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Cindie's Vietnam #1. Daily Journal.
Travel Writing, Blog, Travelogue

Tinh Bien to Cau Ganh, Vietnam
(January 16 - February 17 , 2005)


WB01618_.gif (290 bytes)    Previous Journal Thumbnail Photo Page for this Journal

Tim's Letter for this Journal

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Jan 16 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.

We had 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 with time.

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

Jan 17 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.

In the 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.

 
Jan 18 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 breakfast.

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. 

55 km
Jan 19 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. 63 km
Jan 20 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.  
Jan 21 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 work.

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.

 
Jan 22 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. :)

40 km
Jan 23 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.

35 km
Jan 24 Long Vinh - My Tho.  Terrain flat, road paved, scenery rural to urban, traffic light to heavy.  Head wind then a cross wind.

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.

73 km
Jan 25 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 noise low.

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.

73 km
Jan 26 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.  
Jan 27 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.   
Jan 28 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.  
Jan 29 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.

We made arrangement to visit the Cu Chi tunnels tomorrow.

 
Jan 30 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.

 
Jan 31 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.  
Feb 1 Dalat.  Tim sent out his letter about Cambodia.  Pretty much worked on the web page and letter.  
Feb 2 Dalat. Tim spent the day backing up his web page.  
Feb 3 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.  
Feb 4 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.

 
Feb 5 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. 32 km
Feb 6 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.

42 km
Feb 7 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.

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.

90 km
Feb 8 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 for them.

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.

54 km
Feb 9 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.  
Feb 10 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 our money.

 
Feb 11 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 Pleiku. 

 
Feb 12 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.

 

62 km
Feb 13 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.

75 km
Feb 14 Coffee Plantation Camp to Pleiku.  Road paved, terrain hilly, scenery coffee and rural areas, traffic light to moderate.

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 town.. 

42 km
Feb 15 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.  
Feb 16 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.

86 km
Feb 17 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 their troubles.

67 km

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INDEX #3: SE Asia / China
11-22-04 to 9-15-06

1North and
Central America
3-30-02 to 4-17-03

2 South America
6-3-03 to 6-17-04

3 SE Asia / China
11-22-04 to
9-15-06

4 Australia
9-15-06 to 9-15-07

5 New Zealand
9-16-07 to 5-2-08
6 Alaska, Canada, and the USA
5-3-08 to 4-30-10
7 India. Nepal, and the Subcontinent
5-1-10 to present
Where am I  now

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Thailand
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January 23 - March 12, 2006

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(March 13 - April 18, 2006)

Southern Thailand
Hua Hin to Satun, Thailand

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(April 18 - Sept. 15, 2006)

  Malaysia #1
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Two 1-Way Tickets to Australia Please

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(May to August, 2006)
Malaysia #2

Tanah Rata to Taiping, Malaysia

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(July - Sept. 15, 2006)
 
Malaysia #3 and Singapore.
Taiping, Malaysia to Singapore

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1North and
Central America
3-30-02 to 4-17-03

2 South America
6-3-03 to 6-17-04

3 SE Asia / China
11-22-04 to
9-15-06

4 Australia
9-15-06 to 9-15-07

5 New Zealand
9-16-07 to 5-2-08
6 Alaska, Canada, and the USA
5-3-08 to 4-30-10
7 India. Nepal, and the Subcontinent
5-1-10 to present
Where am I  now

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