Friday, December 27, 2013

Goodbye Vietnam

Thanks to my multi-entry Vietnam Visa I’ve been in and out of Vietnam in the north and the south and had plenty of time to travel through this country to get a good feel of their way of life.  Most cyclists skip over this country deterred by the dense traffic, unpredictable road conditions, pollution, noise, and chaos.  I skipped out on the central part of Vietnam, basically for those reasons, and stuck to exploring areas that were more off the beaten track both in the north and the south. Tomorrow is my last day in this country and the truth is I’m going to miss it.

Riding in Ho Chi Minh City

Yes this country is chaotic, busy, and noisy, but in my opinion those qualities also give it charm.  The people are happy, alive, energetic, and always on the go, qualities I share with them and hence I believe there is a common understanding.  The busy traffic has made me a more confident and aggressive rider.  After riding through Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City felt like a breeze.  Out of the countries I’ve been through so far in SE Asia, Vietnam wins the vote of the most delicious food stalls and the best prices for fresh fruit and vegetables, and little treats.

Fresh coconut juice on the side of the road

I noticed a remarkable difference between the north and the south of Vietnam, as you can imagine.  Up north, the country was densely populated, the climate colder, life felt more sophisticated, “Bia Hoi’s” or beer gardens were everywhere, higher prices, and more tourism.  Down south, the beer gardens were replaced with huge outdoor cafes with hammocks and lounge chairs, people were more friendly and laid back, prices were cheaper, the climate warmer, and life felt a bit more relaxed.  Even thought the Mekong Delta is heavily populated, there was less tourism than in places like Sapa and Halong Bay up north. 

My biggest challenge up north was the traffic around metropolis areas and the climbs up in the Ha Giang province. After navigating Hanoi and the north, the south felt like a breeze.  Perhaps I became desensitized to all the honking, motor scooters crossing my path, and other crazy drivers, or maybe this chaotic way of life that magically works, has grown on me.  Ed has been with me for the last three days and made comments about the horrible traffic.  For a cyclist who isn’t used to these roads, it is taxing on the daily kilometers, and you always have to be aware of your immediate surroundings. 

Tomorrow is my last day in Vietnam and it makes me sad.  For the last several days, I’ve been spoiled.  I’ve gone from sleeping in my local Ngha Nghis to living the life of luxury in four and five star hotels.  Alone and on my meager budget, I wouldn’t have done this, but with a traveling companion, the price of the room between two people is doable for a holiday treat.

I love the name of these Asian hotels

Looking back at all my stays at Ngha Nighi’s, I’ve had some good laughs.  The owners of these hotels are not used to having cyclists as clients, let along a solo young woman. I rolled up on my own, of course, yet you can’t imagine how many times the hotel would ask me how many people were going to be in the room. You see, like I mentioned, these Ngha Nghi’s are known for their hourly services. Since I arrive on my own, and they are used to having people bring a “guest” back to the room, I think they always suspect that I’m going to have an adventurous night on the town and bring a “guest” back, therefore they repeatedly ask me how many people will be in the room.  Little do they know the tour cyclist etiquette?  We epitomize “ideal” tourism in any part of the world.  We go to restaurants and eat our heart out on food and desserts, we want a good night’s rest and go to bed early to be on the road as early as possible. 

No this isn't a cage to transport pets.....

I am also going to miss the energy of these Vietnamese people.  They rival my own energy as they are always on the go….it’s non-stop action.  Lots of times I go to bed to the sound of motor scooters driving by and karaoke bars blasting music, and wake in the morning to the honks of cars and motor scooters and the sound of drilling, hammering, and pounding, there is always something to be worked on.  On the road there are an abundance of food stalls and street vendors approaching you, roadside markets, and small stores with a huge selection of beverages.  There is banging, sawing, and soldering in little workshops from the time the sunrises until it sets.  Regardless the time of day, the roads are crowded.  Kids traffic the road heavily in the morning and around noon on their lunch break.  In the morning and afternoon you also find people going and coming from work, and trucks transporting goods at all hours of the day.  The people are alive and busy always doing something, which makes for an entertaining sight while riding.  In the south more than the north, I found them to be extremely curious and will approach to see what you are doing.  They touch, feel, observe, and investigate, oblivious to any norms the westerners have regarding personal space. 

Here they are having a look at our bikes all curious

The Vietnamese food has been amazing, especially in the south where the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables has multiplied rapidly.  Lots of times they actually advertise the kilogram prices so that you don’t get taken advantage of as a tourist, although I know that isn’t the purpose for doing it.  Food carts sell anything from ice cream to candied tofu, sweet corn, steamed buns,…the list goes on and on, but can always serve as a good quick snack to refuel the hungry cyclist.  Yesterday we bought 5 drinks between the two of us at one of our stops, for about 1,50 euro.  Incredible! 

Drinks for two thirsty cyclists

Something tells me that I will be back to visit this country.  I’ve left a large chunk of the central coast untouched, which merits a cycling trip of it’s own and a great excuse to come back sometime soon!  We’ll see….

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