Vietnam 🇻🇳 🏍: Mekong Delta – Bike trip begins…

Distance this stage: 295km| Total: 295km

After a little practice on a scooter in Phu Quoc, the time had come to start writing the first entry of our Vietnam motorcycle diaries 😁🏍️🇻🇳. Coming back from the island, our first task was to buy a motorbike. We decided against rental so we are free to take the bike into Laos as well. Let’s see how it goes. We have a few thousand km ahead all the way North…

Buying a motorbike in Vietnam

There are two principal options to buy a bike. First from a local dealer that often also does rentals or from other travellers. We opted for the latter and picked a bike from the fb group ‘Vietnam backpacker motorbike market’. May it carry us as well as its previous owners!

So within 2h of landing at HCM airport we were proud owners of a Yamaha YBR 125 (be it at probably a too high price, time will tell). Check out the info on Tigit motorbikes for details.

Laura’s comment: I must say that the first 2 days traveling on the motorcycle were very difficult, especially for our bottoms 😅. But now heading north, the trip changed a bit and the landscapes are very different to the south of the country, very beautiful and full of nature. Without doubt very memorable 😄.

First 110km in the bag

We left HCM before lunchtime to ride westwards. Our first destination on our Vietnam trip was Cai Be and its floating market. The bike worked well and after getting out of (crazy) HCM traffic rolled nicely with 60-70km/h towards our destination right in the Mekong delta – a small village right opposite of Cai Be.

It was nice to leave the heavy traffic of HCM behind us and stop for lunch – Pho soup with beef served by a lovely old lady. Slowly we got into greener surroundings as we approached the Mekong delta. Less than a year ago i saw this great river first time in the golden triangle (Golden Triangle: How opium shaped world history). So this is where it ends.

We stayed at Mekong Rustic Cai Be, a small yet fine ressort located on Tan Phong island. To get there, we took a ferry and meandered through the lush greenery on small roads. Nice! The food was tasty be it that i passed on seafood as usual. We didn’t spent much time exploring the village bar a surprise Buddhist prayer ceremony. Time to sleep!

A visit to Cai Be floating market

We got up really early next morning and hit the road about 5.30am. I had read that much of the market action on the rivers happens really early and we wanted to catch sunrise on the Mekong.

So off to the ferry to get to Cai Be village. Sadly, and in line with several reports i read, there isn’t much left of the floating market. Much happens now off the water (owing to improved infrastructure) and concentrates in larger markets such as Can Tho. So better head there than Cai Be.

Still, it was nice to see how the river came to live with all sorts of boats in action and the sunrise was spectacular. Likewise, sad to see how dirty the river is in many places (though the Mekong is by no means the worst polluter out there).

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Back Eastwards towards Vung Tau

We had an ambitious plan today – more than 200km back east to the seaside town of Vung Tau. According to google, we would ride one part of 100km and then take a ferry all the way to Vung Tau.

As we arrived at the shores of the Soai Rap river, more or less immediately a ferry arrived. However, it would only cross the river rather than taking us on the sea to Vung Tao. So much for trusting google 🤫

So a change in plans was required and we redirected straight towards our next big way point of Dalat. For today, that meant another 80km to a city some 30km outside of HCM – Bien Hoa.

Initially the ride was lovely as we got off the boat. Villages, quiet roads etc. We had to pass through the outskirts of HCM though and with it yet again crazy traffic 😐. But not for long and late afternoon we reached Bien Hoa to get some rest after a c200km day on the bike.

Bien Hoa doesn’t have much to offer for my taste. Loads of traffic, a busy market and it smells pretty awful in many places. One night is surely enough here…

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Vietnam 🇻🇳: Three days in Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon)

After a hectic Xmas break, it was time to pack the bags once more and jet off to Vietnam. Laura was already waiting in Asia after a seemingly endless journey from Colombia and, for a few days, Daniel came over from Bangkok to join us too. Side note, as of the time of writing i am still jet lagged! 😴

Happy New Year from Ho Chi Minh

After catching up ourselves not having met since July in St. Petersburg (Back in St. Petersburg), we met with a Vietnamese business partner of Daniel and went for food and beers in Pham Van Hai – a nice district with trees alongside a canal. The beer drinking culture is pretty strong here and ordering a whole crate of beer is completely normal. Cheers! 🍻🍻🍻

In the evening we visited my friend Jan. In theory his apartment was only 10mins away by car yet the traffic was horrendous. Car not an option! So all three of us got on separate motorbikes (you can hire them with ride sharing app Grab). What a crazy journey! Got to hear that a metro project for HCM is underway – dearly needed!

In the end we arrived in time for new years. Last i had met jan was last year in Bangkok for NYE (Hello Thailand & Koh Phangan: Muay Thai training begins) and by now his wife had given birth to their daughter. Fun evening with a bunch of expats. Happy new year everyone!

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The traffic back was much better and we hit the bars and clubs nearby our hotel in the Pham Ngu Lao area. One notable trend were the laughing gas balloons that many people consume here (read here) similar to what i saw in Amsterdam and Suriname. We also tried and it gives you a short rush (like 30sec). Trendy stuff!

War Remnants museum: Cruel history on New years day

We enjoyed a slow start into 2019 after the late night and hit a nearby food market to get something into our bellies. I like these markets with lots of fresh food and tasty juices and smoothies. Daniel joined us too for a coffee.

First up, we decided to get some massages nearby the hotel to relax. They are quite economic here and USD5 gets you 30min foot massage. Happy endings are extra 😉

Next stop was the war Remnants museum, which is probably the no1 place to see in HCM. It shows the Vietnamese side of the US – Vietnamese war that finished with the capture of then capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, by the communists led my Ho Chi Minh who renamed the city after himself.

For sure it is meant to be a form of propaganda yet one wonders after the visit how any american can be regarded a hero for Vietnam war efforts. To me it is just a senseless show down of the cold war and crime against the people in Vietnam. I hope that efforts of the Vietnamese to get war reparations, especially for agent orange, will be successful. At last, they have been for US army personnel.

Read more about the Vietnam war here. 

Exploring Saigon a bit more

There are only so many things you can do in Saigon. Museums are good, but there are a few more highlights of such as the magnificent post office in Colonial style, a few churches (Christianity is 2nd religion here after Buddhism), the waterfront along Saigon river with its many boats, an impressive Hindu pagoda and the night markets. The latter are definitely a tourist thing, but are vibrant with tasty food choices.

Our last evening kicked off with yet another dinner. This time with the boss and the sales department of Daniel’s partner here. They took us to a large Vietnamese restaurant with no tourists in sight. We sampled lots of local dishes (i just don’t get why snails are that popular!?) and, of course, more Saigon beer. Afterwards  .. well, an eventful night near the hotel 😈👿.

Cu Chi Tunnels: Entering Viet Cong zone

From HCM you have two main tours outside the city. The Mekong delta (we plan to do on 🛵) and the Viet Cong tunnels located some 60km outside the center. If you are early, you can book a bus half-day trip for as little as EUR8.

On the way to the tunnels we stopped at a factory for kind of mosaic paintings done by disabled people – many of which suffer in the aftermath of agent orange.

The Viet Cong were the guerilla force based in colonial south Vietnam yet part of the communist forces of the north. They digged out 250km of tunnels running from Saigon to Cambodia. This network provided for protection (especially once chemical deterrents like agent orange came into the game) and camouflage – the enemy that can’t be found.

Quite impressive to see though pretty overrun with tourists as one of the key attractions of the historical Vietnam.