Published: April 18th 2009April 18th 2009
Knackered and Traumatised
We arrive in Ben Tre..Much the worse for wear!
One of the longest rides to date...Plans were to stop at Ho Coc about 230 kms from Ca Na but after a breathtaking cross country ride east to the coast and then some of the best coastal scenery to date as we headed south to get to Ho Coc we were somewhat underwhelmed with the acommodation options...There was an "eco Resort" that looked like a UK garden centre and a tired looking resort geared totally to Vietnamese tourists that was like a collection of school bicycle sheds full of hundreds of deckchairs set at right angles to the beach...Strange!... Consequently we pressed on to Vung Tao another 70 odd kms further on and directly south of Ho Chi Minh City where we stayed in a central hotel called Petro House..Vung Tao is busy, full of expats and the hub of Vietnams sex industry but having said that we found good food and had a really pleasant evening.
Left early for another ride that looked pretty gruelling even on paper...North from Vung Tao, skirting HCMC to pick up Highway 1 for north circle around the city and then out to Ben Tre in the Mekong delta..Another good 190 kms!
before about how daunting the highways can be but the route from Vung Tao north through Ba Ria and up to Bien Hoa was the first time we had actually felt scared on the road in Vietnam...It was two lanes for most of the way which just basically gives the independent tour buses and lorries free rein to race all the way..Overtaking each other on the left and the right and even three abreast..Cutting in front of each other and then pulling in hard to pick up fares, we even saw two "sprinter" buses racing for a fare and then pull up alongside each other on the main highway to argue about the last fare one had screamed into the curb for!!!! NIGHTMARE!! this in addition to the strangest phenomenon...Even though there are millions of bikes, Everywhere, they are all completely invisible!!!
As if this wasnt enough we again suffered the curse of dodgy petrol when the bike died 100 yards after a refill. Eventually got it wheezily started by fiddling with the carb and fuel line and hobbled on to the Circular route around HCMC. This was the busiest road I think I have ever seen and though slower
running than the road up from Vung Tao was still absolutely barmy...4 lanes would regularly just turn into 2 with corrugated iron sheeting about 20 feet tall on both sides pressed right up to the carriageway..handlebars were literally dragging along the corrugated sheets on one side and lorry panels on the other as you inched your way forward only to get a clear patch and then have to swerve to avoid women sat in the road selling baguettes/sunglasses/fish/chickens through all the sand and smog.
There was no respite after passing through the HCMC environs...The road stayed manically busy all the way to My Tho, the first major town in the Mekong where, even with the new atlas, we managed to get totally lost!!!
Finally found the road out to the new bridge linking My Tho to the island of Ben Tre and after nursing a very sad bike, which seemed to have finally had enough of shitty petrol and filters choked full of sand, for the last 25 kms across the island to Ben Tre town, we booked into the Huong Vuong hotel feeling like we had been at war!!
This ride had really been too much!!!
We were both
The restaurant wasnt the only thing floating..So were our kidneys!
exhausted, over emotional and, I hate to say, depressed..The bike really was running like a dog and apart from the fact we still had a long way to go we had both been looking forward to riding the back roads of Ben Tre which is accepted as being the most beautiful part of the Mekong Delta..If we couldnt get the bike sorted it wasnt going to happen!!
The hotel luckily had great food and draught beer for about 60pence a litre so after giving ourselves a good talking to we decided to leave the worries about the bike until the morning and do what we usually do in times of stress and get soused! Tomorrow is another day!
Another day indeed, and, after worrying so much the day before neither of us could really believe it when the bike started on the first kick and ran like a dream!! According to the notes we had again read through, the Minsk carburettor sometimes needs resetting after a ride north to south because of the major difference in humidity...I had given it another tweak on arrival the evening before, more out of desperation than anything else, and touch wood, now that the worst of the petrol had been used up things seemed hunky dory.. Plan from this point on is to carry our own supply of good quality oil rather than relying on roadside stations and use petrol from only the major suppliers......lets hope that solves the problems..
I took the bike around the town to make sure it wasnt a flash in the pan and then feeling like a whole weight was off we left all the gear stowed at the hotel room and crossed the river to ride the south island of Ben Tre...
Roads quickly gave way to twisting concrete paths only 2 to 3 feet wide dotted with crazily arched bridges over the hundreds of irrigation canals that criss cross the waterlogged land between the large tributaries of the mighty Mekong river. Occasionally the concrete disappears and leaves nothing but rocks and red sand. This was everything we had hoped it would be! You'd ride for a period of time seeing nothing but lush towering vegetation and dark water either side of the track only to come bursting out into daylight in the middle of a handful of dwellings, chickens scattering and dogs barking and people waving, always waving! Then before you really knew what you were seeing, again you'd get swallowed up in the darkness of the trees..
After one of the best rides, and certainly the most different, we had yet experienced we found our way back to the rickety metal bridge over to Ben Tre town..We ate early in the towns floating restaurant after having arranged our transport for the next leg of the journey...Neither of us fancied doing the "tourist" thing and booking any of the boat trips that go to the floating markets and islands but obviously you cant come to the Mekong Delta without experiencing the Mekong herself..We were incredibly lucky in that we managed to speak to the right person and have found a boat to take us, and the bike, all the way to Vinh Long, our next major port of call which would have been about four/five hours by road...we justified the decision by saying that at least that way we wouldnt get lost again....Visions of the boat trip in "Apocalypse Now" already running through my head. This was probably one of the biggest influences on my decades long desire to come to Vietnam so doing something very much like it is a real dream come true...Cant wait!
Tell you about this in my next post....