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Ho Chi Minh City

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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.

No I’m not lost, I’m simply finding my way!

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!

The beautiful and very proud Hang Dinh, and rightly so!

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:

Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon

Stained glass windows in Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon

Saigon Opera House

Angels over the entrance of the Saigon Opera House

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!

The very helpful post office man.

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.

Would you want to live in one of those flats?

The Saigon skyline, viewed from the bridge.

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.

Breaking all the rules

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.

Through the lens… courtesy of Hang


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.

Fishing on the Mekong

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!

Home while on Phu Quoc Island

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.

Bridge on Phu Quoc Island

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.

A short stroll to the nice quiet beach

Of course I’m also an avid people watcher…

A local boy taking time out on the beach

…and waiting for the sunsets was pretty special.

Sunset, Phu Quoc Island

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.

Waiting for the ferry, Phu Quoc Island

The ‘fast’ ferry that would take me back to the mainland

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…

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Love the camping on the roof idea Derek. Is that a Hilleberg Nallo GT by the way? I have been thinking today about blogs, websites and jouneys that have inspired me. And people, of course. You score in all categories! Keep it up.

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    No it’s the Hilleberg. Just looks different with both ends rolled up. Thanks for your kind comments.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Wonderful photos, Derek.

Maggie Gaestel
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Another delightful trip via beautiful photographs. Love the magazine cover.

Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 3:52 am

Wish I knew your story earlier and that you were coming to HCMC. I would have loved to buy you a coffee and hear a few stories. Happy and safe travels!

Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 6:42 am

Hats off to you! Read your story in Hanoi’s Word this month. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. X

Friday, April 11, 2014 at 7:17 am

Inspiring and pics that really do capture our city of Saigon. Regret I did not meet you on your travels (my partners son biked across the US which I thought was amazing – but a piker compared to you). You are living an eternity each day man and that is inspiring! Safe travels.

Monday, April 14, 2014 at 12:13 am

Way to go Derek, enjoy!I am from Guatemala Central America, an you are welcome anytime!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 9:12 am

I heard a story of you from a note which Hang shared on her Facebook and I want to send all my respect to you. Keep your bike wheel rolling and enjoy your time in Vietnam. Have a good journey!

Nicolas Valy
Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 3:56 am

…and we call it “l’arbre du voyageur” in french which means “the tree of the traveller”!!

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