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Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 Day 4: Ho Chi Minh To My Tho - Into The Mekong Delta
Day 4: Friday, 13th July 2018 - Ho Chin Minh To Mỹ Tho
This is part of our cycling tour from Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ) in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh & the Mekong Delta (Vietnamese: Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long, "Nine Dragon River Delta") in Vietnam:
Distance: 75.14 km. | Level: Medium
Time : 6:15am to 5:15pm
Time Taken : 11 hrs. (including breakfast, morning tea, lunch, tea, visits to a temple, parks, rest, relaxing and many photo opps).
This is page 4 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
Vietnam's traffic is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. Same thing applies when crossing the road, be careful and take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from! Also do watch our for motor-cyclists who ride contra-traffic.
2. Route & Traffic Conditions
Generally the roads were fairly flat, climbs were mainly up and down bridges.
At Ho Chin Minh and the major towns traffic is super-heavy with many motor-cycles. For the uninitiated, crossing junctions can be a nightmare with vehicles coming in from all sides. Rule of thumb is: JUST GO WITH THE FLOW! Move along with the traffic at an easy pace, giving way to other traffic when need be, AND avoid making any sudden swerving. At the rural areas traffic is very much lighter.
The Mekong Delta being a large delta has many bridges and ferries crossing the Mekong River and it's distributaries. Most are low bridges with one being a tall one; ferry fares are relatively cheap, ranging from 1,300 to 12,000 dongs (MYR 0-25 to 1-75) depending on distance of ride.
Unless he or she is very familiar with the locals routes, the tour leader should carry a GPS units. It will also be good if another member of the team carry another GPS unit should the leader's one go faulty. Sin together with Robert brought these along and had pre-loaded the Vietnam Maps together with GPS coordinates of our destinations, and tracks between our destinations.
Alternatively, download the MAPS.ME app together with the relevant country maps. This app can be used offline.
We also used Google Maps in Walking Mode for navigation but there is a lag when starting off, so one would have to cycle a bit to get the orientation right. We used this for cycling in and around Phnom Penh and also as a alternative to our GPS units in Vietnam, as Google Maps have more up-to-date roads. Do note that what are shown as roads on the map may turn out to be rough gravel roads or wet, muddy tracks.
At Ho Chin Minh, morning to noon temperatures ranged from 26°C to 30°C with slighlty overcast skies. At Mỹ Tho, afternoon temperatures averaged around 30°C and night's 26°C with fairly overcast skies.
A useful weather forecast sites is AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.
5. Places of Interest
- Long An Matyrs' Cemetery (Nghĩa Trang Liệt Sĩ Tỉnh Long An) (GPS: 10.56287, 106.41836) at Tân An (Vietnamese: Tân An).
1, Morning Tea: Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich, Bánh mì), Vietnamese iced coffee (Cà Phê Sữa đá) and mixed rice at coffee-shop (GPS: 10.71051, 106.59814) at Tân Kiên. Note: Hot white coffee is called cà phê sữa nóng, hot black coffee (cà phê nóng), iced black coffee (cà phê đen đá).
3. Lunch: Seafood Pho (Bún riêu cá) at Ốc Hậu 2 canal-side shop (GPS: 10.52467, 106.40397) at Tân An.
5. Dinner: Assorted Vietnamese Street Food at the My Tho Night Market (GPS: 10.35251, 106.3627) near our hotel .
At My Tho (Vietnamese: Mỹ Tho), we stayed at Hotel Tấn Lộc 2 (GPS: 10.353, 106.36253), two 3-pax room at 350K dongs per room per night:
Address: Phường 1, Thành phố Mỹ Tho, Tiền Giang, Vietnam.
Phone; +84 273 3898 678
8. Communicating with Each Other
When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost from the rest.
We were offered 4G prepaid sim cards for USD5/= each at the Cambodia-Vietnam immigration crossing at Bavet/Moc Bai; but we declined as we were uncertain of the reliability of the walk-by vendor. At Ho Chi Minh, they are many shops selling 3G & 4G sim cards; but to ensure reliability we got our hotel operator to buy 3G Vietnamobile sim cards for us, there was no need to set up the phone to operate this sim card, it was automatic. The sim card cost 60k dongs (about USD2-60, MYR 10-70) for a validity of two weeks with 2 Gigs of data per day.
9. Communicating with Locals
The official language in Vietnam it is Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt). Their words are not pronounced the way they are written, click on the Vietnamese words within these blogs for their correct vocal pronunciations.
Most locals do not speak English. Hotels receptionist do speak some rudimentary English. The staff at Tourists information counters do speak pretty good English. Google Translate is a good app to use for basic conversation with the locals, it also have an audio feature to play the respective words/phrases. In this blog, click on the Vietnamese words for their pronunciations.
In Vietnam, the currency used is the Dong (VND, Vietnamese: đồng). At tourist spots in the larger cities, there is a notoriety of tourists being fleeced, so do be careful. We were fortunate that our tour took us to the smaller towns where the locals were warm, helpful and honest. We were fleeced only once while in Ho Chi Minh (read about that later).
11. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools. As many of the roads we muddy or dusty tracks, lubricant oil will come in handy; we also brought along a couple of spare tires.
Yesterday was a non-cycling day as we took a bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chin Minh. We had an interesting walk-around the busy and glitzy Backpackers Street (Phạm Ngũ Lão)t area, including the not-so-busy side lanes and back alleys. Today we head for quieter areas as we ride out from the city to the fringe of the Mekong Delta.
Cycling Route: Saigon 237 Hotel (Hồ Chí Minh)>Tân Kiên>Bến Lức>Tân An>Chợ Gạo>Hotel Tấn Lộc 2 (Mỹ Tho).
Distance: 75.14 km. | Level: Medium
The route goes exit Ho Chi Minh on busy main roads and then partly onto local roads that run parallel to the Đường Võ Văn Kiệt Highway before cutting into quieter rural roads. At Bến Lức, just before the bridge over the Sông Vàm Cỏ Đông river it cuts back onto the main road leading to Mỹ Tho.
Our first exposure to cycling in Vietnam!
We started of early at 6:15am, hoping to avoid the busy traffic that Ho Chi Minh is notorious for. Even at this hour, traffic had stared building up near the city centre; I can imagine how busy it would be later on. At the junctions, it was chaotic with traffic flowing from all directions simultaneously. But there is some order in this chaos - just go with the flow, ride slowly and avoid any sudden swerving; the traffic will move around you just as you move around them.
As we approached the outskirts, traffic thinned out and we began to enjoy our ride especially along the stretches with tall, beautiful trees.
Out from the city core, we rode along the roads running parallel to the highway hoping that they would have less traffic. But we were wrong, traffic was heavy too, fortunately it was one-way and thus more orderly At junctions, often there were street vendors selling vegetables and the likes, such is the easy going nature of the place.
Mr. Sun had come out shining brightly, yet the skies were partly overcast with clouds forming beautiful layered patterns.
7:15am - To beat the traffic, we had skipped breakfast and now our tummies were calling out "đói bụng... đói bụng!" Meaning "Hungry, hungry!" Getting the message, we turned off to local roads and stopped at a relatively crowded coffee-shop at Tân Kiên.
The locals were taking it easy, slowly enjoying their coffee sitting on low chairs or low easy chairs around low tables. We followed suite and eased our way into a comfortable corner. We had mixed rice, Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette) and our first of many rounds of Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Cà Phê Sữa đá). The coffee was very good, aromatic with strong earthy flavours.
One should not miss Banh Mi when in Vietnam, they are the BEST! The baguettes had thin, crispy crusts and were filled with salad greens, cuts of roast pork and slices of fish cake that were similar to luncheon meat.
The vendor had ingeniously wrapped her Banh Mi with advertising posters, a side income for her.
After this point, we decided to get away from the main roads and went onto the rural roads. They were much quieter and had more interesting things to see such as these two local lady farmers slowly paddling with their heavy stuff (including their long hoes) on their bike carriers and wearing Asian conical hats. They gave us friendly smiles as we rode pass. Yes, this route is getting more fascinating!
Farmers tending to their paddy fields, also wearing conical hats which give them a very local identity .... we must get these hats!
9:00am - Another stop, our ride is a slow and easy one. This stop is at one of the many hammock rest shops that dot the countryside; this one at Thanh Hiệp sells coconut water. The coconut water were served in large mugs with a spout, ignoramus us started drinking straight from the mugs... until the vendor brought out glasses of ice a little later on, heh! heh!
Here, we were getting into the laid-back mood of the place, flopping ourselves into the many hammocks... slowly sipping the coconut water and dozing off. It was so comfortable, cooling and away from the hot sun. But after half an hour we had to reluctantly pull ourselves away from this sojourn; we still have a long way to go.
Another hammock rest shop. Shall we stop... it's so tempting, looking very cozy with its roof planted all green ...
Fighting the temptation, we continued on and were back on the main road, soon cycling up a bridge that spanned over the Sông Vàm Cỏ Đông river. Most of the route is flat, and the only climbs we had were up and down bridges 😄.
As we rode by a temple, Anne shouted "turn back, turn back, let's have a look!" This is the Chùa Phước Bảo Temple, like many of the Buddhist temples in Vietnam it has a multi tiered roof filled with dragons, a mini pagoda sits on top of the main roof. At the entrance compound, a tall golden statue of Buddha stands to greet visitors as they enter, at his feet was a Laughing Buddha. On each of his two sides were smaller pavilions, each with a statue of some local saint.
We are at the Mekong Delta, a place filled with many sea/river food; and many carts at the roadside were selling fresh and even live seafood such as crabs, large snails, and even huge clams like the above.
We did not buy any of the seafood but did make a stop to get a face-mask for Sin, it does get dusty here and the face-mask would come in useful. The comic that he is wore the mask covering his eyes.... "Help! I can't see!"
Little children waving at us as we rode pass, they are always happy to see foreigners riding by.
11:00am - We are into the Tân An District and made an unscheduled stop at the Long An Matyrs' Cemetery. It's a small park planted with greenery and even fruit trees. There is a long reflecting pool along the centre with many graves of fallen heroes of the Vietnam War on both sides of a central corridor. At the far end is a tall monolith, a memorial to the the fallen soldiers.
Just across the road from this cemetery is the Long An Monument Park. It's filled with statues of dragons beside a long water lily pond.
There are no graves here, but it is also a memorial to the war with large statue of soldiers and another one of a mother with a fallen soldier at her feet.
Noon time at Tân An Town, and it's food hunting time. Surprisingly, in the town most of the foodie shops were closed (was it a public holiday?). On the outskirts of town was the Lẩu dê Ngoại Ô restaurant, that sells beef dishes and specializes in hot pot beef. Unfortunately, some of us does not take beef. The operator was most helpful and advised us to go to Phan Tôn road, there should be more eateries there at the Phường 4 area.
No food here, but we did get one wish fulfilled.... we got our Asian conical hats. They were quite cheap at 30k dongs each. Here we are looking more localized wearing the hats. In fact, wearing these hats did warm us up to the locals, many of them would cheerfully laughed and wave us along.
Looking cute, riding with our conical hats along Phan Tôn road, it's a quiet local road... too quiet in fact, there were hardly any shops here! Hey! Was the beef store operator pulling a fast one on us?
1:00pm - At the far end this road meets Nguyễn Cửu Vân Road; here there were many restaurants as the road runs parallel to the Bảo Định Canal. This canal runs from the Vàm Cỏ Tay river at Tân An to the Tiền River at Mỹ Tho. It is centuries old - the waterway first began to be manually improved during the reign of Nguyễn Phúc Chu (1675–1725). The canal was substantially deepened and extended in the reign of Gia Long, with 9,000 workers being mobilized to connect the two rivers around 1819.
Hungry, we went to the nearest, the Ốc Hậu 2. This place is great, they had dining tables under rustic attap-roofed sheds overlooking the scenic canal, and there were cozy hammocks too. It's going to be another long, cozy stop for us, Haha!
They did not have much on their menu, the lady boss mumbled something in explanation (perhaps it really was a holiday!). She did fry up very delicious plates of seafood noodles which more than satisfied our hungry tummies.
The locality is an agricultural area, we passed by many bright greenpaddy fields and stopped by one for photos. They so reminded us of the Sekinchan padi fields back home.
Also we rode pass many coconut collecting centres along the canal. The collected coconuts are shipped by boats to factories which harvested the coconut coir for export. The coir is used for infilling furniture and car seats.
This area must also be famous for their pineapples, many roadside stalls were selling them. And we could also see many trucks loaded with pineapples too. We got some, and they were really sweet.
Oh-oh .... At đường 828 Road, a bridge over the Bảo Định Canal was under repair. Should we attempt carrying our bikes across, walking lithely like how some local pedestrians did? Ok, better not risk it, let's make a detour!
Further down Google Maps showed some roads.... Hah! Some road that turned out to be, it was just a narrow concrete bridge!
It's a lucky detour; one that took us not on roads as shown on the maps, but onto narrow pathways just wide enough for a cyclist. This detour took us across small villages, farmlands and orchards, which made our ride through this area all the more captivating.
We passed by these wide green acres; the ladies seems to be weeding the grass. But these were not grass, I think they are harvesting some salad greens used for local cuisine.
After half and hour of "beating around the bush", our little adventure in the farmlands ended and we exited out back to a wider stretch of đường 828. Suddenly, in front we saw many locals picking up fruits next to a trailer. On closer look, they were salvaging "rotten" avocados, which were not really all that rotten, just bad at certain corners. Avocados are expensive, so it's understandable that they were trying to pick up as many as possible.
Nearer to Mỹ Tho, we decided to use a short cut.... Or dear! It led us through a long stretch of dusty, muddy roads which were under repair! Sin's face mask now came in handy. Well at least this experience along muddy tracks would prepare us for more that will come in later days.
At the outskirts of the town, we stopped for eats.... again! It's our fourth for today... what can I say, we just like to eat.
This time it's Bún Bò Huế, a specialty that originated from Huế in Central Vietnam. This one is slightly spicy and comes with pig trotters.
The accompanying salad was unique being made from slices of banana stems.
Reaching Mỹ Tho, we searched for The World Hotel, found it, but it did not turn out to be as good as their photos shown on the net. We ended up at our second alternative, Hotel Tấn Lộc 2. It's conveniently close to the My Tho Night Market where we later had our dinner. The food was okay only, but there are nice views of the Mekong from there.
(That's "It's been a good cycling day" in Vietnamese)
(For more photos of the day, Click Here)
Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 Day 3 : From Phnom Penh To Ho Chin Minh - Goodbye Cambodia, Hello Vietnam
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