Bicycling the Mekong-off the beaten path

Trip Start Dec 11, 2010
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Trip End Jan 12, 2011


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Saturday, December 18, 2010

If you have ever dreamed of experiencing a National Geographic moment, you enjoy biking, you want to see the real Vietnam, and you want to get off the beaten path then follow ‘Van the Man’ from Vietnam Backroads. We just spent the past 4 days meandering along small verdant waterways, bouncing over small bridges, and crossing the larger waterways that criss cross the delta by rudimentary but functional ferries. Our route took us from Ben Tre, Mo Cay, and overnight in Tra Vinh. On to Can Tho for our second night and an early morning visit to the Cai Rang floating market, then finally through Long Xuyen, Tri Ton, Bac Chuc (where the Vietnamese Killing Fields are - another sad Pol Pot story), ending our journey on the Vietnamese/Cambodian border town of Chau Doc. One day we rode through coconut palms, the other across rice paddies and the next through fruit and vegetable fields, dodging flocks of ducks being herded home at the end of the day. Every day a different experience, but everyday beyond our wildest imagination

 ‘Pinch me’ I said to Andy at one point, with a smile pasted on my face from ear to ear as we had seen only 5 westerners in the entire 3 days. I’m serious, no other tourists at all. Where does this happen these days? I once imagined exploring the depths of Sumatra (where my great great grandfather, the martyr of Sumatra, was eaten by cannibals) and not encountering another westerner. But those days are surely over - aren’t they? It seems not. Van the man has spent considerable time mapping out the small paths and country roads across the flat as a pancake Mekong (and, for those seeking a more challenging ride, the rest of Vietnam). The Vietnamese and Khymer who live in this flood plain live mostly along bike paths where no car was even imagined when they were first built. Slowly, progress is making it’s way into the delta, with evidence of roads and bridges under construction all along the route. But for now, and for some time to come, there are vast stretches of land accessible only to the bike. What a bikers dream. 

 ‘Hello, hello, hello”. You had better get used to saying this as every (and I do mean every) small child and most adults we passed called out to us. I asked Van at one point what the etiquette was regarding photographing people and he said - no problem. “Should I ask permission first?” No need (but I did). “Will they ask to be paid?” No. This seemed in direct contrast to many other countries we had been to so I was skeptical. But to my wonderful surprise  Van was right. People came up to us with curiosity to see what we were up to and were delighted to have their picture taken. Flocks of school children, mothers holding babies, old men on bikes, farmers in the field - every single one of them seemed genuinely delighted to see us. 

 We rode to a small market on day 2, bought juicy watermelon for a mid morning snack, and spent time mingling with the locals - not another westerner in sight. We visited small roadside farms and ate an interesting coconut jelly, tasted freshly roasted cashews, and every kind of fruit imaginable. We sat down at the end of the day at a road side stall and ate juicy pork marinated in fish sauce and lemongrass. We encountered a wedding party getting off a boat crossing a canal and they invited us in for drinks. Tea and sweet iced coffee with the men, young and old, while the women prepared the drinks in the kitchen and the little children huddled curiously nearby. School children flocked about us when we stopped near a school. Beautiful young women riding bicycles in Ao Dai, the traditional white dress and pants and conical ‘non la’ hats smiled sweetly at us as we passed. We stopped at a new Buddhist temple, with the intricate interior painting still in progress and were amazed by the technicolour alter - Buddha goes disco. 

 I could go on, but you get the idea and the pictures speak for themselves. Honestly, if you have ever thought about doing a trip like this do it now. It is accessible to anyone remotely fit. Van has a support van that hovers nearby along the route so tired bicyclists can choose to be driven to the next rendezvous (Maddie took advantage of this option a few times). We rode as a family about 50 Km a day but you could do more or less, depending on your interest and stamina - Andy got in some extra miles with Van (next years ironman training never far from his mind). 

We finished our tour with a 4 hour boat trip up the Mekong from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh. Sitting in the back of the boat with the breeze in my face, gazing out at life along the muddy river gave me time to reflect on what a diverse and beautiful world this is. Next stop, Phnom Penh. 

 

 

 

 

 



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