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Vietnam #1. Daily Journal.
Travel Writing, Blog, Travelogue
Tinh Bien to Cau Ganh, Vietnam
(January 16 - February 17 , 2005)
||Takeo, Cambodia - Chau Doc, Vietnam The first 50
km (in Cambodia) were dirt, the last 25 km was pavement (in Vietnam),
Terrain flat, scenery rural in Cambodia and urban in Vietnam. We
had a head wind on the dirt and a cross wind on the pavement.
an early start, it was border crossing day and we never know what will
happen so we like to have as much time as possible. We left the
biker hotel, there were seven of us cyclists there (Boeung Takeo Guest
house) behind. The road soon turned to dirt, we could go fast at
first but then the road was poor in places. We stopped about 10 km
from the border at a market to have some lunch. They did not have
much to eat but it was enough to get us going. When we stopped the
restaurant owner ran up to us with a type of handy wipe. Yes we
were once again covered in dust and when we stopped the sweat poured off
of us and we had mud running down our faces, necks, arms and legs. We
must have been quite a sight to the locals. Most people traveled by bike
or horse drawn cart in this town but the market was full of fresh
produce. The last out post before the border. I had tried to
find information about the Tinh Bien Border Crossing on the net, but did
not find much. The crossing was opened in 2002. Some people
said there was a ferry and some people said there was not. It turns out
there is no ferry, just a bridge. The last 10 km of the road to
the border are pretty bad, they are working on it and it should improve
We rode up to the Cambodia border and we had to go through customs
and then get our exit stamp. The border is a couple of shacks on the
road. On the Vietnam side it was a different story. A large
modern building with a waiting area, toilets, and X-ray machine.
It took at least an hour to get through all their bureaucracy we even
had to pay 2000 Dong to enter. We had to send all our luggage
through the X-ray machine. Tim did not want to send the computer
or camera through so he showed the attendants the computer and they
wanted him to turn it on. They really liked the computer and asked
him if he had any games on it, no we do not have any games on the
computer. Then they looked at the camera. They were so distracted
with the computer and camera they forgot to X-ray Tim's bags. They
were busy with the other two cyclist who also were crossing the border
that day. The exchange rate is 15,000 Dong to $1.
The Vietnam side was very different from Cambodia. The road was paved
and the place was busy with people. It was a 25 km ride to Chau
Doc. We stayed in a hotel something no 6. Very nice people,
we had a room with air conditioning for 240,000 Dong ($8). We went
to a restaurant close by and watched the people go by. There are
more bikes here then scooters. We like that it is quieter and easier to
ride. We were tired from the road and turned in early.
|50 km dirt
25 km road
||Chau Doc. I woke with an upset stomach and decided to
take the day off from riding besides, we had plenty of dirty laundry to
do. We went in search of an internet cafe and could not find one
we could connect the computer to. We could only check email.
Chau Doc is a nice quiet town we tried Pho, noodle soap with beef and
vegetables, tasty. The food has improved immensely from Cambodia.
We also went to a restaurant that specialized in Com, rice dishes.
We also had to start learning another language. It is the third
one in less than two months. So far, less people speak English
here than in Cambodia. I had to carry around our phrase book and
point to the translation in the book, that worked just fine.
evening we sat outside our hotel and met a foreign tourist from western
Europe (not France). Well this guy proceeded to tell us how bad
Americans were for dropping bombs on these people. I said that I
personally did not drop bombs on these people and did not like war at
all. He proceeded to tell us how Americans like to kill people,
well I did not agree with that and told him so. He also said that
we should use our power for good. Well I agree with that. He was
starting to get angry and I tried to calm him down. No such luck,
the last thing we heard him say was Americans I hate them, I hate them.
Well that was enough for us, we left. What he was saying was quite
upsetting however, I did not like being on the receiving end of all his
anger. I have only been in Vietnam for one day. I have no
idea how these people feel about Americans and the war. I know we
fought along side the south against the north and I also know we
bombed the heck out of the Vietnam border with Cambodia and Laos.
I really do not know the details of the Vietnam war, all I know is that
we lost young people, they lost people (Vietnamese), we lost the war and
took in the boat people (I was 14 when this happened) and I really do
not even see the point of the conflict, even today. When I went to
sleep I dreamed about war death and destruction, I woke with a huge
feeling of remorse, regret and guilt. All feelings I knew I would
have to deal with when I arrived in this country.
||Chau Doc - Long Xuyen. The road is paved, terrain
flat, scenery urban and rural, head wind and cross wind, traffic
moderate to heavy. We left Chau Doc but never left the traffic.
It was a constant hum in my ears, our guide book says that this is the
best section so I only dread the increasing traffic as we cross the
Mekong Delta. The delta is fascinating, as many people travel by
boat as they do by scooter. Scooter, car and bus traffic is increasing.
Many people are on bicycle too. The young girls wear white pants
with a white smock down to their knees and long white gloves. We
saw many girls dressed like this calmly riding their bike down the road.
We covered the 55 km in three hours and still had fresh legs when we
arrived in Long Xuyen. We spotted the hotel Xuan Huong
immediately. Tim waited across the street while I checked out two
hotels. They were similar in price but one was brand new and had
an elevator. I could not resist and went for the elevator, it was
180,000 dong ($12) a night. We had air conditioning, hot water and
We went to a restaurant close by the hotel and met a local
guy who spoke fluent English. We went for coffee with him and met
another guy who spoke fluent English too. The coffee here is
fantastic, I drink it on ice with condensed milk. Tim tried to ask
about the Vietnam war but they did not want to talk about it so we
dropped the subject. Soon our friend had to got back to work, he
worked for Halliburton. We went back to our hotel to relax.
Later in the evening we went out looking for a place to eat. We
came across this flashy restaurant/bar. We sat down and immediately
received great service. The owner came over and spoke with us, he
was going to University studying biotechnology and English. He
just opened up this new restaurant. We asked him about Vietnamese
food and he taught us a few Vietnamese words. Then we asked him
about the Vietnam war and how people felt about it. He said that
for the Vietnamese people that is the past and that they look to the
future not the past. He also said that they were not angry with
Americans and there was nothing to worry about. Wow, not the
reaction I expected. He also said that Vietnamese people from the
south had a lot of relatives in the United States. At the end of
our meal he brought out a plate of fruit with grapefruit, custard apple
(sweet), papaya, pineapple, and watermelon. Mmm, Vietnam has
fantastic fruit. It was his gift to us.
||Long Xuyen - Can Tho. The road is flat, paved
road but narrow in places, scenery rural and urban, and yes the dreaded
head wind, traffic moderate. We had breakfast at the hotel, it was
quite comical trying to communicate with the waitress. I almost
poured soy sauce in my coffee thinking it was milk. We set off
early thinking we would beat the heat, no such luck, they are early
risers here and the school kids were out in full force before 7 am.
The ride to Can Tho was pleasant but still noisy.
||Can Tho. Met Terry from the Gold Coast,
Australia. Called the bank to check on the status of our Visa Cards,
they had not sent us a fed ex tracking number like I requested in a fax
on the 14th of January. When I finally got some one on the line
after being on hold for 40 minutes they said that they did not receive
my fax from Phnom Penh. I came unglued, Oh My God, you have no
idea what I am talking about. I spent two weeks in Phnom Penh
calling and faxing. I called after I sent the 2nd fax and they
said they had received it. Now I had to send another fax, number
3, request the same thing. This bank (Etrade Bank) has very very
bad customer service.
||Can Tho. Booked a boat trip to the floating
markets. We were up and out the door at 5:30 am. Our boat guide
did not speak English and I was sad that I had left my phase book
behind. We sped down the river before the sun was up and arrived
at the Cai Rang floating market when it was in full swing.
In the evening I called the bank and left a message at the assistant
I was working with. She sent me an email explaining that they
could not find my fax and I needed to send another one. Oh My God,
does anyone know what they are doing over there. She sent me a new
number to send it to. It is Saturday so I can send the fax but I
will not know if she got it until some time on Tuesday because we are 12
hours ahead and we have to wait the entire weekend until they go back to
Went to dinner with Terry, he is such a character, always in a good
mood and he really likes to interact with the locals. While at the
restaurant we met Hedi and Kevin, from New Zealand.
||Can Tho day ride. Went on a day ride hoping to
find some roads by the canals that were quiet. Not here it is
constant traffic, constant noise and mentally taxing to ride in traffic
where anyone bigger than us, (that is everyone except the other
cyclists) will pull out in front of us. The Mekong Delta is an
interesting place, but it is very populated and the scooter traffic is
heavy everywhere. I heard that in the last 10 years the percent of
people living in poverty has dropped from 58% to 28%, that is fantastic.
With all the new wealth came the scooter traffic, and they drive crazy,
they drive up one way streets the wrong way, pull out with out looking
at traffic, and stop just about anywhere. It makes riding nerve
wracking. So if you are planning a bicycle tour to Vietnam be
prepared for heavy traffic in the Mekong Delta. Honestly, my
advice, ride your bike somewhere else if you want to enjoy the scenery.
We have decided not to ride up the coast of Vietnam, the popular
route for most cyclists, we will literally head for the hills to try and
get away from the hectic traffic. I have never ridden some where,
where I have been so mentally exhausted at the end of a ride. Tim
is a big guy (Tim and the bike are heavier than most people and their
scooters) he will stand his ground, that helps, it is like riding behind
a big tractor. :)
||Can Tho - Long Vinh. We had breakfast with Hedi and
Kevin, we made plans to meet them in Ho Chi Minh City if we are still
there when they arrive on January 31.
First we had to take the ferry across a large portion of the Mekong, it was crazy
just trying to get a ticket, all the pushing and shoving to get to the
ticket booth. Calm this place is not. The sea of motor
scooters is amazing. I think that they need a bridge here. The
ride was short and quick.
We arrived in Long Vinh early and searched for a hotel room. We
arrived and no one was at the front desk, the sign said that it was
120,000 ($8) dong. When the clerk arrived she turned the sign
around and now the price was $10. I said I did not want to pay $10
I want to pay 120,000 dong. She said I was a foreigner and I had
to pay $10. We had no choice but to pay the $10, it is like this
in many hotels in Vietnam. We found a great restaurant next to the
hotel and had fantastic Pho, soup with noodles, beef, vegetables and
wontons. Tim had two.
At our hotel we met two guys, and American and Dutchman, who bought
motorcycles (some Russian model) in Hanoi and drove them down Highway 1
to Long Vinh. They tried to take them across the border but were
turned back. I am not sure what they were going to do next. But wow what
an adventure, they had gone all over. They told us that Highway 1
is heavy with truck traffic. We have already decided to avoid as
much of Highway 1 as possible. Years ago it may have been a nice
place to ride, there is even a Lonely Planet Cycling Vietnam, I know
from the last stretch we rode that the traffic has increase immensely
since the book was written.
||Long Vinh - My Tho. Terrain flat, road paved,
scenery rural to urban, traffic light to heavy. Head wind then a
We headed out early as usual. Our bikes were stored
in a room along with motorcycles, it was dark and when I bent down
to unlock our bikes I accidentally touched my leg to a hot tail pipe of
a motorcycle. Ouch! I had to stop and put some burn cream on
my leg and cover it while we rode. My advise, while in Asia watch out
for those hot tail pipes.
We crossed over the bridge, it is a toll bridge so the traffic was
very light, a relief. From the top of the bridge we could see the
thick pollution building up, we must be getting close to Ho Chi Minh.
The road traffic was crazy. Cranes in the middle of the road every 500
meters putting up new power polls. The crazy thing was that they
did not direct traffic so it was helter skelter and who ever could make
it through the opening first. It was actually better to on the
bike where we could maneuver around the obstacles. The buses and
trucks had a much harder time and were kilometers behind us.
We arrived in Mytho without a map and not sure where to go. While we
were riding a man volunteered to show us where the hotels were. I am
always suspicious of these guys but we followed anyway. Our guide
book said Mytho was run down, but we found a town on the rise, our hotel
was under construction. We found Mytho to be a pleasant seaside
town. The guy who showed us the hotel wanted (yes they always want
something) us to take a boat ride. We were tired and did not want a boat
ride. He eventually left, I do not blame him for asking it is how
he makes a living.
We strolled along the waterfront and met some young girls wanting to
practice English. I asked the young girl how old she was, she said
20. I said hmm maybe 12. When I wrote down the numbers for
her she agreed with 12. This started the autographing party. They
especially wanted Tim's autograph.
Tomorrow we ride into Ho Chi Minh City a city of 6 million. I
am not looking forward to that.
||Mytho - Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We were ready
to head on in to the famous city. As we left Mytho I bought a face
mask to protect myself from the pollution, well at least a little.
It was better than sucking in those exhaust fumes directly. The
traffic was light at first and then the road widened. The first 30
kilometers was not bad. The road was wide, traffic medium and the
At 30 kilometers a read a sign that said welcome to Ho Chi
Minh City. Yikes we had a long way to go. Steadily the noise
level increased along with the traffic. Tim was putting the hammer
down and I had to work to keep up with him, he wanted to get this over
as quick as possible. Traffic came from every direction and at one
point Tim had to swerve to miss a motorized cart with three very large
pigs coming from the other direction. He said that he could see
the pigs eyes get real big when they almost collided. Hmm I do not
know about that one.
Traffic increase as we crossed bigger and bigger bridges. I
wanted to stop and check where we were. When we pulled over a nice
man on a scooter said he would show us the way into District 1. OK
we followed for a while but then it seemed like we were heading in
the wrong direction. We stopped looked at the map and realized we
were in the center of Cholon which is in the wrong direction. The
man took us back to another street and sent us on our way. We had
to pick our way through a market with an overwhelming sea of motorcycles
and pedestrians. At one point a motorcycle tried to push me to the
side I had no choice but to push back or fall over. I was also
worried his tail pipe would burn my pannier. The driver was not
too happy but hey all is fair in the battle zone (on the loaded bike I
was actually bigger than him). We were now on a back street, most
of the traffic was motor scooters instead of trucks and buses. My
adrenaline was pumping. Soon we started to see foreign tourists
and knew we were close to our destination.
We parked our bikes at a cafe, I cooled down and then started looking
for a hotel. There are many many. It seems that the hotels
that are not in the guide book are cheaper. While I was looking
for a hotel many people tried to take me to another part of town. I had
to take refuge in a hotel lobby to get relief. The quality of the
hotels are really variable, I noticed that the cheaper rooms were in the
hotels that said room for rent as apposed to mini hotel. I checked
at least 7 places before I picked one.
I found a hotel and went back for Tim. We put our bikes in the
alley and Tim saw another hotel so we checked into it and I found I
liked it the best. We had air con, double bed, refrigerator, hot
water and cable TV for $12 a night.
While we were unloading our gear we met Fransque and Ednea from
Canada. They were cycle touring for a year and a half and had been
to China and northern Vietnam. They were on their way to Cambodia,
Thailand and then to India. We went to a vegetarian restaurant
with them for dinner. We returned to the restaurant a number of
times. This restaurant was located outside the tourist zone. In the tourist zone the restaurants are expensive and not
always the best quality.
||Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We were on the
internet most of the day. We had still not received our visa cards.
When I contacted the bank (ETrade bank) they said that they do not issue
Visa cards for business checking accounts. Funny 10 people in the
company said that they would send me a Visa card to Cambodia and then to
Vietnam. I really do not mind their policy it is the run around
they gave me. I wanted to cry with frustration, they obviously
needed to train their employees better. If I was back in the
states I would have switched banks in a heartbeat, but being over seas
just makes banking and business transactions all that harder.
Sometimes I think that starting a business on the net and writing a book
is more work than I want to do. It has certainly taken over our
trip here in Asia. All we can do is press on just like everyone else.
||Saigon War remnants museum. We walked to the War
remnants museum. We arrived around 1:30 pm and the place was
packed with school children, the mass of kids was overwhelming and so
were the exhibits. First they showed all the countries that were
opposed to the war and they also showed some of the demonstrations in
the USA. They also had an exhibit called the Tiger cage showing a
mock up of a prison run by the South Vietnamese, and maybe Americans (it
was not clear), to interrogate prisoners from the north. It
reminded me of S-21 the interrogation prison run by Pol Pot turned
genocidal museum in Phnom Penh. The most disturbing exhibit was the
effects of Agent Orange, that was used as a defoliate by the US, on
people and their children. Children are being born today with no
limbs, curved backs and hugely disfigured due to the dioxin that was a
component of Agent Orange. They even showed deformed fetuses in a
jar. Very disturbing, it brought me to tears. People were
disfigured beyond recognition. War is an ugly horrible nasty
machine that runs over anything in its path. Other exhibits
included military equipment like rifles, guns, seismic bombs, aircraft
including a Cessna, fighter jet (I was amazed how small it was), and
another bomber Tim said was from WWII. They also had an exhibit on
lighters and the mottos etched into the metal and American dog tags.
The last exhibit and I found the best was the exhibit dedicated to
journalists and photographers who died while covering the war.
Risky business, I recognized a number of photos from the war coverage in
my youth. We spent about 4 hours at the museum and we were
mentally exhausted and depressed by the time we left. It certainly
was a humbling experience. I saw many parallels between the
Vietnam War and the Iraq War, maybe all wars have the same thing in
common, death and destruction.
||Saigon. My shoes were stolen by another foreign
tourist. OK it could have been a mistake. The hotel requires us to take
off our shoes before we go to our room. They have a community shoe
rack where I left my Teva sandals. When I went to put my sandals
on I noticed another pair of Teva sandals that looked similar but by no
means the same, the only thing that was the same was the size.
They were a different color, different pattern tread and worn to
nothing. Someone had walked off with my shoes and left their ratty
pair behind. Someone thought it was their lucky day because my
shoes were brand new. Personally I think it is gross to put your
feet in someone else's shoes. I told the hotel manager, he felt
bad because he saw the women leave an hour earlier. How was he
suppose to know anyway. He said he would tell the owner.
Later he said that the owner would pay for my new shoes.
||Saigon. I spent the day shopping for new sandals.
I had a hard time finding a decent pair and when I did I had no choice
at all, I miss the US right about now where we would have lots of
choices. I returned to the hotel and told the manager how much
they cost and his eye got huge. I paid the equivalent to a months
pay for him. I told him that I did not expect the hotel owner to
pay for all of it but half is what I expected him to pay.
arrangement to visit the Cu Chi tunnels tomorrow.
||Cu Chi tunnels. We took a min bus to the tunnels
and spent an hour in Saigon traffic, it is just stifling how many people
are moving in every direction. Our guide said that Ho Chi Minh
City (Saigon) was now past 10 million. We arrived at the tunnels
and were led to a room that showed a movie. It had bad sound and
looked to be made in the 60's. It was very pro north Vietnam and
anti South Vietnam and America. Goes to show that there is always
two sides of the coin. What I found interesting was the map on the
wall showing where US army bases, Viet Cong, and South Vietnamese strong
holds were. They were all so close together, everyone occupied a
little piece of territory here and there. I never realized how
scattered things were. I thought it was more of a battle front
rather than small pockets of occupied territory. It must have been
just crazy figuring out where one territory ended and another started.
Our guide spoke very good English and he belted out the information like
he was still in the army. He showed us a very small opening that
led into the tunnels that were actually three tiered. The upper
tier was for fighting, making weapons, and cooking, the second and third
tier were for living. They paraded us past the different traps
they made to maim US soldiers. This stuff was real, not made for
TV. I was shocked and dismayed by these devices, people from my own
country were trapped in these things and lost limbs and possibly even
their lives. To make things all the more real, the shooting range
was in use, so as we walked through the regrown jungle we could hear
shots going off and at times in quick succession. Oh my stomach
was queasy. It became worse when we arrived at the US tank that
had been blown up by a home made bomb. We could still see the
bullet holes in the armor, who ever was on that tank did not make it
back to the US. Again, war is an ugly thing. Once again, I
went home exhausted and humbled by the experience.
When we arrived at
the hotel I asked the manager if the hotel owner was going to reimburse
me for my sandals. He got a sad look on his face and then told me that
the owner expected him to pay me back. What!! you can not do that!
I said the owner could afford to pay me but you can't. He was
relieved and flustered at the same time. He wanted to give me
something for my troubles so I settled for a bottle of water. To
think that the owner dumped the problem on a manager, personally I hold
the owner accountable, it is his policy to remove our shoes. I learned a
hard lesson, never, never leave my shoes out for someone to take.
||Saigon Dalat. The bus ride from Saigon to Dalat
was extremely rough. A girl on the bus was getting sick all the time.
Tim was taking motion sick pills and they worked great. The pills
were basically ginger. I almost needed to take some, the bus
stopped fast, started fast, and jerked side to side. I was
extremely annoyed when the bus stopped to let all the men out to pee
while the women stayed in the bus holding it. It took 7 hours to
arrive in Dalat.
||Dalat. Tim sent out his letter about Cambodia.
Pretty much worked on the web page and letter.
||Dalat. Tim spent the day backing up his web page.
||Dalat. When we checked the web page it had
reverted back to Jan. 27. we have lost the discussion board
comments and other data that was posted in the last week. We are
having all kinds of problems posting to the web site.
||Dalat. We took a tour of Dalat today. We
visited the Crazy house and the Dinh 3, one of three palaces of Bao in
Dalat. The palace was left as it was in the late 1930s.
Tim tries to repost for hours, I leave thinking he has posted the web
site. When he returns from the internet cafe he says that the site
crashed while he was posting. The internet cafe closed so we can
not do anything else today.
||Dalat - Duc Trong. Tim finally reposted the web
site this morning. It has been 10 days since we have been on the
bike. We had hoped to ride more today but I was feeling sick on
the bike. We arrived in the late afternoon in Duc Trong and got a
hotel. The ride from Dalat was mostly down hill.
||Duc Trong - Km 42 (the pass). The road is paved,
terrain is relatively flat until a moderate climb, on the south side of
the mountain is coffee fields and the north side is jungle, thick
jungle. Scenery rural. Traffic light, yeah!
We decided not to
make a long day today because I was still not feeling well, we had one
hill climb today. We stopped at Phu Son for some lunch before the
big climb. We had lunch in a small family restaurant, they gave us
a gift for Tet, Chinese New Year. It is made of rice with
something like sweet potato inside, it was very filling. I put the
gift in my pannier, we picked up some water and started our ride up the
hill. We knew from our book that the climb would be 7.8 kilometers
long. The kilometer markers seemed to be wrong on this road.
It turns out that they are, the kilometers in our Cycling Vietnam book
are correct. So if you plan to ride this route follow the book, it
is 130 kilometers from Duc Trong to Jun Village with no hotel along the
way. We have our camping gear, a new tent we have not even used yet, we
camped at the pass at 1300 meters. We camped in the jungle where it had
been cleared to put in power lines. It was not a large area but it
would due for the night. It was nice to see the stars, I have
missed camping like we did in South America..
Photo of our first campsite in Asia, the tent is new too, and oh so small.
||Km 42 - Jun Village. I am happy to report that
the road is paved the entire way. Our book reported dirt sections
but they are now paved. No guarantees, things change all the time.
Scenery jungle, pines, coffee fields and then rice patties. Nice
riding the traffic is light.
We started out with a lot of down hill,
as we rode we saw other places we could have camped, we passed through
some small towns but other camping spots could be found in the pines.
The locals were friendly and the riding very enjoyable. We had
dinner at Lak Lake before we went out to the Jun Village.
is interesting, everyone lives in a long house on stilts. One big room
up off the ground. The steps up to the house were logs with steps
in them, it was entertaining to watch the dogs go up and down these
steps. We arrived late afternoon and barely had time to take a
shower before the sun went down. The shower was primitive but
functional. The village was alive with kids, dogs, pigs (the
biggest I have ever seen), running around. We met Mary Ann and her
guide as we were checking in. We were ready to go eat and I
searched and searched for my wallet. It was no where to be found
so Tim went back to the restaurant that we ate at earlier looking for
the wallet (it was now dark). He came back empty handed and
insisted that I look for the wallet again. Well a little more
digging and my wallet showed up. I think I was tired from our long
day of riding. We planned to stay another night but there is not
place to lock up our things. We do not want to leave our panniers
just sitting in an open room where anyone could walk in and out of.
There is no lock on the door either. Consequently, Tim and I took
turns watching our gear. Certainly a pain at dinner time.
||Jun Village - Buon Ma Thuot. This section of road
is suppose to be paved but it was torn up and being rebuilt for about 20
kilometers. Just when I thought we would have an easy ride the
road turns to dirt. It was quite a bit hotter here to because of the
huge elevation drop yesterday. Traffic was moderate to heavy.
We were only 15 km from Buon Ma Thuot and I was starving, we looked
everywhere for a place to eat but everything is closed for Tet. We
finally found a place to get a drink and sandwich. The moment we
stopped we were surrounded by young girls. They had their
beginning English book out and they wanted us to pronounce a few words
We bought some drinking water from a man who obviously had to much
alcohol to drink. I went to pay the man and he grabbed at my wallet when
I opened it. I told him no, go away. I then walked to
another food stall and bought a couple of sandwiches for Tim and I to
eat. When I returned to Tim he was mad at the drunk for fooling
with our bikes. He waved his fist at the drunk and he went away.
I told Tim to just ignore him and he would leave us alone. I
attempted to solicit help from the women standing around to get rid of
the drunk but they did nothing.
The only place to sit and eat was a small (the size you would see in
a kindergarten class) chair and table. I sat down to eat, I was
starving, almost weak. Again, the drunk man started grabbing at my
wallet that was slung around my neck. I told him to go away.
He kept pestering both Tim and I. He grabbed at me again and Tim stood
up and told him NO. He understood and backed up a couple of steps.
He was like a pesky insect buzzing in my ear. He pulled hard on my
wallet and I stood up and pointed my finger in his face and said, No, go
away. He backed up as if he was going to go away. I turned
my back to the man and sat down in my chair to finish my sandwich.
Unbeknown to me, the devious little man came up behind me and punched me
hard on the shoulder. He purposely hit me on my left shoulder
where no one could see him do it. Tim was sitting to my right and
a counter full of water and cookies blocked the view from the stall
owner and girls. To the shock of everyone around me, I jumped up out of
my chair and grabbed the water bottle Tim was holding in his hand and
poured it all over this jerk. The women and girls standing around
erupted in laughter. I was furious. I then told Tim that he hit
me, and he hit me hard. Tim pushed him away from me and he had the
nerve to come back again. Tim gave him a good shove that landed
him on the ground. He got up and came at Tim again. I
thought Tim was going to pound him to the ground, Tim does not get mad
easy but when he does look out. This guy had crossed the line.
The drunk must have sensed Tim's anger because he ran away for good.
By this time a small crowd had started to gather, most likely several of
his friends. I said, "Lets get out of here". At the
same time, the girls flipped through their English book and found the
word sorry and said it many times. I waved good bye to them sad
that our interaction was cut short by a stupid drunk. Tim later
told me that he did not hit the man because he did not want to escalate
the situation beyond a pushing match. A tactic he had learned
while working with violent teens.
The remaining kilometers into town went quickly. We went to a
street full of hotels. I checked out three of them and choose
Hotel Thanh Phat for US$9 per night.
||Buon Ma Thuot. It is Tet, The New Year.
Everything was closed today. We were in the room all day. We
went out for a short time at dinner.
||Buon Ma Thuot. We
went out to lunch and came back to find that we had been robbed.
We are staying in Hotel Thanh Phat it is in Lonely Planet
We went to lunch across the street at
about 11 am, when we left the hotel we told the receptionist, who speaks English,
not to clean our room. It is our policy not to have our room cleaned,
we do not like anyone in our room. We were gone one hour. When we
returned to our room, it was clean. We immediately went through our
belongings and that is when we knew we were robbed. One of our wallets,
we have a few, was gone through. I know exactly what was in there
because I had just counted it that morning. We were missing $100 in
travelers checks, $150 US cash, and 1,000,000 Vietnamese Dong (US$66). We
immediately went down to the receptionist, and in English told
her we had been robbed.
It is currently Tet, Chinese New Year, the
biggest holiday in Vietnam. With our translator in tow, we went to the
Police just two doors down from the hotel. No one was around, everyone
was on holiday. The receptionist said that she would go and find
the police and left on her scooter. About 30 minutes later she
arrived with two police officers. They came up to our room to hear
our story. It was obvious to us that the maid had stolen our money
and we suspected that others were involved. I was perplexed
because they were interrogating us more than the maid who was also
standing in the room. It was about this time that Tim decided to
turn on the camera and film the interaction between us, the police and
the hotel staff. After prolonged questioning the police officer
wrote a report in Vietnamese, explained the report to the hotel staff,
we did not get a translation, and then had all parties sign it. We
did not get a copy and when we asked for a copy we were told it was not
necessary. Tim told them that he was going to call the police in Hanoi
and our US embassy. Again they said that was not necessary.
At this point I have run all the emotions that getting robbed entails:
first shock, disbelief, anger, and then the horrible feelings of
violation. We then went back to the room. We had the
computer up and we actually had a wireless connection, our first ever.
Using our Dailpad account, PC to phone. I called the US Embassy,
no one was there, it is Tet, no one would be there until Monday of next
week and today was Wednesday. Great. I called the emergency number
but our connection was so bad they hung up on me. I then called
the American Express number to report our travelers checks stolen, the
connection was crystal clear and they were very helpful. The
checks were canceled. They are sending our replacement money to
our home address in Indiana (Tim's mom). The replacement check
should arrive in 7 to 10 days. Well at least we did not lose
everything. Now I was feeling depressed. We had to replace
this money. Luckily there was an ATM in town. It seemed that
we were out of luck with anyone helping us. When things like this
happen it really hits home that we really do not have many rights in
another country and the language barrier is huge. We did not leave
our room after this. I went out to buy some food. Later in
the day four more men showed up and we again told our story in our room.
One of them was the police officer we talked to earlier. They
seemed to be interested in the filming that Tim had done of our initial
conversation. They left a few minutes later. By this time
reality had set in and we knew we were not going to get our money back.
About 7 at night four more people arrived and they had a translator.
They had me write down my story in English while I wrote the story Tim
told the story of how we were robbed and what was missing. They
left and an hour later an immigration officer and two other police
officers showed up. Again, I wrote down my story in English. I
gave them the exact amount that was missing and the serial numbers on
the Travelers checks. They left about a hour later, they said they
would talk to the hotel staff. By this time it was after 10 at
night and I was emotionally exhausted. We went to sleep. I
knew the police would do what they could but I was not optimistic about
finding our money. Tim on the other hand thought that we had a
chance of seeing our money again. We knew someone in the hotel had
||Buon Ma Thuot. We
woke up knowing that we would be here another day. We looked down
on the floor and immediately noticed that money had been slide under the
door during the night or early morning. We were surprised, happy and
relieved all at the same time. Upon further investigation all the money
was there except for 500,000 Vietnamese Dong (US $33). We decided
to stay in the room and not say anything to the hotel staff. At
about 10 am the police showed up in full force. We had at least 10
police standing in our room. We told our story again and that
money had been returned to us during the night or early morning.
They took photos, measured doorways, checked out the balcony and filled
out more paperwork. They asked us if we were happy that the money
was returned, we said Oh, yes. Tim went to the police station with
a calculator, passport and business card from the hotel. I stayed
behind with the immigration officer and one policeman. The 2
officers stayed for more than an hour asking questions and filling out
reports. Tim came back from the police station over two hours
later He told me that we would not have to pay for the room,
anything over 500,000 Dong (US$ 33) we would owe the hotel. The
hotel staff was not happy about this at all. We are happy that the
police jumped in and helped us get our money back. We are both
tired, Tim did all the interaction with the police and managed to get
our hotel bill reduced. He is my hero.
We prepared to leave tomorrow. The
question is which way do we go. We told the police we were going
to Nha Trang down along the coast. We wanted to go north toward
||BMT - km 62. The road is paved, a gentle climb
for the first 30 km and then hilly. we climbed at least 450
meters. Scenery, urban and small villages, coffee and rubber
plantations. Traffic light.
We were up early and ready to leave.
I was nervous because I knew there was going to be a confrontation with
the hotel staff. The first thing the clerk asked Tim as he was bringing
down our gear, was where are you going? Tim told him Nha Trang (a
different direction then we planned). Sure enough he wanted us to
pay our entire bill. I went to the Police station and an officer
came over and told the clerk demanding money that we would pay anything
over 500,000 Dong (US$33). He got irate and started yelling.
He wanted our address and phone number. Tim wrote some bogus address and
phone number down.
We left quickly and rode as fast as we could through town, we were
both concerned with retaliation. We had already decided to take
the road north to Pleiku instead of east to Nha Trang.
It is still Tet and everything is still closed, it was difficult
finding a road side food stall open. We had many many people ride
next to us and ask us where we are going and would we come visit them in
their home. We stopped in a small town and visited with a
man who owned an internet cafe, he spoke English. He offered us
home made rice wine, we had some but drinking does not go well with
biking. He then offered us Winter Melon tea, umm it was delicious.
We stayed about an hour and then started riding again. It is
obviously Tet and everyone is in a festive mood we were invited into
numerous peoples homes but we continued to ride.
Early afternoon we stopped to discuss how far we were going to ride,
we were now in a forest of pines and Tim wanted to stop and camp and I
wanted to ride on. We sat down and with in minutes we had ten
people around us. They wanted us to visit and lived just 2
kilometers away. We decided to go and check out their village.
We went down a dirt road to a small village. It seemed the whole
town was out waving at us. We went inside and sat down with the
family that invited us. The home made rice wine was out again. Hoo,
that stuff is strong. They also gave us a traditional rice cake,
the same thing that was given to us the day before Tet back in Phu Son.
It was just what I needed, it seems that I am always hungry. We
ate, talked the best we could, they were very kind people, and drank
champagne. We left with our shower bag full of water and sunset
only an hour away. We camped in the pines back on the main
road. I was tired from the morning emotional turmoil and climbing
all day and went to sleep soon after dark.
||Pine Camp (750 meters) to Coffee Plantation Camp
(400 meters). Road paved, terrain hilly, scenery coffee,
rural villages, some areas were obviously bombed during the war and then reclaimed.
I find it amazing that there is not a hotel in some of these large
towns. Then I realized that to have a hotel that accepts
foreigners you need a permit. So the government does not hand out
permits in this area. This is also the reason why we were not
invited into peoples homes over night, it is probably not allowed.
Camping is not allowed in this area either.
I had to pry Tim away from the cool pine forest. The ride was
hilly but pleasant, it was a good thing we camped where we did because
the road became very inhabited and it would have been difficult to find
a place to camp.
As we were climbing a short hill some one threw something from a
passing vehicle and it hit me square in the back. It stung so bad it
brought tears to my eyes. I am starting to feel abused in this
country, first a drunk hits me and now someone throws something at me
intentionally inflicting pain.
We lost some altitude and it became very hot. At the lowest
point we met a group of cyclists from Intrepid Bicycle tours. The
were heading in the opposite direction.
It was becoming late afternoon and we knew we had to find a place to
camp. It was one town after another and no decent place to hide.
We did not have enough time to make it all the way to Pleiku. We
rode for 15 km looking for a place to camp, this was tough going.
Then I saw the side road that lead through a coffee plantation.
That was the ticket. We rode down the side road, took a turn into
the coffee field and found a place to camp. As we were resting a
guy road down the path towards us, he saw us, I said to Tim, ut oh he
saw us, when we made eye contact he turned his bike around and pedaled
away as fast as he could. Tim did not even get a look at him.
Can't say I have had that response before. We were glad to be
alone but wondered if he was going to show up with his friends or the
police. The evening was uneventful and we had a peaceful sleep.
||Coffee Plantation Camp to Pleiku. Road paved,
terrain hilly, scenery coffee and rural areas, traffic light to
We took our time in the morning we knew we had a short day.
We were not on the road for 10 minutes when we saw a funeral go by.
We were not sure what it was at first, a procession going down the road
waving flags but then I saw the weeping widow and knew that who ever
died was a young man.
We stopped for lunch a few kilometers from Pleiku and chatted with a
pleasant family who happen to have an English/Vietnamese dictionary.
It was fun learning Vietnamese with the kids. As we sat eating
lunch we saw three elephants go by, I searched and search for tourists
but I did not see any. This was no show, they were actually
traveling by elephant. Unbelievable. We arrived in town and
stayed in the hotel next to the tourist facilities. They wanted a
hefty US$12 per night. I looked at the hotel across the street and
they wanted even more. No thanks.
We went to bed early, we were tired from riding. The phone in
our room rang and woke me up. A women on the other end spoke
English. She told us that the police wanted to know what we were
doing tomorrow. Hmm we had not thought about it really. She
wanted to know where we were going, in her province the police always
want to know where we are going. We told her we planned to stay in
||Pleiku. We spent the day doing laundry and going to the
internet. We half expected the police to show up and start
questioning us. They never did but I always had a feeling that I
was being watched. I seriously considered taking a bus out of here
but Tim talked me into riding out. His logic was that we were
leaving and they would be happy about that. People seem a little
more edgy here and not use to foreigners. A day was all we needed
to rest and do laundry.
||Pleiku - An Khe. The road is paved, terrain hilly,
scenery rural farming, some pines.
We left Pleiku prepared to camp.
We are off the beaten track and there is no information ahead. We
thought that we would camp in the first pass. We arrived at first
pass before noon and had a great lunch at the top of the pass. We
dropped down into a valley that felt like an inferno. It was so
hot we stopped a couple of times to drink plenty of water. At one
stop we watched the military pass by in great numbers, they were even
herding cows. You never know what you are going to see on the
road. We got on our bikes, waved good bye. As we dropped
down off the hill I noticed bunkers (cement house with slots for
shooting machine guns built into the hillside) and Tim told me they were
machine gun nests. When we turned around and looked back at the hill
side we saw places for artillery (canons). Tim said he did not
think the installations were that old.
We were coming up to An Khe and it looked like a large town we were
hoping to find a hotel. Half way through town we found Hotel An
Khe we paid US$10, whew I was ready to stop.
||An Khe - Cau Ganh. Road paved, terrain hilly with
a nice down hill half way. scenery mountainous and dry the first half
and then flat and very green the second half. We had a tail wind
in the morning then no wind at all.
Again, we did not know where we
would find a hotel. The Cycling Vietnam bike book said that there
was a hotel in Qui Nhon. Fourteen kilometers to the south.
We wanted to go north.
We stopped for lunch and while we were eating a fellow on a bike came
in and sat down with us. He asked me if I wanted a cigarette, I
said No and so did Tim. Then Tim said, that is the oldest scam in
the book. You take a cigarette and then he wants you to buy him a
pack. Then he wanted some water and I could not refuse him water.
Just in my nature never to refuse anyone water. Then he wanted me
to buy him cigarettes. We decided to leave and he actually went
with us. We quickly left him behind and forgot all about him.
We rode at least 20 kilometers to the intersection of Highway 1. We
found a nice restaurant and sat down to eat again. I have been
hungry lately. As we were eating our meal the guy from the other
restaurant came strolling in and sat down at our table. We said no
you can not sit here. The people in the restaurant chased him
out and I thought that was the last we would see of him. We
finished our meal and went to our bikes and the guy was waiting for us.
We ignored him, what else could we do. We went half a kilometer down the
road and found a hotel. Well at least we did not have to travel
south. The guy followed us into the hotel and the staff had to
chase him out. I am not sure what this guy thought but we certainly were
not planning on taking him with us.
Back to busy roads and lots of noise. Vietnam has more noise
pollution then anywhere else I have experienced. The air horns on
the buses and trucks could break an ear drum. The drivers are
crazy more like just plain stupid. People stop in the middle of
the road to unload a cart on a main highway. Over the last week I
have noticed symbols of bikes painted on the road. It took me a
while to figure out that these symbols were actually at an accident
site. The number of accidents on the road are staggering. If
they would only look where they were going they would avoid a lot of
SE Asia / China
11-22-04 to 9-15-06
December 16- January 16, 2005
Cambodia and Angkor Wat
Poipet to Tien Bien, Cambodia
Best Place to see Pictures
Cambodia Thumbnail Pictures
(January 16 - February 17 , 2005)
Tinh Bien to Cau Ganh, Vietnam
Tim's Emailed Newsletters
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South Vietnam Thumbnails
May 22 - June 27, 2005
Guizhou and Hunan,
Zhangjiajie National Park China
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Pictures of Guizhou, China.
(July 16 - Sept. 3, 2005)
Inner Mongolia and Shanxi, China.
Beijing to Xian, Shaanxi, China
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Thumbnail pictures from Inner
Full size Picture
Beijing to Jining, Inner Mongolia.
Grasslands of Jining, to Wuchuan (near) Hohhot
to Bautou, Inner Mongolia, China
Bautou to Yulin, Shanxi, China with Photos from Genghis Khan's Mausoleum.
- Yulin to
Yanan, Shaanxi, China
Chairman Mao's Headquarters and Residence in Yanan, China.
- Yanan to
Xian, Shaanxi, China.
Terracotta Warriors #1
Terracotta Warriors #2.
(Sept. 4 - Oct. 29, 2005)
Chengdu, to Zongdian, China
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Sichuan Thumbnail Photos
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- Giant Panda
Breeding Center #1
- Red Panda
in Chengdu, Sichuan, China #2
Chengdu to Kangding.
Sichuan, located in Southwestern China.
Mugecuo Lake near Kangding, Sichuan, China.
Xinduqiao to Tibetan Home Stay.
Home Stay to 4718 meter (15,475 feet)
Litang, Sichuan, China.
Litang Lamasary Tibetan Buddhist Monk Monastery
to Sumdo, Tibet
- Sumdo to
Xiangcheng to Derong, Tibet.
Sichuan Province to Tibetan Shangri-La, (Zongdian)
(Oct. 30 - Dec. 24, 2005)
Zongdian to Mohan, China
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Yunnan thumbnail photos
(July - Sept. 15, 2006)
Malaysia #3 and Singapore.
Taiping, Malaysia to
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Malaysia #3 and Singapore
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Preventing Flat Tires
Bike Touring Shorts
Have Learned On The Road
Injustice of Poverty
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