Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 D6: Tra Vinh To Vinh Long - Of Bricks & Straws

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Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 Day 6: Tra Vinh To Vinh Long - Of Bricks & Straws
Cambodia & Vietnam Tour
Day 6: Sunday, 15th July 2018 - Trà Vinh to Vĩnh Long
This is part of our cycling tour from Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ) in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh & the Mekong Delta (VietnameseĐồng bằng Sông Cửu Long, "Nine Dragon River Delta") in Vietnam:
Distance: 68 km.     |     Level: Medium
Time : 7:50am to 5:25pm
Time Taken : 9 hrs 35 mins. (including several coffee breaks, lunch, tea, visit to a temple, ferry crossing, regrouping, rest, relaxing and many photo opps).

This is page 6 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D5 Tra Vinh             |          Go to Other Days         |       Go to D7 An Binh >

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. Ferry fares were 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 Man Thít River (Sông Mân Thít) at the Phà Mân Thít Ferry Dock (GPS: 10.16396, 106.16477) was 8,000 dongs per for the six of us including our bicycles; there was no need to fold or bag our bicycles.

3. Navigation
    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.

4. Weather
At Tra Vinh (Trà Vinh), morning temperatures average 29°C with overcast skies. At Vinh Long (Vĩnh Long) afternoon temperatures averaged around 30°C and night's 27°C. The overcast skies and a couple of short spell of rain did make the day much cooler. Wind speed was 19kph with gusts up to 27kph.
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
Lang The Dam Sluice Gates (Đập Láng Thé) (GPS: 9.99639, 106.30726) at Cang Long (Càng Long).
- Reed farms and straw cottage industry at Cang Long (Càng Long).
Cao Dai Temple (Thánh thất Vũng Liêm) (GPS: 10.09366, 106.18685) at Vung Liem (Vũng Liêm).
- Brick kilns (GPS: 10.23256, 106.10761) at An Phuouc (An Phước), Mang Thit (Mang Thít)Vinh Long.

6. Food
1, Breakfast: Phở, roast pork and Cà phê sữa đá at side-lane stall (GPS: 9.93312, 106.33534) next to Hotel Gia Hoa in Tra Vinh.
2. Morning Tea: Cà phê sữa đá and local biscuits at road side shop (GPS: 9.99811, 106.30562) near Lang The Dam.
3. Coffee Break: Cà phê sữa đá at shop (GPS: 10.06094, 106.22587) near iTrung Ngãi.
4. Lunch: Broken rice chicken broth at shop in Quới An near the Phà Mân Thít Ferry Dock.
5. Tea: Sinh tố & deep fried tit-bits at stall (GPS: 10.24011, 106.05469) at Mỹ AnVinh Long.
6. Dinner: Rice with seafood at Nhà Hàng Phương Thủy Restaurant (GPS: 10.25811, 105.97173) along Co Chien River (Sông Cổ Chiên) riverside in Vĩnh Long.

7. Accommodations
 At Vĩnh Long we stayed at Loc Phuc Hotel (GPS: 10.25642, 105.97094), three 2-pax room at 350K dongs per room per night:
Address: 50 Đường Nguyễn Thị Út, Phường 1, Vĩnh Long, Vietnam.
Phone: +84 91 949 45 56.

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.
  
10. Curency
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.
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PRELUDE

The previous day we rode deeper into  the Mekong Delta and enjoyed the quieter rural life. Today we continue from Tra Vinh and looped northwards away from sea and away from the padi fields as we head for Vinh Long. It was a change from scenic paddies views to other interesting views, including one which we thought were relics similar to Angkor Wat!
_________________________________________________________________________
THE RIDE
Distance: 68 km.      |      Level: Medium
The route is rather flat and hugs the Cổ Chiên River (Sông Cổ Chiên), it goes mainly along quiet rural roads with crossings over sluice gates at Lang The Dam and a ferry crossing over the Man Thít River (Sông Mân Thít) at the Phà Mân Thít Ferry Dock.

It was an easy breakfast for us; just right next to our hotel, this cheerful lady was selling pretty good phở. She also sold roast pork (wrapped in banana leaves), which was a welcomed change and we wolfed down several packets. From the adjacent shop, we ordered Cà phê sữa đá to complemented our meal, it would be our first of many rounds of the aromatic coffee.

7:50am - We kicked off our tour for the day, but ten minutes later we had to make a quick stop. Anne's front wheel was giving out odd noises and poor Vino (that's what Anne calle her claret coloured bike) wasn't rolling well; Robert came to the rescue with lubricant oil. It did help a bit but the noise persisted; and Anne just proceeded on bravely hoping that the problem will not get worse.

We continued on and at the outskirts of town, we swerved left away from the main roads and went onto Phú Hòa Road. It's a narrow road, shady and quiet; just great for cycling along.

Ahead, we passed by interesting steel structures as rode atop the Lang The Dam (Đập Láng Thé). We could have cut our journey shorter by two kilometeres by taking the đò Ba Trường ferry, but then would have missed this interesting dam. Lang The Dam is an interesting name, the "The" is not the English article but comes from the name of the river (the Sông Láng Théwhich it dams up to control flooding and also provide irrigation to the upstream regions.

We are entering a region which has good clay and is renown for it's pottery. And of course the locals have their unique rural way of transporting their goods, a simple way of using a motorcycle to pull a cart full of large pots.

9:10am - Our first rest stop at a nearby small coffee shop where they sell cơ sở bánh, very nice and crispy Vietnamese biscuits which went well with our orders of Cà phê sữa đá. It's our second round of the Vietnamese iced coffee which we love very much; I just hope we won't overdose on this heady coffee and become overly brave (and do something crazy like ride into the river!).

Suddenly we were back onto a major highway, Route QL 60, riding pass the Trạm thu phí cầu Cổ Chiên toll plaza.
Oops! I hoped these local motorcyclists are more curious about Fenn's bicycle instead not eyeing her; but she does look outstanding in her fashionable wear.

Ahead was the Co Chien Bridge (Cầu Cổ Chiên) (GPS: 10.0286, 106.30604), a new bridge that has shortened travelling time between Ho Chin Minh and Trà Vinh. Dang! It does look daunting with it's steep approach!

Fortunately we had made a wrong turn, and did not have to climb that steep bridge. We happily made a U-turn and headed back to the quieter rural roads where a roadside shrine with statue of Jesus welcomed us with his blessings. Although Buddhism is the main religion in Vietnam, there are more than six million Catholics forming 7% of the population. So don't be surprised to see shrines like this.

Soon we were greeted by a different sight, one of straws laid out in fan-shapes for drying out at the road side. Around us, what we thought were padi fields were in fact farms planted with reeds from which these straws were harvested.

Passed by another of the sluice gates dam. From afar their structure do looked intriguing.

Although the skies were slightly overcast and the day bright, these people seemed to be in a hurry to keep their drying straws. Do they have an inkling of coming rain?

These straws are often used to make the cute looking Vietnamese brooms.

Bundles of straws at the roadside, these were thicker straws that would probably be use to make straw mats.

We rode pass many reed farms. Up close, with thicker, dark green stalks, they looked very much different from thinner, bright green padi stalks.

11:45: The hay farmers were good weather forecasters, the rain did come, pelting down on us suddenly at Trung Ngãi. We quickly scooted over to a grocery store cum coffee house to wait out the rain. The vendor's daughter spoke fairly good English and was helpful in answering some of our queries.

It looked like it was going to be a long-drawn rain, so we did what the locals do - relax on the hammocks and enjoy our third round of Cà phê sữa đá!

After about forty minutes, the rain abated and we rode off. Saw this lady riding her bicycle an odd way, sitting on the rear carrier instead of the seat. Was she trying to stretch her legs or perhaps she was an Evel Knievel wannabe!

1:00pm - We arrive at Vung Liem and was surprise to find a Co Dai church there, it's called the Cao Dai Temple of Vung Liem (Thánh thất Vũng Liêm). Caodaism (Đạo Cao Đài) is a religion unique to Vietnam originating from Tây Ninh where they have their holy see - the Cao Dai Tây Ninh Church. The religion incorporates concepts from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, etc. and their churches incorporates architecture from these religions, such as statues and motifs from various religions. With their unique, conspicuous front towering pagoda-like spires they are easily recognisable.

Withing the church was this dragon parade float that looked liked most others....

... until one zoom in and see the symbol of the faith - the Left Eye of God. This represents the yang (masculine, ordaining, positive and expansive) activity of the male creator, which is balanced by the yin (âm) activity of Mother Goddess, the Queen Mother of the West (Diêu Trì Kim Mẫu, Tây Vương Mẫu), the feminine, nurturing and restorative mother of humanity.

2:00pm - Our tummies are calling out again and we made a convenient stop at a shop at Quới An near the Phà Mân Thít Ferry Dock. The stall here sold very good chicken broth made from broken rice, and more importantly for me they do add coagulated pig's blood as one of the ingredients. With all the pig's blood I am eating, I hope I won't turn into a vampire soon 😨.
What was interesting about this stop was that the locals were more friendly, expressing genuine interest about where we were from and where we were heading.

Boarding the Phà Mân Thít ferry. It's just a short ride over the Sông Mân Thít river but with this we leave the Vung Liem District and enter the Mang Thit District.

On board the ferry, we were approached by many lottery tickets vendors. In fact through most our journey many vendors approached us: house-wives, old people, young adults. Is lottery betting a popular habit here? This lady was so jovial, talking to everyone like they have a lucky star; we were almost tempted to buy from her.

Into An Phuouc, from afar we spotted this structures. Are they some relics from Vietnam's past?

The rain came again, this time heavier and lasting longer. We donned our raincoats, so did the locals, except we noticed that theirs were almost full body long. And they usually cycle with the raincoat draped over the handlebars; beneath it were their basket of goodies well protected from the rain. There was even one lady having her tiny tot sitting on a baby chair below her raincoat! Very innovative.

By chance our route took us pass those "relics" that we saw from afar. These turned out to be brick kilns made from red bricks themselves. Their unique oval shaped reminded me of the charcoal kilns of Kuala Sepetang from back home which were of similar shapes. This locality must have very good clay as there were many of these kilns dotting the country side here. We even saw some on the outskirts of Vinh Long later on. The tops of most of the kilns were bare but some had grass growing on their outer shell and I wondered why? Does the grass help in the curing process?

The rain abated and the locals came out to play including this man, carrying his young daughter on his shoulders. I used to do that when I was a young father, now my kids are all grown up and the only thing I can carry on my shoulder is my bicycle!

On the outskirts of town, one final stop for rest.... and in our vocabulary, rest means eats also... haha!
This time round we had Sinh tố with deep-fried fish-balls, ladyfingers, etc.

We passed more factories but these manufactured large clay pots, and missing were those oval-shaped kilns. Perhaps these factories used electric fired kilns.

Nearer to town, the evening busy activities had started, many vegetables and fish vendors had just simply laid out their goods on the grassy road shoulders. Customers, usually on motorbikes, just stopped to buy without even having to getting down; live is so simple here.
We also passed several shops with signages shouting out "Hot Toc!" Do not be mistaken though, they don't sell hot dogs, these are barber shops or ladies' hair saloons.

In Vinh Long, we found a comfortable hotel at Loc Phuc Hotel. They had a lift, an important criteria when booking our hotels as often we folded our precious bikes and brought them up to our rooms. This hotel did not let us bring our bikes up but did let us park at their ground floor in front of the watchful eyes of their altar gods, and also the eyes of their old grandmother sitting nearby. Yes, our bikes will be safe, one don't mess around with altar gods and stern-looking grandmothers lest one incur their wrath!

In the evening, we took a short walk out to town (just a stone's throw away) to the Sông Cổ Chiên riverside and ended up at Nhà Hàng Phương Thủy Restaurant for dinner, ordering several dishes including this delicious fish soup.

The riverside is a hive of activity with many stalls selling foodie goodies, including this one called Bau pho mai hàn quốc (Deep Fried Korean Cheese Buns). We were tempted to buy some, but the lady vendor quoted us some ridiculously expensive price. Forget it then!

Night street scene of old town Vinh Long.
Despite the rain, it had been a good day, one of seeing another side of Vietnam other than padi fields. Tomorrow we head for Cái Bè.... but did not reach it. Odd yeah? Let's find out why tomorrow!

(That's "Good Night" in Vietnamese.)

(For more photos of the dayClick Here)
This is page 6 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D5 Tra Vinh             |          Go to Other Days         |       Go to D7 An Binh >

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