Firstly, please realise that I’m a little behind with the blog and although this episode is about Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc, I’m actually much further along on my journey. Check out my Facebook page for my current destination, which I’m now updating on a regular basis. By the time I reach Siem Reap in Cambodia, I should be back up to date with this blog.
Most people seem to use this old name for HCMC and it is easier to write! I arrived here on the train, which in months gone by would have been a definite no-no, but I’m getting a little wiser in my travels. The main reason for not cycling down is I simply would have run out of time on my visa and extending again was not an option – I need to get my flight to Canada before the end of April. I was a little nervous when I discovered my bike would go on a separate goods train, while I would take the overnight sleeper a day later. It all worked out fine though and arriving in the early morning gave me plenty of time to find my hostel.
I had been in touch with Hang, a local couchsurfing girl here in Saigon, but she was unable to host me. However this was more than made up for by the amount of time she spent showing me around and in particular introducing me to the local food and drink. Hang is a journalist and more than a decent writer. During our time together she proceeded to interview me (without notes) and then wrote an article on me, which was not only published, I made the front page!
It was a crazy city in terms of the traffic and trying to take photographs was a major challenge not to get them filled with bikes or other vehicles. It was kinda fun though being driven around on the back of a scooter and wandering through the park at night, sitting eating ice cream and swigging on a beer. I almost forgot that I was a round the world cyclist for a while. I liked Saigon, but never saw enough of it due to wanting to spend my last few days in Viet Nam cycling across the Mekong Delta, and then have a rest period on Phu Quoc Island. Anyhow, here’s a selection of photos I took:
My favourite photo though is of an old man that Hang told me spends his time in the main post office building helping foreigners. I asked his permission to take a picture and his English was perfect, but then he has been working there for very many years!
We decided to try and get some sunset shots from the bridge overlooking the city skyline and the sight of the huge high rise flats reminded me of my home town of Huddersfield in Yorkshire, which had many like these ugly behemoths before they decided to pull them all down.
As a photographer and photography teacher for many years, I often play around breaking all the rules of composition and framing – it can produce some quite surprising images. I’m not quite sure if this one works perfectly, but I know I like it a lot.
I asked Hang to try and capture some ‘non-posed’ shots of me and I now have a good selection of pictures as we both snapped away with our cameras. It was a very enjoyable time for me, you can’t not enjoy yourself in this fun young ladies company. As I know she is saving for yet another travelling trip, I do hope our paths cross again.
The Mekong Delta
All too soon it was time to leave and set off cycling across the Mekong Delta, destination Ha Tien and then a ferry onto Phu Quoc Island. As always after a break, it felt good to be spinning the legs again. Because the terrain was flat the only difficulty became the heat, so early starts were the normal routine and I got finished before the hottest part of the day. Wild camping was easy enough in terms of finding a location, but it was unbearably hot and with a guest-house as cheap as 3$ to 5$ I switched.
I made something of a mistake when booking the ferry from Ha Tien, taking the slow (bigger) one instead of the slightly more expensive faster boat. The difference in price I later found out was negligible, but what was a pain is that the slower ferry dropped me well out of the way on the North East side of the island and I had a long cycle to get to Duong Dong and the accommodation Hang had kindly arranged for me. The guest-house had no free rooms, so I camped on the roof terrace!
The Island itself had good main roads and then dirt tracks as the secondary means of getting about. It still seems to me more than a little off the beaten track and very quiet, but this could have been because it was the end of the busy period and I still met up with other travellers. It was nice to have a bit of relaxation and just chill out instead of having to run about taking photographs, but of course photo opportunities are never far away amidst this kind of scenery.
Stopping to photograph a rather unusual bridge, I noticed over the other side was a Catholic church, one of a few I later saw on the Island. Even stranger (to me), I was approached by a bible wielding local during my time here who could speak pretty good English, or at least quote verses in pretty good English!
I didn’t have far to go to get to the beach as it was only a few hundred yards away, and while lounging around on hot sand has never been my thing, I do enjoy a good swim and the sea was warmer than the shower back at the guest-house.
Of course I’m also an avid people watcher…
…and waiting for the sunsets was pretty special.
A travel agency was right next door to my accommodation so I took the opportunity to pre-book my return ferry ticket (and save money by doing so) making sure this time I would leave from the nearby port, instead of having to cycle 30 km to the north of the Island. My R&R (rest and recuperation) was complete, I would need to leave Vietnam the next morning as my visa expired and the Cambodian border awaited just a few kilometres from Ha Tien.
It’s an indication of how much I love Vietnam that I left on the very last day of my visa. I wished I could have stayed longer, but my travels have to continue. In the next blog I’ll be able to tell you all about Cambodia and how I suffered in the dust riding to Siem Reap. More soon…