06 Mar Cycling into Saigon
After about 50 miles of riding, having a great lunch, and taking a break at a church, where dozens of children welcome us and where Jessica gets bombarded with questions by several girls about her travels, we finally enter the suburbs of Saigon.
The road leading into the city is a mix of either freshly paved asphalt or miles and miles of construction. For some reason though we are making great time today. The tailwind and the long downhills are surely helping.
As I am cycling behind Jessica in traffic and minding my own business, a young man on a scooter slows down and rides along the side of me. His scooter is heavily loaded down with several boxes of chips and snacks. He waves and says hello and holds out a bundle of at least 20 snacks strung up on colorful ribbons to me. Without missing a pedal stroke, I point to the snacks and ask confused “Is that for me?”
He laughs, hands me the huge bundle of snacks and says “Welcome to Vietnam!” and before I could even say thank you, he waves and disappears back in the traffic.
Not to fall too far behind the others, I just hang the snacks over my shoulder and keep riding several miles with my “snack necklace” until Jessica decides to stop to get her one of the rice hats by the side of the road. The lady in the store sits down with her to fit her new hat with a ribbon before we leave the tiny store.
After securing our new possessions to our back panniers we pedal a little harder to catch up with Ron and Randy. The traffic picks up considerably as we close in on the city. Since it is already getting late, we are considering getting a room near the outskirts of town and maybe ride all the way in in the morning. Our plan is to eventually find a place to stay close to the airport where Randy is going to leave for home in a few days.
We pull over on a narrow, scooter filled road to see how far it is to the airport. While we check the maps, an older lady comes out of the house behind us. She shakes our hands and greets us, looks at our maps, checks out our bikes and points at our mats with questioning eyes. We charade, that they are for sleeping. Her eyes light up and she opens the gate to her house, gesturing we could sleep in there and have tea. Since we would like to ride a little bit further, we politely decline. I offer a few of my snacks to the lady as a thank you. She shakes her hand “no”, but apparently she is very touched by the gesture, because without hesitation, she gives me the biggest bear hug, a huge smile and a “com on”, before telling us good bye.
The kindness of the people just never ceases to amaze us!
Unfortunately, we do not get too far. Our fast travels for the day are coming to a screeching halt, as Ron picks up a huge nail, which gets imbedded in his tire. Actually it found its way through the tire into the rim and requires a pair of pliers to get pulled out again. Luckily, he is able to fix the problem quickly, while a curious young boy is watching every move, before we keep going again.
It is a little difficult to tell, where the suburbs end and the city limits begins. The increase of scooters, horn blowing, and crazy traffic might be an indication. Yet, the ride into Saigon is exhilarating to say the least. Scooters are piling up at every intersection and trucks, cars and busses are slowly mowing their way though the wall of scooters. Miraculously, the traffic never comes to a full stop in the intersections. Although a continuos stream of people turn left or right, they just slow down a little and intertwine with each other in a fancy dance so they can keep going into their direction without ever stopping. Most scooters go in the direction of traffic, some go against the flow. Nobody ever checks what’s coming from behind or what’s coming from their left. Rear view mirrors are just mere scooter decorations, nobody makes any use of them. Everybody just moves forward, any open area ahead of them is fair game, even if it is the tiniest spot…if it’s unoccupied it will be moved into. The only rule that seems to exist is that the bigger vehicle gets the right away. At first glance, intersections and traffic circles can be very intimidating. They look a little bit like battle scenes out of the Braveheart movie, where scooters instead of horses run full speed at each other, except they never collide.
After another break from the traffic and a cup of iced coffee and some more debating of where to stop for the night, we continue our ride into the heart of Saigon…in the dark with even more traffic. We keep cycling until we find a guesthouse in a small, quiet alleyway , 3 miles away from the airport, which we’ll call home for the week to come.