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AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures
Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 Day 5: My Tho To Tra Vinh - The Rural Mekong Delta
Day 5: Saturday, 14th July 2018 - Mỹ Tho to Trà Vinh
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:
Mỹ Tho (Hotel Tấn Lộc 2)>Vĩnh Tràng Pagoda>Rạch Miễu Bridge>Mỏ Cày>Long Đức>Trà Vinh (Hotel Gia Hoa).
Distance: 68.30 km. | Level: Medium
Time : 7:15am to 5:20pm
Time Taken : 10 hrs 5 mins. (including breakfast, morning tea, lunch, tea, visits to a temple & parks, ferry crossing, regrouping, rest, relaxing and many photo opps).
This is page 5 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 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 were 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. The ferry fare for the crossing of the Cổ Chiên River (Sông Cổ Chiên) at the Bến phà Vàm Đồn Ferry Dock was 3,000 dongs per passenger with an additional charge of 2,000 dongs per bicycle; there was no need to fold or bag our bicycles.
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 My Tho (Mỹ Tho), morning to noon temperature averaged around 31°C to 30°C with overcast skies. At Tra Vinh (Trà Vinh) afternoon temperatures averaged around 32°C and night's 25°C. The overcast skies and a couple of short spell of showers did make the day much cooler. Wind speed was 27kph with gusts up to 38kph.
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
- Vinh Trang Park (Công viên Vĩnh Trang) (GPS: 10.36166, 106.37327) with its giant Buddhist statues in My Tho.
- the Phố ẩm thực (Food Street) along Tran Phu Road (Đường Trần Phú) with its many restaurants in Tra Vinh.
1, Breakfast: Phở and Cà phê sữa đá at Vĩnh Tiến coffee-shop (GPS: 10.36197, 106.37362) next to Vinh Trang Pagoda.
3. Dinner: Rice with seafood at Bê Thui 404 Restaurant (GPS: 9.93591, 106.33297) along Tran Phu Street in Tra Vinh.
4. Supper: Avacado & ciku Sinh tố and Bánh mi at road side stall (GPS: 9.93494, 106.33463) along Tran Phu Street in Tra Vinh.
At Tra Vinh we stayed at Hotel Gia Hoa (GPS: 9.93309, 106.33536), three 2-pax room at 380K dongs per room per night:
Address: 75, Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Phường 7, Trà Vinh, Vietnam.
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 we started our Vietnam cycling adventure with a ride from Ho Chin Minh to My Tho and entered the fringe of the Mekong Delta. Today we go deeper into the delta and got to know the rural life there. Literally we got ourselves deep into the muddy tracks and bones rattled by the jaw-shaking gravel roads! Our bikes got so rattly that some parts did come loose; and so muddy that we had to give them a "special" wash-down!
Distance: 68.30 km. | Level: Medium
The route goes mainly along quiet rural roads with two major bridge crossings (one over the tall Rạch Miễu Bridge) and many smaller bridges. About a third of the journey were on rough gravel roads and muddy tracks before a ferry crossing across the Cổ Chiên River just before entering Tra Vinh. How did we fare along those rough and wet roads, let's see .....
7:15am - Today we leave My Tho and will go deeper into the Mekong Delta, heading for Tra Vinh. But first a short loop back into another part of town to visit a renown temple, the Vinh Trang Pagoda. On empty stomachs, hoping to find good food along the way, we headed out.
We are at the part of the delta where we will be crossing more bridges spanning over canals, streams and river. For a start, our journey to and fro the temple will take us over two bridges (the Cầu Quay & Cầu Nguyễn Trãi bridges) across the Bảo Định Canal ... the name sounds familiar? Yes, it's the same canal where we lunch-lazed yesterday at Tân An; except now nearer its discharge into the Mekong it is much wider and need taller bridges to span over ... puff... puff... PUFF!
Soon we were at the temple, but then it was not opened yet. Fortunately the adjacent Vinh Trang Park was opened for us to while away the time. This park has interesting giant statues, this one is of a standing Buddha.....
... and this on is of Budai (Bố Đại), the Laughing Buddha. Behind it is a large Sleeping or Reclining Buddha.
8:00am - The Vinh Trang Pagoda opens, but no bicycles are allowed in, not even just within the entrance gate. We had to park just outside, and Sin volunteered to be a "Jaga Bicycle", i.e. bicycle guard... free of charge 😂.
Although called a pagoda, we did not see any; perhaps it's a translation error. Nevertheless, the temple is one of intrinsic design with its front designed in a style that mixes European and Asian architecture. It is one of the best-known temples in the region. The temple stands on a two hectares lot filled with fruit trees, on the banks of the Bảo Định Canal.
The temple proper was not opened yet to the public, we just explored the grounds and admired the beautiful gate archways. These had multi-tiered roofs, and elaborate wall panel carvings made from broken porcelain shards.
The main triple gate was built in 1933 by craftsmen recruited from the imperial capital in Huế, central Vietnam. The central gate is made from steel, while the two side gates are made from concrete and styled akin to a historical fortress. The triple gate has an upper level with another large gate on top. On the right is the statue of Thích Chánh Hậu and on the left is a statue of Thích Minh Đàn. Both sculptures were made of statue and were made by Nguyễn Phi Hoanh.
Viewed from the outside, were beautiful arches on detailed columns, some of which we lined with pastel coloured tiles.
It's time to remember our tummies! Breakfast was one sitting down on those cute low chairs at the low tables at the nearby Vĩnh Tiến coffee-shop. We had Phở with pork ribs (and for me, with lots of coagulated pig's blood). The vendor, a cute smiling lady, was quite enamored by me; there I was pointing at the soup she was scooping up and sweetly saying, "More blood... more blood!". See, this AhPek still has his charms!
Following our GPS maps, we headed out of town, riding along Lê Thị Hồng Gấm Road , one that was furiously busy with honking cars and zooming motor-bikes. Half way through, one of us noticed an adjacent parallel road shown on Google Maps. This was the Hoàng Sa Road, a beautiful promenade and very less busy road that runs just next to the Mekong. It's a relatively new road and was not shown on the GPS maps yet. On top of it being a wide, quite and scenic stretch; there was a bonus of a panoramic view of the Rạch Mieu Bridge with a fleet of blue boats below. We just had to stop and .... Snap... snap... SNAP!
Further on, more colourful boats floating on a bed of hyacinths so thick one can hardly see the water. They looked like they were resting on a carpet of green. More stopping and more SNAPS!
Riding at Hoàng Sa Road did have a drawback, the Rạch Mieu Bridge is a rather tall and long bridge and we had ride a long loop back inland to get onto the bridge. Here we are heading to the approach ramp, riding along a quiet lane running next to the bridge. Even here just as the bridge started spanning upwards, it did look very tall!
The tall height of the bridge does afford a good view of the Mekong and the surrounding area. But one can't just stop here, it's too dangerous with fast bikes zooming by, even on the emergency lanes that we were riding on!
Luckily, just after the mid-span peak, there was a small nook safe enough to stop for photos.
Just across the bridge and before the Rach Mieu Bridge Toll Plaza (GPS: 10.31475, 106.34834) were many stall selling titbits. The colourful displays enticed the girls to stopped and buy some, like large round banana crackers, coconut sweets, etc.
Ahead, we crossed another bridge, the tall Cầu Hàm Luông Bridge (GPS: 10.23505, 106.33433) that spans over the Sông Hàm Luông River. It's tall but not as tall as the Rạch Mieu Bridge. It's lower span was just good for taking photos of boats passing by; most were transport lighters empty now after having unloaded there goods. I wondered what they were carrying, perhaps we will find out later.
A boat with fierce looking eyes. Most boats have eyes painted onto their bow so that the boatmen will not get lost and the eyes will mystically guide them home.
11:00am - Just after the bridge, at Mỏ Cày, it started raining but slowly abated to a drizzle. We don our raincoats and pedaled on.
The drizzle got heavier. Well, might as well stop for lunch at a roadside lean-to shop that advertised Com Tam & Phở. It was a good, lucky choice. The lady operator was very friendly and the tempting aroma had us raiding her kitchen to see her cooking some stewed pork with tofu (thịt heo kho). It was for her own consumption but we managed to get her to sell this to go with our rice and noodles.
Another scent attracted Sin; it was the strong odor of durians coming from a nearby stall; so it's durians for lunch also. Vietnamese durians are good but not as good as the Malaysian ones (I don't eat durians, so have to trust the honest opinions of my buddies. See an episode that had me turned off by durians).
Further ahead, we turned away from the main road onto Công Lý Road, a narrow one that runs along the riverside. Sin often like to take us onto these narrower roads which had more to see and at the same time showed us more of the local life too.
We crossed several narrow bridges...
... and onto a long stretch of concrete pathways with rough eroded surfaces that had our bikes rattling and our jaws shaking. Later we did find that some of our bike nuts did come loose from all the rough riding.
Riding through this rural area did take our minds off our jaw-shaking experience. It was a Saturday and many young locals were taking life easy, having drinks while chatting away. We passed by a house with sheds put up, they were getting ready for a wedding celebration and the young folks happily waved at us.
Along here too were several coconut collection centres. These ladies were de-husking the coconut coir fibres from older coconuts, these coirs will later be used as in-fill for car seats and furniture. The "harvested" bald coconuts were put to one side and will later be sent to another centre where their thick flesh will be taken out to produce coconut oil.
The roads here are quite with not much traffic. On and off we see passing cyclists, but modern technology have caught up here, this lady was talking on her mobile phone while pedaling away.
The locals were simply dressed but always ready to offer their warm smiles.
And a dog peacefully snoozed along the cool banks.
2:15pm - We exited onto the Durong 60 main road, but only for a short stretch and turned back left into rural roads. The previous night's rain had flooded a short stretch of road and we deftly pushed our bike on the side shoulder, avoiding the flooded centre.
In front, Sin was sitting on a pile of logs, like a timber tycoon towkay. He had hoped to take a photo of us riding across the flooded road. Sorry, to disappoint you Sin, we were trying to keep our bikes clean.
Our efforts were to keep our bikes clean were to naught, ahead the gravelly concrete road disappeared to be replaced by muddy tracks.
And it got worse, the muddy track became wetter and slippery. Often puddles of water spanned across the full width of the road and we had to come down to humbly push our way across. Pushing was not easy, a couple of us slipped and fell; and our tires got so thick with mud that that it became hard to push!
Huh? Aren't these suppose to be roads as indicated on the maps. That's the interesting about touring; on maps roads are indicated a neat and sterile, but on the ground it's a total different situation! One just have to take the good with the bad, and later look back and laugh at the little mishaps.
We struggled through more than 12 km. of the muddy roads and were glad to reach the Bến phà Vàm Đồn Ferry Dock (GPS: 10.00659, 106.35627).
3:30pm - But then, why are the girls looking so disappointed?
We had boarded the ferry that would take us across the Sông Cổ Chiên River but were told to disembarked as it had broken down.
Down at the engine room, the mechanic looked exasperatedly at the idle engine. We kept our fingers crossed that he would be able to repair it quickly.
In the meantime, back on solid ground, the girls happily shopping at an adjacent shop. Nothing like a bit of shopping to lift a lady's mood.
We guys went inquiring for a toilet to unload our bladders, the locals just pointed to a small, run down shanty across the road. Hah! There was no toilet there, but we got the hint and did our business hiding behind the shanty 😱.
The poor mechanic could not repair the engine fast enough. But help was on the way, within fifteen minutes another ferry was came over and we happily boarded.
But these pigs boarded not to happily; they were on the way to the market. It's bye-bye to the world for them tomorrow.
The roads across the rivers were much better, wide and properly tarred. We rode across puddles of water to wash as much of the mud away from our tires as possible. We also stopped at a petrol station for the ladies to use the rest rooms; it's a wonder that, despite the cool weather, they could hold it in that long.
Into Tra Vinh, traffic was light and many roads at the town centre were lined with tall shady trees.
We passed several shops that offered washing of motorbikes, looks like getting muddy is a daily fact of life here. We popped into one of these and had our bicycles washed too (at 5k dongs each). But they did too good a job as in later days our bikes developed squeaks and creaks!
The hotel we wanted to stay in, the Hotel Gia Hoa 2 (GPS: 9.93625, 106.34117) was full but they helpfully recommended us another branch, the Hotel Gia Hoa slightly further along.
We checked in, rewarded ourselves to a much deserve bath and was soon walking out for dinner at the Phố ẩm thực, the town's food street. This IS the place to eat at Tra Vinh, many restaurants lined both sides of this long street, and one would be spoilt for choices.
We settled for dinner at the Bê Thui 404 Restaurant, having rice with seafood dishes and also these drunken prawn which were soaked in beer before being dipped into a pot of steaming hot soup.
And to close of the day, a treat to Sinh tố. They look colourful don't they; on the left is avacado and on the right is chiku.
(That's "Good Night" in Vietnamese, we will sleep well after this interesting day!)
(For more photos of the day, Click Here)
|Vinh Trang Pagoda (Chùa Vĩnh Tràng) & Vinh Trang Park @ My Tho|
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