Vietnam, part 1

Tuesday:
Phnom Penh (Cambodia) – Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam):

Woke up early enough to have a breakfast and to do double check that I had packed everything I needed with me. Rest of the stuff I packed on top of the bike and then covered everything with a tarp.
At the breakfast I also got verification that I could leave my bike to the guesthouse for one month (I would need to pay $50 for this, but I think this is cheap price for a worry free holiday).

I got a lift from guesthouse guy to the bus-station and found my bus without any problems.

Trip started at 11:45 and now I had 6 hour bus drive to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).
Bus was quite modern with the A/C and TV (where they showed some movies), so this would be quite relaxing trip.


After the first few kilometers someone came and collected everyone´s passports. I was a bit worried because I did not have Vietnam visa. I tried to explain this to the guy (Finnish citizen do not need to have visa for under 2 week trip), but I think he did not have any idea what I was telling to him…
Well, I would see at the border how things would go on.

Soon after this I passed out and woke up when bus rode to a small ferry to cross Mekong river. I was surprised that there was no bridge, because this was main road towards Vietnam!
Mekong river was wide and current was strong. I remember thinking what to do if/when ferry would sink (well sitting inside a bus would be a death trap) and came up with nothing…
Without a problem we got to the other side and I fell asleep again…


Sometime later I woke up when we stopped for a lunch break. This was a normal street restaurant, a bit shabby looking, but trusty in any case (you would get food from there). Beggars were immediately surrounding us when we stepped out from the bus, but got through them without a problem. For lunch I had tasty noodle soup and a coke (Hint: good to have a food which has been boiled or fried).

At the Cambodian side, border formalities went through fast and easy. Vietnam side was a same thing, no problems at all! Just needed to carry all the bags through x-ray and then we were on a road again. Nice!

Difference between Cambodia and Vietnam was quite clear immediately after the border. Lot of neon lights, hotels etc. I remember thinking “how big Saigon is going to be if this area already looks like a suburb…” First impression was that Vietnam is wealthier place than Cambodia, but not as wealthy as Thailand.

Traffic got heavier when we started approaching Saigon (HCMC), scooters were everywhere! When I say everywhere, I mean left, right, front and back (luckily not under!) I have never seen so many scooters anywhere and the traffic rules seemed to be quite “flexible” :).

At the center of HCMC I got off the bus and to my big surprise I was only 400m away from my hotel. So, no need to accept offers from tuktuk drivers who were hunting for customers as hungry vultures for they prey.


Found my hotel easily and it was looking nice. Room was small, without a window, but nice. Price was expensive, $33, but every now and then I am willing to pay a bit more for a nice place.

Dinner I had in the nearby restaurant. This time my dinner was “Australian” hamburger. It was good, even the steak was still a bit raw.

Wednesday:
HCMC:

Decided to spend Wednesday by walking around HCMC looking for the sights.
Actually, there are not too many sights in HCMC. I got the impression that this is more party town.


I tried to find local museum, but somehow I missed it´s location. Instead I was able to find one museum, War museum.
This museum is showing Vietnam side story of the Vietnam war with quite graphic images.
At the outside of the main building there are few choppers, tanks etc. Inside has huge collection of photos from the war which shows the effects of the “Agent Orange”.

Photos were really chilling to see. Even three generations after the war, “Agent Orange” still have it´s effects with the form of mutations. It poisoned the water sources and soil, so this way people have been affected to this poison.


Later in the evening I met with “Billy” and her boyfriend “Brian”. Billy is from Germany and living in HCMC (Thank you Franzi, for making the contact :)).
We had few beers and a nice chat.
Brian promised to use his contacts so that I could get a good deal for a scooter.

Thursday:
HCMC:

Spent most of the day by going through my photos.
Later in the evening I got a call from Brian that I could get a scooter via his contact. Price was $2/day! WOW! Thank you Brian for arranging this!





Friday:
HCMC – Can Tho:

First thing in the morning was to check out, find a taxi and go to the address what I got from Brian.
There I met one person who gave me keys to a scooter. After all the paperwork was done, I was ready to head towards Mekong delta.

Even it looks like there are no traffic rules, there are policemen who are picking up people to the side of the road.
I was riding behind some locals when I was pulled over by a motorcycle police.
He said that I was riding on a carlane!
I pointed to him that other scooters were using the same lane etc etc, but nothing helped, he was after my money :(.
After long discussions, I had to hand over few dollars to the guy so that I was allowed to continue my ride.

GPS dangling around my neck it was easy to navigate.
Scooter was running nicely around 80km/h through open areas. In busy villages I slowed down to around 50km/h.

Day was warm, so I made frequent stops to the roadside restaurants to have some sugarcane juice or a coke. Sugarcane juice was really nice!

Day´s ride was quite boring, nothing special to see, just dusty villages, many scooters and lot of cars.

Finally I made to Can Tho, which was nothing special. Just a big town next to Mekong river.
At the hotel I noticed that my white “riding” t-shirt was not white anymore thanks to the dirty roads and heavy traffic…
My plan was to stay only one night in Can Tho, but then I heard that there is “floating market” and I could have a boat trip there.
From several options I decided to take the longest boat trip. I had a quick dinner and went to bed early because next morning I had to wake up around 5 to see the sunrise from the river and also floating markets.


Saturday:
Can Tho:

It was surprisingly easy wake up at 05:00 (not a normal wake up time for me during this trip). At 05:30 I met boat owner in front of the hotel. Boat owner was older lady who did not speak any English. I was accompanied by either Korean or Japanese man, another customer.
Once we reached her small boat, there was one western looking guy sitting already in that boat (later I found out that he was from Holland).

Sky started to turn to orange when boat´s little engine started.
We boated (do not know a right term for moving with a boat… :)) a bit downstream to a wider area of the river to get few photos of the sunrise.
It was kind of exotic feeling when orange sun raised behind the palm trees lighting the sky and I was sitting in a small boat in the middle of mighty Mekong river.

Several shots later we headed to a smaller parts of the river to see the early morning floating market.
I was quite excited to see this famous floating market, but in reality it was much smaller than I expected. There were many boats, but something was missing, I do not know what, but somehow it did not look what I had expected.
I heard that this was “touristic” floating market and real one would be a bit further away where locals go.

Soon we continued our journey and after several turns in narrow canals we reached “local” floating market. Well, it was roughly the same size, so nothing spectacular there.
Interesting point was that 90% of the people there were women! I do not know what men are doing here (sleeping late, drinking beer and chatting with friends?), but seemed like women are doing the business stuff :).
Pineapples flew from one boat to another and money exchanged hands.
I purchased some tea and a carved pineapple on a stick. Tea was good, pineapple excellent, really sweet. You cannot get so tasty pineapple in Europe :).

A bit later we continued deeper to this wet labyrinth. I took some photos of the people doing their morning routines next to the shore (they were washing dishes and clothes with river water! Clothes I can understand, but dishes…).
We made a short stop in one paper factory to see how locals are creating paper and later we had to walk through several small villages (do not know why we had to walk because I had paid for the boat trip) before we reached one restaurant (I guess here we were suppose to have a breakfast, but I was not hungry, only thirsty).

At this point it was time to head back to the Can Tho. I had no clue how far from the town we were, but it took roughly 1 hour to get back to the town.
For my big surprise water level was now several meters lower than in the morning when we started our trip!

Whole boat trip took 8 hours. Day was really hot and humid when I got back to my cozy air-conditioned room :). Now it was time to make quick selection for the photos I had taken during the long journey on the river.


Later in the evening I went back to the familiar restaurant to have a tasty dinner. This time I had something fishy (I do not really like fish, but I guess every now and then you have to try things you do not really like).


Sunday:
Can Tho – Cu Chi:

Had a breakfast in familiar “Italian” restaurant. Eggs, bread and couple cups of coffee. I thought coffee would help my hard “travel” stomach, but seemed like it had no effect.

Target of the day was to reach Cu Chi and to check famous Vietcong tunnels over there.

This time I selected fastest route from the GPS. Roads were big so I made good progress. Speeds were between 60-80km/h all the time. My cheap scooter was running just perfectly :).


Once again, there was nothing to see. Only highlights of the monotonic ride were bridges. All the bridges had high seam between the road and the bridge deck, my little scooter jumped in each and every seam when I did not slow down :).

Traffic got heavier when I reached the outskirts of the HCMC.
I took the road #1 towards north. This road had it´s own lane for scooters and due to this I had to slow down (lane was full of them).

In Cu Chi I stopped to one roadside restaurant to change batteries to my GPS and to ask directions to the tunnels in Ben Duoc. I got information that tunnels were still around 20km away and that there were good signs guiding to the tunnels.
Couple of kilometers later I saw signs and I knew that now I would find my way there.

These smaller roads were almost empty so I was able to test how fast my scooter was going, I got 95km/h to the odometer (so maybe 85km/h real speed).
One intersection was a bit unclear, so I asked locals which road I should take. To my big surprise, no-one spoke any English, but they replied to me in French!

I found my way to the gate where guard told me that it is too late to enter… It was only 15:30 at this point, so I needed to make new plans!
There was shooting range close, so decided to go there and shoot couple of rounds and come back to the tunnels next morning.

When I reached the shooting range I was asked which guns I would like to use. There was wide selection of Vietnam war guns, so I picked AK-47 rifle and M1919 machinegun.
Shooting here is not cheap because one bullet costs $.20…
Because I am on a budget, I shot only 5 bullets with AK and 20 with M1919.

Guns were bolted to the railing, so aiming was useless (railing was also too low for me to aim properly), but at least I was able to shoot with both guns.
It would have been nicer to shoot properly to the targets, but I think this is safety issue here, you never know what kind of person wants to shoot with those guns…



After the shooting I decided to ride back to Cu Chi, because it was bigger town, so there must be some hotels.
Sun was already setting when I reached Cu Chi. I just randomly picked first hotel I saw. It was small Chinese hotel, room was clean and I was allowed to park my scooter to the lobby. Price was around 200000 Dong (around $10).

This hotel did not have restaurant, so next thing I needed to do was to find a place to eat. I picked just one reasonably clean looking roadside restaurant (where were many locals eating (safest thing is to pick restaurant which locals use)) and looked at their menu.
Of course here menu is with the local language. What made my decision even harder was lack of photos of the food, so I just randomly pointed something and got meat noodle soup.
This soup was excellent! Locals were looking and smiling when Mr Longnose was eating soup :).

Monday:
Cu Chi – Dinh Quan:

Slept till 10. My stomach was hurting because nothing had come out in several days. Due to this I also skipped the breakfast.
I packed my scooter and then I rode back to Cu Chi tunnels.
Riding these smaller countryside roads is nice because I have time to look around instead of focusing all the time to the traffic.

I had to park my scooter to the forest behind a barbwire, strange because car park seemed to be further inside…
I thought about leaving my bag and helmet to the ticket counter, but no, girl did not want to take them. She just pointed me towards guard post at the gate. Guard showed me a place where I could store my stuff, but I was not so confident that it was a safe place. Well, it was either take it or leave, so decided to try my luck.

Few hundred meters from the gate I saw a tiny sign which said something about tunnels. I decided to follow this sign and walked next to a bamboo forest. There I met 2 guards who checked my ticket and then guided me deeper to the forest.

Once again I had to wait a bit and then third guy appeared and took me to a small shelter where I was showed 10 minute long black and white video (My opinion of the video is that it was full propaganda, but everyone who has seen it can have their own opinion :)).
This video was filmed during Vietnam war. Reason why I said that it looked like propaganda was because people were laughing and dancing in the jungle and numerous times there was announcement how someone had received “special recognition” called “American Killer Hero”…

After the video yet another person approached me to guide me to the tunnels 🙂 (I guess labor is cheap over here…).
This area is littered with tunnels, but tourists can crawl only around 50-70 meter in the tunnels. Normal height of the tunnels is around 120cm, so for me (around 184cm) it was quite a task to crawl through them.
If you feel claustrophobic and do not like bats, then I do not recommend you to try these tunnels :).

One of the tunnels had tiny hidden entrance hole on top of the ground. Guide told me to get in to the tunnel, but I was really doubting if I could make it. Lot of wiggling and breathing out I made it to the tunnel, but it was extremely tight!

I was sweating a lot when I pulled myself forward in these narrow and low tunnels…

After crawling through the tunnels I spent some time looking at different kind of traps what Vietcong had built to the forest. These traps were really nasty looking! Most of them had trap doors and underneath really nasty bamboo and spike traps. What made them even more nastier was that when someone dropped there, he could not get away alone because these spikes turned and penetrated to the flesh…

I spent roughly 2 hours in this area (could have easily stayed longer, but I needed to get going towards the hills).

Around Thu Dau Mot my GPS guided me towards smaller road even the main road seemed to go towards north. Out of curiosity I decided to follow this smaller road and see where it leads me.
Couple kilometers later I was at the shore of a river, ready to board to a tiny ferry. It was really cheap, because price was $0.1 :).

Roughly 20km before the road #20 police waved his stick to me to stop.
He was telling me something with the local language and pointed my odometer. I guessed that I had been speeding, but I did not know the speed limit because road was wide and I was outside of towns.

For five minutes I talked to the guy in Finnish and in English (which he did not understood) and kept spreading my arms. At this point this guy got bored and he guided me to the backside of the police truck where 3-4 other policemen were following the traffic.

Now they took paper and wrote that I had been doing 60km/h and the speed limit was 40km/h. They were right, because I had been riding 60km/h. I did not see any radar, so they could not show me my speed from the radar,
I think they were just pulling off people totally randomly.

At this point one of the policemen wrote $50 to the paper!
I showed “no” and wrote $2 to the paper.
This thing kept ongoing for half an hour and at this point they were down to $30 (which was still totally ridiculous fine). I kept on saying that I will pay absolute maximum $5, but at this point happened something what made me change my mind…
One of the policemen took his gun in front of me and put magazine in it! I do not know why he did that, but at this point I thought “screw it” and paid that damn $30…

I handed over the money and told them that I need a receipt. For this they replied that no receipt. Now started new discussions, I told them that I am not going until I have receipt on my hand.
Guy with the pistol got really frustrated and he ripped off pile of receipts to me.
I thanked them and continued onwards.

15km later I stopped for a soda and checked the receipts. I had 10 receipts and each of them were worth of 5000 Dong, so totally 50000 Dong. In USD this is $2.4!
I got ripped again… They have given out receipts worth of $2 and rest of the $28 they will share… Bastards!
Seems like if you are western, they will do anything possible to get as much money from you as they can…

This rip-off bothered me and stayed long time in my mind, but there was nothing I was able to do anymore…

Road #20 was full of bumps and holes. Suspension in my scooter was crap and seat really soft, so I was bouncing on all the time.
During the rest of the day I saw still three other police checks, but I was able to get through without being stopped.

From the bridge across Ho Tn An –lake opened really nice scenery towards house boats, but unfortunately it was impossible to stop there, so no picture, shame.

Now it started to be a time to find a hotel, so I picked first hotel in Ding Quan.
Room was clean and it also had an aircon, so I was happy to pay 160000 Dong (less than $8).

Dinner this time was super tasty fried chicken noodle thingy :).

3 thoughts on “Vietnam, part 1

  1. Hi Marko,

    great story ‘n pics as always. What a bad attitude from the police officers 🙁
    Money-hunter

    I start my trip to Vietnam next Friday – travelling 4 weeks from Hanoi to HCM – some rides with the famous Easy Rider guys as well on my list.

    Guess i will stay longer in the North after checking your Mekong Trip.
    Any chance to meet for a beer in March?

    cheerio Joachim

    • Hi Joachim,

      So, when u ride, just be carefull.
      I am in Halong Bay now and weather is not so warm as in south. It is quite misty and cool over here (temperature around 20-25 degrees), but I think you will come here from winter europe, so it feels warmer to you than for me 🙂
      I would recommend u to take Ho Chi Minh -road from north, because (part what I rode here in north) scenery is better and traffic much lighter compared to road #1.
      There are a lot of nice places, so just remember to enjoy! In south for example there is place called Mui Ne (long beaches, sand dunes and reasonable prices).
      I am actually heading back to Laos on Saturday and then to Thailand, so I think it is not possible, but thanks for asking 🙂

      -Marko

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