How (probably not) to Cycle Vietnam - Day 1: Bien Hoa, CouchSurfing and Ghosts

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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Dong Nai
December 14th 2012
Published: December 14th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Right so judgment day was here, I woke early at 7am, not as early as hoped, but definitely a best effort yet for early rises since arriving inAsia!

Getting out of Ho Chi Minh was fine, I had done intensive studying of the maps before I had left and was quite familiar with the roads. The roads were hectic and manic, there was an abundance of traffic but I had grown to feel comfortable on them. I believe this is mainly due to shops extending onto the pavement forcing you to walk on the road, so if you are on the road I felt a lot safer with a set of wheels.

A great bonus of joining the cycling community is that locals are so perplexed to see a tourist on a bicycle all prior desire to sell you stuff is replaced by an approving nod, grin and a giant hello. Almost all I did get one motorbike driver who drove beside me offering a motorbike, but this is early on in my trip he has little selling power, I joked he should try again when I am tired and cycling up hill but it was lost on him.

Once out of Ho Chi Minh the trip to Bien Hoa was essentially 1 road and then a left turn. I was so determined not to miss this turn that I took it 3 different times on every left turn available before the correct one. For some reason I decided to try not to use GPS on the start of my trip, so I was relying on asking locals to confirm directions. All this taught me a valuable lesson in double checking directions when in doubt, and however tempting a down hill can be, don’t just keep rolling down it because if it is the wrong way you have to back track up it.

Arriving in Bien Hoa successfully at the agreed time I am greeted promptly by my host who approaches on a scooter in full scooter attire (this includes face mask and stockings). She stops briefly says hello, laughs and then instructs me to follow her. Looking around, she is very cautious of other people; her parents are currently away on holiday and so she is slightly worried what people will think of a mysterious white man coming to stay. I say slightly worried, for the most part she seems to find it hilarious, as she quickly ushers me inside.

Inside her house she introduces herself as Thi, she is an aerobics/cheerleading instructor at 3 schools around Bien Hoa. Thi insists I sit down and asks if I am hungry, I am and so before I know it she runs to the kitchen area to start preparing food. She is brilliantly scatty which makes an entertaining cooking show, she starts preparing her first dish, then part way through that she also makes a soup, then decides to fry some chicken and also cook an omlette. By the end of the cooking experience there are 5 dishes on the table and the she sits down, exclaiming “I hope you eat it all, then I will know I am a good cook” luckily it all tastes delicious so I oblige.

Whilst we are sat finishing the last of the dinner, and having the polite first time conversation that you do when you first meet someone, including topics such as; What do you parents do? How many brothers do you have? Are you single? Why are you single? Why do you travel alone? She suddenly jumps up from her seat and runs outside, 10 seconds later she runs back in exclaiming we are very very lucky! From behind her back she brandishes 2 plastic bags which she pours into bowls, it is a sweet milk covered banana. Thi was right, I was lucky, this stuff was delicious and a refreshing break from the casual after lunch interrogation.

In the afternoon Thi has to go to work, so she lets me stay at her house on the condition that I am not allowed to leave, as she will have to lock me in so that neighbors don’t pile around to see me. This is fine with me, I am happy to use the time to get washed, have a nap, write some blog and catch up on facebook.

One of the best things about staying with a local is their knowledge of what and where you should go to eat; no one can show you Vietnamlike the Vietnamese. So when Thi gets back from work she informs me that we must now go to dinner, so I prepare the scooter and she gets on and drives us to the restaurant she has chosen. On the way there, there are 2 things that are keeping her amused, 1st is how funny it must look that she is driving around with a white man on the back of her scooter and 2nd is the phrase “now I kill you” which she likes to say every time we turn down a new street. This is 2nd joke was actually re-assuring, the whole concept of couch surfing is a little bizarre as it boils down to you are staying with someone you found on the internet, it is nice to know that your host thinks it is slightly odd too.

Arriving at the restaurant she quickly whittles off to the waiter what we would like to eat. This was lucky as taking a quick glance at the menu I wouldn’t have had a clue, Bien Hoa is truly a tourist free zone, and beyond com (rice) and pho (noodle soup) my knowledge of what to order is zero. The food tastes delicious, there is a make your own roll activity, where you wrap up some meat and leaves in a noodle mesh, then along with that we had a prawn dish that you eat with rice.

We then meet up with Mua, Thi’s friend who teaches English at one of the schools she works, and go for coffee at this cool little bar with live music, featuring silent night sung in Vietnamese.

On the way back I drive the scooter as Thi feels silly driving me round. Back at Thi’s place she gets out her laptop and plays me a collection of really awful music on youtube and is astounded that I haven’t heard of it. In her defense the people are singing in English, after she sings along to about 3 or 4 songs she asks me to put on some music to sing along to.

In the morning I wake up to discover Thi has gone out and sorted out breakfast, it is baguette, omelets and fried meat, winner! She also makes Caphe Sua (coffee with milk) which is the start of a mild addiction to this drink.

Thi’s “now I kill you” joke has become quite a regular occurrence in conversation, and a lot more versatile than just going down dark streets, it can be used after food too, or when ever you go into any room! She also starts to hint in the day that her house has a ghost, I find out about this later.

For today’s activity Thi says there is a really nice coffee place to go to and then we can look around the town, come back, watch a movie then go out again for dinner. This sounds like a good plan to me, so we make our way to the coffee place. It is really pretty, the gardens that surround it are filled with ponds and Banzi trees, the structure is intricately carved, and we take a seat and drink some coffee.

Unfortunately in a moment of excitement Thi tries to take my camera but forgets to grip instead throwing it across the coffee place sadly breaking it, it was on its last legs anyway and as such a good host she is forgiven. So in the afternoon we go out to buy a replacement camera.

When we arrive back, we get some lunch and watchRio; Thi has a hefty DVD collection of almost every animated film to exist. After the film Thi suddenly runs upstairs, she then runs back down stairs and asks if I would like to see a ghost, I say sure. Whilst I wait I try to think what the ghost might be, I think she is probably referring to the silhouettes of the next door family that kept appearing on the adjoining wall.

Approximately 20 minutes after being told I could see a ghost Thi appears in front of me dressed at a Native American, exclaiming I am a Ghost! Asking me if I like her ghost outfit, I wasn’t sure whether or not to shatter her illusion of what she was dressed as, but I felt it was a very credible Indian outfit so I should let her know the correct English word. She doesn’t want to accept the correct word, so I just agree that it is a very good ghost outfit. She had been collecting it over sometime, and explained at which stage in her life she got each feather earring, headdress and mask.

Staying with Thi was a brilliant experience; she was funny and friendly and really allowed me to see more ofVietnamthan I would have had I not taken part in the CouchSurfing. I tried to find a couch surf for my next destination but wasn’t so lucky!

As I couldn’t find a place to stay for my next night I had to get to a place where I knew there would be hotels, so I take an early night to allow myself plenty of time to cycle to Vung Tau (88km)


20th December 2012

your travels
Your travels and blog are great Iain. You are having a fantastic time by the sound of it and meeting and seeing some great people and places. I loved Cambodia and Vietnam when I was there. The night bus with beds is so amusing isn't it, as is the sleeper train. x Margaret
25th January 2013

Hi Margaret
Thanks for the comment, yeah it is a fun trip! Haha yeah the night bus is funny, I like the attempt at putting in the beds but maybe if they were an extra foot longer, heading out of Vietnam on sunday so got a 24 hour sleeper bus trip! How long ago did you visit, it seems pretty popular with the Aussies!

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