From the moment we landed in Ho Chi Minh, we discovered that Vietnam operates on various levels of chaos. Three days later we set out for the Mekong Delta. Armed with bits of information from various blogs and tour sites (most of which were out of date, unfortunately), we were officially on our first cycle touring trip together. We had high hopes for seeking out the quieter side of the country in the Mekong Delta. In retrospect, there were a few fleeting moments of tranquility but the Delta is a buzzing place in itself. The major roads were loud, dusty and full of giant trucks so we used the "Walking" option on Google Maps and added in small towns for lunch breaks.
Here's an approximate map of our route to the coast:
leg 1 - Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho
Out of the big city and into the countryside. The smog quickly cleared and the tangled streams of scooters and trucks loosened. After turning off of the main highway we faced our newest challenge, cycling in the direct sun and humidity. It was tough in the blaring mid-morning heat but we found shelter in roadside coffee stops and street markets. The traffic was thick once more when we arrived in what was once the quiet gate to the Mekong Delta: My Tho. We stayed in a basic Airbnb called "Kim's Place". Nothing to write home about when it comes to the actual apartment but the host and her friend were unbelievably kind. They provided us with loads of fresh water, fruit and even took us out to dinner!
leg 2 - my tho to Tra Vinh
Headed for Ben Tre, we crossed our first major bridge and faced some more loud traffic. We discovered that adding smaller towns into our google maps plan was our golden ticket to peace and jungle. We managed to move most of our travel from roads to sidewalk-width paths through what I'm guessing is suburban Mekong Delta. Lots of stray dogs, smiling children and thatched roofs. Very cool! When we arrived in Tra Vinh we tracked down an average budget hotel near downtown called the Gia Hoa. The property had a safe place for our bikes, cold showers and A/C: enough for us!
Leg 3 tra vinh to Soc Trang
We did quite a bit of island hopping today. The ferries here are basic barges that are constantly running to keep traffic moving. We're officially in the heart of the Delta with very little, if any, English spoken. We're starting to get used to the constant look of shock and amazement from the locals as we ride by. Apparently it's both strange and hilarious that two "Westerners" would be traveling by bike rather than scooter through this region. A fun, if not tricky new element of our journey was the introduction of small bridges. They are all shapes and sizes, some are quite steep! I've written more about them in my blog post specifically about Cycle Touring in Vietnam.
Leg 4 Soc Trang to Vi Than
Soc Trang was by far our most favourite stop in the Mekong Delta. It's a provincial capital with many Communist symbols. We took a rest and working day here as the hotel was great and the vegetarian options, plentiful. The hotel was called the Khách Sạn Khánh Hưng. We couldn't find much if anything about this town but it was worth the gamble. Pretty much full luxury compared to anything up to this point.
We even managed a sunset visit to a local pagoda, famous for it's resident fruit bats. After a day of recovery we set out for Vi Than. The roads leaving town were charming, lined with bougainvillea and palm trees. Such a peaceful treat. The mood changed when we discovered that Google's delightful walking directions took us on a path that was yet to be built or under serious construction. After quite a bit of bike lugging and careful shuffling we made it back to a busy main road. From there it was a race to beat the heat as we rode from smoothie stand to market to smoothie stand trying to stay cool in 40+ degree heat.
leg 5 - Vi Thanh to Rach Gia
The Lotus Hotel in Vi Thanh was terribly underwhelming after the oasis of luxury in Soc Trang. But again, we were thrilled to be out of the heat and into cold showers so we couldn't complain (too much). But as the sun came up, once more we set out on our bikes for the next big mission. Today we were pushing hard to get to the coast. About 40k from our finish point we happened to meet a friendly young family that invited us into their home for lunch. We had one of those heart-warming, wonderful memory-generating afternoons that neither Dan or I will ever forget.
In the coastal town of Rach Gia we stayed in the Palace Hotel which was close to the ferry and a great place to regroup after a serious amount of cycling. We took a lightning fast ferry boat called the Superdong (yes, I’m serious) out to Phu Quoc island. The ride from the ferry was sweltering and tough but on the other end, a little slice of paradise: Bamboo Cottages.
After a few days of rest and much needed time in the shade, we set out for Ha Tien, a brightly coloured town on the mainland. We stayed near the market and once again found more tasty vegetarian places near by our hotel, Khách Sạn Hải Phượng.
From Ha Tien we cycled along the border, our final leg in Vietnam, to Chao Doc. It was a fairly straight road for the entire 97 k which played with our minds a bit.
The final leg - Chao doc to phnom phen
To ease border crossings and maximize our time in each country we opted to join a tourist boat up to Phnom Penh. Luckily when we arrived, exhausted in Chao Doc the evening before, the staff of the khách sạn Trung nguyễn hotel spoke excellent English. We we're fed, booked on a boat and sleeping before 8PM. The next morning, thinking our boat would be more of a utility-style transport, we we’re presently surprised to see the Mekong Delta from a different (comfortable) perspective with a light meal service and friendly german tourists. Icing on the Mekong Delta cake.