Kep. Kep is the Riviera of Cambodia , slightly pricier and classier. I slashed out on a delicious seafood pasta at a restaurant dangling over the shoreline and watched the most technicolor sunset I have ever seen, with shades of green and purple as well as the orange hues as the sun set behind an island (but I didn’t have my camera with me).

I enjoyed Cambodia more so than Thailand. As there are only 5 or 6 ‘destinations’  for the tourists I kept bumping into people I had met along the way, which was nice. The places I stayed normally had a nice hostel scene (I stayed at the cheaper places but hung out at them) but I felt very separate from the Cambodian population. I met some guys too lazy to leave their hostel to buy cigarettes and opted to pay double the price instead of walking 15 meters to buy them from a little shop over the road. The food in hostels is normally bumped up too so I normally rode into town or crooked my own and occasionally splashed out the $4 for a meal. Luckily riding between the places meant I got to interact a it with some locals, all very friendly, and twice I got flagged down to have a beer with guys drinking by the road.

I’m also not so sure how ethical the tourism is in Cambodia; a lot of the hostels I stayed at were foreign owned. Whilst providing jobs for the locals I guess the profits were siphoned off. I was especially uncomfortable with my presence on Otres beach where the accommodation has sprung up right on the beach front. My place, ‘In the Jungle of Cambodia’ definitely had poor waste water management with my soapy water draining out into the sand. I think I will try and be more conscientious from now on with my choices. I’m also unhappy that most drinks are sold in aluminium cans here as opposed to the glass bottles or Thailand, India and Eastern Europe that are sent back and reused.

Anyway I got to Vietnam on the 1st. It seems to be a lot more developed, size wise. But the roads were not the best, very narrow without the large hard shoulder for bikes I’m used to. The last part of the ride into HCM was very busy and dominated by the ‘motos’ that swarm the streets. Riding round the city without my weight is quite fun though; racing away from the lights and weaving between vehicles. Not very good for seeing things  as you have to be on constant alert, but more fun than crossing the roads on foot.

I have decisions to make today. The visa for Vietnam is $60 for one month, quite pricey, so  will have to decide whether I will buy another month or get a bus for some of the way as it would be too much to ride all the way in a month. So we will see what happens.

That’s all for now, except to say that the food is definitely better here. I had an amazing fresh waffle with coconut in the batter just over the border, and there are bakeries with good baguettes, no good cheese though. A highlight has been fresh spring rolls, rice paper is quickly soaked in water and rolled up with salad items and prawns and served with a sharp spicy sauce. Delicious but just a snack.

I hope everyone is enjoying the sun in England, get out on your bikes and maybe you can get a cycling tan to match mine. The ends of my fingers are pale from gripping the handle bars and I have striped feet from wearing sandals.