Mekong Delta Cycling Adventure - Day 1

Trip Start Nov 22, 2006
Trip End Jan 01, 2007

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Monday, January 8, 2007

 Look out Lance!  Well, I don't think either of us will be rewarded with a yellow jersey, but we had a fantastic Tour de Mekong.  Since cycling has been a real highlight of our trip, we decided to bite the bullet and book a 6 day cylce trip as a way of seeing the rice bowl of Vietnam and the Mighty Mekong.  We booked our trip with a company called SinhBalo.  The founder of the company is a fairly young guy called Ahn Sinh and has a real interest in cycling.  Our guide, Trieu, was actually his brother in law.  Our drivers name was Duc, an ex-military man who fought in the Vietnamese-Cambodian war and guarded Angkor Wat.  He also happens to have the longest mole hair I have ever seen - this hair was close to 1m long.  We, well mostly I (Kelly) were a little concerned when we looked at the itinerary and noticed that each day the km listed was anywhere from 80-110.  I know the delta is as flat as a pancake, but come on - this is a holiday!  As it turned out, we were both pleasantly suprised and very relieved that we spent half the day biking (anywhere from 30-50km) and the other half soaking in the culture and the sights.

So, here is a little background on the Mekong Delta....
The Delta is located in the southern part of vietnam and many wars have been fought over this region of land with the Cambodians.  The Khmer Rouge invaded many border cities in the Delta in the mid 70's and massacered thousands of Vietnamese.  This was a major reason for Vietnam invading Cambodia in 1979 which helped bring down the Khmer Rouge.
Rice is the major crop in Vietnam and 70% of the population is involved in its production.  Over half of the rice production comes from the Mekong Delta and around 3.5 million tonnes of rice are exported from this area each year.  Around 30-40% of the population lives in the Delta.
The Mekong Delta is one of the world's largest deltas and during the wet season the entire delta is flooded.  The river is massive - up to 5km in width in some areas,and serves as the transportation, habitation and income for the delta population.  The river originates in Tibet and in Vietnam it divides into 2 major branches - the Bassac River and the Tien Giang.  The Vietnamese call the Mekong  Song Cuu Long which means River of 9 Dragons.
On day one, we left HCMC and headed out of town on death trap Hwy 1 and headed south into the Delta.  It wasn't long before we were surrounded by dazzling lush green rice paddies as far as the eye could see.  It is hard to describe the colour - like a saturated emerald green, it almost hurts the eyes.
We had only cycled for about 1 hour when we arrived at our lunch stop.  We had the most decadent lunch - platter after platter of  fried elephant fish, shrimp, noodles etc kept arriving.  What a beginning to our hard core bike trip!  I was rather hoping to improve my fitness and my waist size on this trip, but oh well.
After a long and tasty lunch, we cycled through a beautiful dusty red back road through small villages, coconut groves and more rice paddies.  We had people waving from their homes yelling out "hello, where you from mate?"  I think the Australians make up a major percentage of tourists here.  PHOTO_ID_R=p1080071.jpg We cycled into a small little town called Tra Vinh which has some of the most intact french colonial architecture we have seen.  We strolled through the local market and recieved a lot of quizzical looks as this area is off the tourist grid.  Its always nice to feel like your not a tourist and feel like you are getting the true, undiluted experience.
One of the most interesting and  anxiety provoking events of our trip were the meals as our guide ordered for us.  Our dinner started off with the usual question - do you like frog?  Since we have been immersed in Vietnamese culture for almost 2mos, we were feeling quite bold and answered - sure we'll try it!  Well, its true, frog does taste like chicken, however the presentation could be a little more refined.  Its hard to imagine you are eating chicken while sucking on a bony little leg with claws. We were also introduced to boiled fish sour soup - a soup that we later become intimately familiar with inside and out!
Click here for maps of day one.
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