Day 15-17: Cycling the Mekong Delta

  1. Fantastic! I don’t have any pictures, because we were mostly on bikes. We flew from Hoi An to Saigon, and then took all local busses to My Tho. So fun to travel like and with the locals! First bus was to the second bus which took is to the bus station. At the bus station, we quickly bought tickets to My Tho, and had a cluster of people making sure we got on the proper bus. It was cozy; I am tall and fat here in Vietnam, so my legs were a bit squished during the ride, by it was less than 2 hours and the scenery was nice.

    We arrived in My Tho, and another group of men waved us to the shade of a nearby bus and peeked at the hotel details on Puja’s phone. And then determined that we each needed a scooter and driver, due to our backpacks.

    Off we went to the hotel, but it wasn’t the right one! The kind hotel owner, knowing that we had already booked, called back our drivers, gave them directions, and sent us on our way. So nice!

    The hotel (save for the German chain smoker in the hallway) was modest but fine.

    We walked around, taking in the sights, chatted with some local folks, saw that kind hotel owner (who gave us a great tip for dinner), and then packed up and went to bed.

    Our driver, Loc, met us the next morning. Could not have had a better experience; kind, friendly, knowledgeable, good rider, good sense of humor.

    We drove to our starting spot, and dispensed with the touristy stuff first: brief cruise, lunch, coconut candy workshop. Nice, but we wanted to ride, so we did!

    Loc has made it his mission to find the backstreets of the Mekong Delta, or as he called them “small roads”. And he delivered; we rode 5.4 mikes on cement, dirt, gravel, stopping for water breaks along the way, because it was HOT!

    When Puja posts her pictures you’ll get a vivid sense of what we experienced. The Mekong is gigantic (it splits into about 8 major branches) and is the freaking fertile crescent of the country. We crossed rivers, streams, creeks, rivulets, channels, springs: water, everywhere, everywhere the mighty Mekong.

    I’m not exaggerating. Growing things included:

    Watermelon
    Jack fruit
    Durian
    Rice
    Milk apple
    Pomelo
    Coconut
    Banana
    Mango
    Rambutan
    Logan (maybe longan?)
    Chilies
    Beans
    Onion
    Tarrow
    Jicama

    And we ate most of those, too. Yes to the Jack fruit, no to the Durian.

    But there’s more! We saw bikes, scooters, motorbikes, 9 wedding parties, pigs, boats, junks, irrigation of all sorts, flowers, hat snake, red snapper, frogs, bees, honey (tasted right from the honey comb), and hundreds of hugely enthusiastic kids with wide smiles, all hollering “Hello, hello!”, as we passed by.

    The adults grinned and waved, and we pedaled on.

    And THAT was just the first 5.4 miles.

    We hopped on a small skiff to the next island and did it again – shorter this time, 2.4 miles. Another boat with a clever motor (car motor, motorbike motor, lawnmower motor, you name it, we saw I strapped to a boat somehow).

    Final leg was a 7 miler to an island reminiscent of a rustic summer camp, but perched mostly over water. Cool shower, mosquito net, sleeping pad. But also delish dinner and cold beer.

    My watch ran out of gas for the next day, and when I say it was more of the same I mean that in the best way.

    We crossed big bridges, small bridges, cement bridges, wooden bridges, monkey bridges. Some were steep, some had guardrails (most didn’t).

    We stopped at a small place for fresh fish and a snooze in the hammock to let some of the hot afternoon pass.

    Besides more fruit, vegetable, rice, and more branches of the Mekong, we saw:

    A family of 4 on a scooter
    Water buffalo
    Fish farms in the river
    Dogs galore
    Even more roosters than dogs
    Chicken
    Salmon
    Frog
    Snapper
    Satellite dish
    Rice wine
    Fishing nets
    A scooter carrying a tea set for 50
    Kids going to school
    Pigs
    A Khmer pagoda
    A Vietnamese soap opera

    To mention a few.

    At the pagoda, Loc gave us a quick history lesson, and then he and I rode over the bridge and into Can Tho, while Puja documented.

    It was fun cycling in traffic in that unstructured way, and we arrived at our hotel at 5pm after 46km plus of riding.

    Loc escorted us to dinner and we walked home along the river, enjoying the lights, set up in advance of the lunar new year.

    We were up at 5am for a short van ride, and then we boarded a tiny boat and cruised to the very local floating market. Watermelon, jackfruit, fish, a women selling hot noodle soup from her boat and more. Gorgeous.

    We pulled over, climbed out, and clambered up a platform overlooking the river where we had hot coffee and a jasmine tea chaser.

    Back to the boat for a trip to see the other floating market, which didn’t impress in the same way – it was more like the Costco supplier floating market.

    But then we took a 45 minute boat tour of some of the small channels to our next cycling spot. It could have been 100 years ago for much of the ride, with little visible sign of modernity.

    Back on the bikes for another crushingly gorgeous island ride, and then a stop for super local and fresh broken rice and cold beer.

    The last bit of the ride was also on small roads. Water everywhere, smiling kids and adults, rice, food – it would be hard to get scurvy here in the Mekong Delta.

    We finished the ride hot, tired and delighted, and Loc took us to our hotel in Saigon.

    Next up: Phu Quoc!

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