Saturday, August 25, 2018

Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 D7: Vinh Long To An Binh - The Island Getaway

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Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 Day 7: Vinh Long To An Binh - The Island Getaway
Cambodia & Vietnam Tour
Day 7: Monday, 16th July 2018 - Vĩnh Long to An Binh
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: 27.68 km.     |     Level: Easy
Time : 7:15am to 6:15pm
Time Taken : 11 hrs (including breakfast, checking in hotel, lunch, visits to temple & museum, ferry crossing, river boat tour ride, coffee break, regrouping, re-orientation, rests stops and many photo opps).

This is page 7 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D6 Vinh Long            |         Go to Other Days         |       Go to D8 My Tho 2 >

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 Co Chien River (Sông Cổ Chiên) at the An Binh Ferry Terminal (Bến phà An Bình) (GPS: 10.25801, 105.97094) 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 Vinh Long (Vĩnh Long) temperatures ranged from 27°C (in the morning and evening) to 31°C (at around noon). The 50% overcast skies did make the day much cooler. Wind speed was 20kph with gusts up to 30kph.
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 Long Market (Chợ vĩnh long) (GPS: 10.25619, 105.97269).
- The cable-stay Bach Dang Bridge (Cầu bạch đằng(GPS: 10.25752, 105.97389) spanning over the Long Ho River (Sông Long Hồ) at Vinh Long.
- Long Thieng Temple (Chùa Lòng Thiềng(GPS: 10.25611, 105.97646) at Vinh Long.
- Vinh Long War Museum (Bảo Tàng Tỉnh Vĩnh Long(GPS: 10.25738, 105.97124).
- River boat cruise along the Co Chien River (Sông Cổ Chiênfrom An Binh Island Jetty (GPS: 10.26216, 105.96434) with visits to:
   - Bee Farm Thanh Thuý (Trà mật ong Tư Đàng) (GPS: 10.33754, 106.03945).
   - the 2-3 hours river boat cruise was arranged by Nam Thanh Homestay at a cost of 200k dongs (about USD8/70) per pax.
- An Binh-Cai Be Ferry Jetty (GPS: 10.31097, 105.99872).
- Vietnamese cooking class at Nam Thanh Homestay.

6. Food
1. Breakfast: Phở with Vietnamese spring rolls (Gỏi cuốn), deep fried spring rolls (Chả giò), and iced desserts from market stalls at Vinh Long Market (Chợ vĩnh long).
2. Lunch: Vietnamese noodles, rice with dishes at Nam Thanh Homestay.
3. Tea: Cà phê sữa đá at stall (GPS: 10.28615, 105.98996) at An Binh Island.
4. Dinner: Rice with Vietnamese dishes (some self-cooked: Vietnamese Omelet/Pancake (Bánh Xèo), deep fried spring rolls (Chả giò)) at Nam Thanh Homestay.

7. Accommodations
 At An Binh Island we stayed at Nam Thanh Homestay (GPS: 10.26476, 105.9666), separate male/female shared rooms at USD14/- per pax per night inclusive of cooking class dinner & breakfast:
Address: 172/9 Binh Luong, An Bình, Long Hồ, Vĩnh Long, Vietnam.
Phone: +84-918717986.

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

Yesterday we started looping back northwards and moved away from the padi fields to see a different face of Vietnam, one of bricks and straws. Today we were suppose to have a short 42 km. ride from Vinh Long to Cai Be (Cái Bè), but ended stuck at a nice island getaway just after a short four kilometer ride. Hah!
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THE RIDE
Distance: 27.68 km.     |     Level: Easy
This route is fairly easy route of riding around Vĩnh Long & An Binh Island to get to know the places better, and also to hunt for an elusive nondescript ferry jetty.

CYCLING AROUND VINH LONG
Okay, we start off today's blog with nice photo of food. Checking out from the hotel, we cycled to the Vinh Long Market for breakkie. Some of my buddies had Phở; above is a mixture of Vietnamese food that I had, consisting of: fresh spring rolls, deep-fried spring rolls, Vietnamese grilled sausage (ném noùng), together with lots of salad greens. Presentation wise it looked like a jumble, but to heck with presentation; this was market street food, more important was that they tasted good. The deep fried spring rolls (Chả giò) had crunchy skin wrapped around a stick of yam/taro which was nicely soft. The fresh spring rolls were like the regular rice-paper Vietnamese spring rolls (Gỏi cuốn), except that the wrapping was with a thick steamed rice flour skin that was akin to Chee Cheong Fun (Chinese steamed rice noodle roll). The sausage was grilled well and tastily sweet.

More endearing was the happy lady vendor (posing above with Ying & Fenn) who served her food with a charming smile.

We sat eating at the adjacent desserts stall. This lady vendor was a bit sulky, giving a rare smile only once in a while. But her stall did have a wide range of jelly (from green ones to white almond jelly to black grass jelly) and an assortments of seeds and beans (red beans, corn, nipah seeds, lotus seeds/leng chi, gingko seeds, etc).

The market proper housed in a large building was busy, so were the surrounding streets stretching from Hung Dao Vuong to 1 Thang 5. Many roadside vendors had their wares laid out on the road, like this lady selling dragon fruits and mangosteens. The Vietnamese mangosteens are of a larger variety and equally as sweet as those from Malaysia.
Next to her, the vegetable seller dressed in flowery blue had her many greens, laid out in large tray baskets.

Some vendors are more mobile. This lady had a modified bicycle with with an attached large tray full of bananas. Below it, were attached two baskets of paper and bags for packing.

From the market through a dark alley, we rode to and across the Bach Dang Bridge crossing the Long Ho River to get to the eastern side of the town. As usual, we stopped at the middle to admire the going-ons below, this is where Long Ho River meets the Co Chien River, making it a very busy confluence. On the western side it had many jetties with big and small boats docked there. There were fishing boats cutely lined in a row; and big and small ferries leaving for somewhere - water transportation plays an important role here.. A lone man on his personal motorised sampan stood hands-free while his boat chugged onwards slowly; he was texting something with his mobile. Hah! Bad habits never change, whether on land or water!

Across on the other side a long promenade runs along the Co Chien River; benches lined one side, while houses lined the other. We rode here for a short distance before turning left away from the river to explore the narrower roads, side lanes and back alleys.

Looping back and heading south, along the Long Ho River we passed by this interesting looking temple. It was a small temple; the triple tiered arched entrance had attracted us. But the gates were locked, we peered inside and all was quiet there too. Suddenly a man (the caretaker) came by to open up a side gate, and gestured to invite us in .

This is the Long Thieng Temple, and the small entrance belied its size; behind a humble main prayer hall, corridors led to many other secondary prayer halls, each dedicated to a different god or deity.
(.... read more of the Long Thieng Temple)

After spending half an hour admiring the temple, we headed back to the western side. In front of a stately yellow building we saw a large poster displaying boat rides along the river.
So in we went to inquire about the boat rides, there another surprise awaited us. This was the Vinh Long War Museum. Within it's large compound were many displays of weapons of war that were used during the Second Vietnam War. Above is a Russian T-34 Tank used by the People's Army of Vietnam.

At the rear compound were mock-up aerodromes, this one had a F-5A Freedom Fighter used by the USAF. It must probably have been downed and captured.

This one is the Bell UH-1 Iroquois Helicopter more well-known by it's nickname the Huey Helicopter (which it got from it's original designated name the HU-1. It was used by the US Marines for troops transport and ground support.

Those arm displays detracted us. There was no tourist information counter in the building to inquire about the river cruise. But we did meet some helpful locals who advised us to take the ferry to cross the river to a Nam Thanh Homestay on An Binh Island which operated such a cruise.
Getting on board the ferry at the An Binh Ferry Terminal was like struggling across a busy Ho Chin Minh junction. Within the waiting foyer, we were packed in shoulder to shoulder with other waiting passengers; and once the gates opened it was a mad rush to get on board. We had to squeeze our way through, shouting to each other that in case any don't get to board, we will wait on the other side.

This was a motorcycle-only ferry. On board we were packed liked sardines. Those who boarded first managed to get the motorbikes turned in the right direction while others will have to make a U-turn once the ferry lands. Looks like it's going to be a mad chaotic rush to disembark when we land.

To play it safe, we let the locals disembark first before we did. It was another long queue to get out; the fare was only collected after landing and there was only one person collecting it.

Anyway, we were just happy to be on the island and was soon happily cycling towards the homestay on narrow concrete paved paths that led us there.

At the Nam Thanh Homestay, we met a Mr. Huấn who operates the place with his family. This smart man took us on a short tour of his place and we fell in love with it's attap lined bedrooms, it's green grounds, and decided to stay here instead of heading to Cai Be!

Serious negotiations going on here with Huấn on the cost of our stay at his place and for the river cruise. Anne was already comfortably settled onto a hammock, giving Huấn a upper hand in the negotiation 😂. Jokes aside, he was a very nice man and warm host, and just charged us the listed price.

1:00pm - Time to start our river cruise! The walk to the jetty is just a short five hundred metres but it was a lovely walk through shaded paths full of flowers and fruit trees. Anne was trying to pluck some tempting fruit, "Help! HELP! I can't reach them!". Does too much idling on hammocks shrink the body? .... Haha!

CO CHIEN RIVER BOAT CRUISE
That's us on the cruise tour boat, it came with wooden chairs that were not fixed and rock with the boat. We passed by many floating fish farms, some of which were quite large and had small living huts on board and even with guard dogs!
We had a good view of the river scene.... and then it started to rain and those with the premium front seats had to move back while those at the sides helped roll down the tarpaulin side shades.

We visited a couple of cottage industries which held educational tours for visitors. The first one was the Hai Van Rice Cake/Candy Factory, where we were shown how they made the rice cakes. Raw rice is dropped into a large cast iron kuali (wok) where dark heated sand was waiting. The heat popped the rice from their kernels which were filtered out to one side. The unhusked rice was continued to be stirred in the sand to ensure all of them were popped. It's something like making popcorn. The popped rice were then put into a mould and lightly pressed into small cubes.

The girls sampled the popped-rice cake that was passed around. They were pretty good, crunchy and fesh. Some other places add caramel, but they don't do that here.

The rain came on and off, and these ladies were moving these round rice-banana crackers away from the rain.

This guy had a large python wrapped around himself as he gave a talk on the benefits snake poison and snake oil.

Like the Chinese, the Vietnamese also preserved snakes in rice wine for medicinal drinking. This one had a cobra with a green snake in it's jaws.

And this one had a huge black scorpion in the cobra's jaws.

Another section showed how coconut candy were made. These one were greenish as they had been mixed with pandan juice. First a coconut milk-caramel mixture was poured into wooden trays with long grooves; when they cooled sufficiently they were cut with that huge knife.... I was more interested in the knife and it's odd design.

Time to board our boat and visit the next farm... but the rain continued and we patiently sipped Chinese tea at their souvenirs section. After a while, temptations was too strong and we went browsing the shelves to get some goodies.

 Other than selling the stuff that they made (rice cakes, coconut candy, snake oil, snake wine, etc.), they also sold goods from other cottage industries, such as cute souvenir dolls and also the renown Vietnamese lacquer-ware trays.

The rain stopped, and it was up the boat for a short ride to a bee farm! Fenn looking very shocked with mouth agape, holding up a honeycomb. Watch out for that bee! 😜.

They had a small gift shop here too, here we sampled honey drinks and also some tumeric ginger tea.
The above display shows from left to right:
A small bottle of tumeric ginger tea powder, Mặt ôn hòa trầm (Melaleuca flower honey) honey, Rượu ấu trùng chua (Alcohol larvae honey), normal honey (unlabeled), Mật ong hòa nhãn (regular honey bee), a larger bottle of tumeric ginger tea powder. At the front is a packet of cloves.

Interestingly, they also sell lady's facial mask made from coconut flesh. The label caption says Mịn màng sáng da (Smooth skin); it's suppose to make a lady's face as smooth and as soft as the coconut flesh - that is provided they used soft young coconut flesh, and not the hard, wrinkly old coconut flesh otherwise the results would just be the opposite, old and wrinkly .... just joshing here!

It was back to Nam Thanh Homestay for a quick lunch of spring rolls, chicken stew and fried noodles.

EXPLORING AN BINH ISLAND ON BICYCLES
3:00pm - We headed out to explore the island and also to look for the ferry jetty where we would be taking a ferry to Cai Be the next day. Huấn had given the location to Sin and told him that it was eight to nine kilometers away.
An Binh Island is criss-crossed with many canals, our flat route was made all the more interesting riding up and down the many bridges that crossed these canals. Some of the canals were narrow ones, while a few were rather wide - wide enough to have islets within them!

Somewhere near the start was our first destination, a church. Unfortunately it was closed and we could just view it from outside the fence.

About half way through, a short stop for Cà phê sữa đá; it's our third for the day (Yup, we have to keep up to our daily minimum quota of three). Sin's looking a bit worried here... are we lost, should we have found the ferry jetty already?

Never mind, let's just enjoy the ride and live the moment first. Ahead, at another canal, these three rowers were having a competition to see who could stay within the same spot for the longest; it was not easy as they had to row against a strong current.

There's a Cao Dai temple on the island too! This was not surprising, seeing that there are seven million Cao Dai believers - equal to the number of Catholics in the country.

Riding below a nice canopy made from blue flower fabric.

It was not smooth sailing, some rough pavements along the way...

... and mucky, muddy paths too.
Riding along this muddy trail we felt something was amiss, we had rode 12 kilometers and had still not found the jetty. In front we met a local lady and kept repeating to her "Bến phà Cái Bè, bến phà Cái Bè..." meaning Cai Be ferry dock. We must have gotten our pronunciation right as she pointed back to the directions we came from. But that was all we could get from her, and not how far it was and exactly where it is.

A short while later, we met a man on a motorbike and asked him the same question. Most helpful, he led us to a building. That's odd, it's a homestay and not the ferry dock. Inside we met a Ms. Hin and she spoke almost perfect English; the man not being able to speak English took us to the nearest person who could 😏.

She was very helpful, and even indicated on our phone maps where the jetty was, stating that it was near the Đồng Phú Local Government Office (GPS: 10.30932, 105.99727) and the Dồng Phú Secondary School (GPS: 10.30999, 105.99759).Furthermore, she also wrote us a note in Vietnamese to show to other locals, in case we got lost again.
Many thanks Ms. Hin of the Happy Family Guesthouse, you had been most helpful and we did manage to find the jetty soon after.

To cut a long story short, we found the jetty three km. back. It's a nondescript dock, just a narrow concrete slab sticking out from the river onto the bank and easily missed. It just before the above sign.which roughly translates to "Port security Border"; if only we could read some Vietnamese!
_________________________________________________________________________

Back at our homestay, after freshening up, it was time for cooking lessons. First we helped in making of the deep fried spring rolls (Chả giò), rolling up the yam sticks into rice flour skin. Then it was trying our hands at frying Vietnamese Omelet/Pancake (Bánh Xèo). Strictly speaking, Bánh Xèo is not an omelet; the yellow batter does not contain any eggs, its yellow colour comes from a dye.

The results of our frying, guess which one is mine?
It's the broken one, Heh.. heh. I was either to generous with the veggies or had used to little batter.

Sin showing how strong the rice paper for the spring rolls is. It's not easy to tear when dry, but when wet it become easily chewy.

That's us having our dinner, with me holding up a half decimated Deep Fried Elephant Ear Fish (Cá Tai Tượng Chiên Xù), a Vietnamese specialty.

It's been a long and interesting day, one in which we did much and enjoyed it thoroughly. And An Binh Island did capture our hearts!
(That's "It's been a good day" in Vietnamese.)

(For more photos of the dayClick Here)
This is page 7 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D6 Vinh Long            |         Go to Other Days         |       Go to D8 My Tho 2 >

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