Along the sides of most of the roads in Vietnam there are way-markers that count down the number of kilometres to the next town or city. Every now and then there are also markers to towns and bigger cities further away. Today I looked over my shoulder when I passed one and saw Hà Nội 1,589km, which I thought was quite cool! We have of course cycled considerably further than that since Hanoi, as we diverted to Cat Ba as well as followed the wiggly coastal roads wherever we could.
For a reasonable amount of this part of our journey, we have had to use the main north-south road (QL1) – probably about 50% of the time – but in total we’ve only cycled 2-3 full days on it. And although it’s a main trunk road it’s really not overly busy and there’s always a wide hard shoulder to cycle on. A few cyclists had told us that this route wasn’t the nicest and that the road was a nightmare, but we disagree to a certain extent. Being able to nip out to the coast at the end of the day and go for a swim has been great, much of the scenery is beautiful, plus accommodation and food is readily available – unlike on some of the remoter routes. We really hope that it stays as nice as it currently is despite all the construction that’s going on.
Tuesday 19 August 19 – Mui Ne to Tan Nghia – 72km
This time two weeks ago our world was turned upside down – Martina’s literally and mine metaphorically! But since her accident Martina has made a great recovery. Considering she almost certainly had concussion, badly bruised her left side and needed a couple of stitches, she’s made remarkable progress… we have covered nearly 300km against a steady headwind since leaving Nha Trang and there’s no sign of any repercussions, which is excellent news.
Mui Ne like many other small Vietnamese towns was alive and buzzing at 6:30am when we left….
In the picture above note that the young child on the blue scooter has no helmet and yet the adult rider and adult rear passenger are both wearing them. This is the norm here and across most of Asia, and we are still mystified as to why the adults would wear them and yet they are happy to take their children on their bikes without one…..and often children much younger than the one in the photo! In Vietnam however, at least most (but not all!) motorcycle and scooter riders wear a helmet, whereas in India and Bangladesh it’s the exact opposite – hardly anyone wears one. Whilst we were in Pune there was a protest by two-wheel riders who were angry that the local government were trying to impose compulsory wearing of helmets within the city limits – and the bikers won!
We have mentioned this before, but the Vietnamese really do get up very early – so many of the food outlets were going strong when we left Mui Ne and had obviously been open for quite a while. For once they were full of school kids as it appears that the schools went back yesterday after the summer holidays.
Our route took us along the coast, which once again was pretty, through it was unfortunately rather crammed with hotels and restaurants.
After about 30km we were back onto the main trunk road and that’s where we stayed for the remainder of the day. As we have got closer to Ho Chi Minh City the traffic definitely got busier and at times the road was down to a single carriageway, which wasn’t so pleasant. We also still had the headwind we’d been battling since setting out from Nha Trang – and it looks like this is here to stay for a while at least. We got to our destination, Tan Nghia, which is a bit of a one-horse town along the main road and found some suitable accommodation. We’d had lunch as we came into town, so our routine only included a shower, wash clothes and have a snooze. We woke up to the sound of torrential rain and later heard some thunder, which I also think is a weather pattern that will be around for the next while. We did brave it out for dinner nearby when there was a break in the storm….but unfortunately it started up again when we were out and we got drenched on the way back! But in fairness we have been pretty lucky on the rain front recently, so every now and then it’s only to be expected.
Wednesday 21 August 19 – Tan Nghia to Long Thanh – 63km
As we are on our way to Cambodia we’re not hanging around to do any sightseeing. Our cycling day was spent on the rather busy and dull main road that will eventually take us around the north of Ho Chi Minh City. There was certainly a lot going on to keep us awake though as there were plenty of people on the roads doing stupid things. I realise that it’s not the done thing in these parts but I resorted to swearing loudly at some drivers/riders on more than one occasion when they did something particularly stupid – not that they understood me. But it did make me feel better!
There’s not a huge amount to Long Thanh although we did still go for a wander around to see what was there. As in many towns and cities in Vietnam there are victory monuments and the one at the end of our road was particularly grand in a Titanic pose kind-of-way…
Thursday 22 – Friday 23 August 19 – Long Thanh to Bien Hoa – 52km and a day off.
We are still conscious that is only just over two weeks since Martina had her accident, so we decided to cycle 6 days and then have a day off. Our cycling days also haven’t been as long as they had been in the past and we think that this has contributed to her getting better so quickly. As it turned out we probably could have kept going for a few more days, but decided to take the break anyway.
The day into Bien Hoa was along a main road that steadily got busier as the day went on and it wasn’t pleasant cycling. We’re 30km north east of Ho Chi Minh City, which has a population of over 12 million, so even this far out it’s pretty congested. I’m guessing that the road out of Bien Hoa will be similar when we leave on Saturday. Enough said!
Bien Hoa also doesn’t have a huge amount going for it, but it does have a supermarket and our day off here also gave us the opportunity to get our eVisas for Cambodia printed out, which we applied for online. Finding our accommodation was a right faff as the Google Maps position was incorrect, but we still managed to get there by 11am. The rather officious receptionist wouldn’t let us check in until midday unless we paid extra, so we decided to go for an early lunch, which turned out to be the same price as early check-in would have cost us! Once we got settled we went in search of a printing shop, got our visas printed, went to the supermarket and stocked up – so we’d actually completed everything we’d intended to do on our day off on the day we arrived! Never mind…it was still a good opportunity to rest up before crossing the border into Cambodia.
One thing that Bien Hoa does have is a lot of places to eat and in amongst them all we found a place that does Bun Cha, the barbecue pork patties with sweet soup and noodles which we loved when we were up north and hadn’t seen since. I also had Chao Ga, the sloppy risotto with chicken that I liked, and we also managed to have Com Su’on, marinated barbecue pork with rice. Finally, we also drank the Huda beer from Hue, which was our favourite – so all-in-all our stay on Bien Hoa was sort of a last hurrah of our favourite Vietnamese food and drink before we leave the country!
Saturday 24 August 19 – Bien Hoa to Go Dau – 79km
The road around the northern outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) were indeed very busy when we left Bien Hoa, especially as we were cycling them in their rush hour. As we have mentioned it is very difficult to describe what it’s like to be in amongst this two-wheeled movement of humanity, but here’s an example..
I am in there somewhere in a hi-viz gilet!
As we got to the north-west corner of HCMC the traffic started to calm down a bit and the remainder of our cycling day was not exactly enjoyable, but was at least not as hectic. We’d decided to stay on the Vietnamese side of the border overnight, get up early and head to Cambodia. Our accommodation was great, the town of Go Dau bustling and we had a ‘normal’ night. The only other notable news from our stay here was that I managed to flush a pair of Martina’s knickers down the toilet when I was doing our hand washing. I was not in her good books as she’s now down to only four pairs!
25 August 19 – Go Dau (VN) to Krong Svay Rieng (CA) – 59km
The early morning ride to the border was uneventful and we got there not long after the crossing point had opened for the day. This was another border crossing that we were a bit nervous about as we’d heard reports that the Cambodians officials can try to squeeze extra money out of travellers wanting to enter. The advent of eVisas has largely got rid of this except at smaller crossings where eVisas aren’t accepted, but as we were crossing at one of the major points this wasn’t an issue. We exited Vietnam, pushed and cycled our bikes across no mans land, filled in the entry slip and entered Cambodia – as simple as that! The Cambodian officials we surly-to-bordering-on-rude, but they didn’t try to squeeze any money out of us. We wonder whether their demeanour was due to the fact that the eVisa system has stopped them from illegally extorting money out of people….
As we had a few Vietnamese dong left over we decided to change them with one of the money changers at the border. We know it’s going to be a rubbish rate, but it’s worthless if left in an old currency. So, though the border staff didn’t get any money out of us that didn’t stop the money changing woman from trying! The Cambodian riel is another currency with a lot of zeros and the money changer tried to fob us off with 1,000 notes in place of 10,000 notes. Martina that spotted the scam and demanded that she made it right… which she did without so much as flinching. Cheeky so-n-so!
Unfortunately there wasn’t a ‘Welcome to Cambodia’ sign at the border so we couldn’t do the customary photo, which was a shame. We do, however, have another unusual land border stamp in our passports!
The change when we crossed the border was immediate. We’d departed a comparatively affluent Vietnam and arrived in what appeared to be poor Cambodia. For a start the road quality deteriorated to a level that we’ve not seen since parts of Bangladesh…
It’s also very dusty! We had heard this from other cyclists and it was apparent straight away, but the reason for this is unclear as it’s really the same piece of ground that crosses the border! There’s much less traffic – again a bit like Bangladesh where the majority of people can’t afford a scooter or car. This may make the cycling easier, but the poorer quality of the road is likely to cancel that benefit out.
Even in the short(ish) cycle from the border to Krong Svay Rieng we were greeted all along the way with people waving excitedly and shouting hello to us. Very reminiscent of the folks in Laos and Myanmar, so what we have potentially lost in quality of life we have gained in the friendliness of the locals. That’s not to say that the Vietnamese were unfriendly – because they aren’t, but the people in Laos, Myanmar and, what we have see of those in Cambodia so far, are far more enthusiastic when they see foreigners. Perhaps it’s because we are on bikes too?!
We managed to do our normal crossing-a-border chores of getting local money (though we’ve since found out that they mainly deal in US Dollars!) and a SIM card each. We’d booked our accommodation which we got to by midday, so all-in-all a good day.
One initial observation: I can’t remember the last time I saw an old-style ring pull on a can, which was on my first cold drink here. The ring pull that comes completely off when you pull it…
Changes to our plan to make sure we make it to Singapore in time for our flight to Perth…
Once we have crossed the border into Cambodia we will head to Phnom Penh where we will stay for a couple of days. We’ll then cycle to Siem Reap to see the temples at Angkor Wat and the surrounding area. We’re going to take the advice of fellow travellers and cyclists Bruce and Andrea (thank you!) and take a bus to the Thai border, cross and then take a train to Bangkok where we will stay for a few days. We’ll then take another train south out of Bangkok for a couple of hundred kilometres, get off and then continue our cycling journey. By doing this we will miss out some dull cycling and make up the time we lost for Martina to recouperate in Nha Trang and we won’t have to run the gauntlet of the traffic going into and out of Bangkok, which is reported to be pretty bad.
A final Vietnam observation…
The Vietnamese (and in fact most of the people in the rest of South East Asia) generally aren’t fat. We can only really put this down to their diet as they don’t appear to do a huge amount of exercise. Nobody really walks unless they have to and only a very few cycle anywhere as they all have a scooter or motorcycle. It will be interesting to see whether the relatively modern introduction of two-wheelers will have an impact on their physique in years to come!