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Cycling out of Saigon: about an awkward encounter and the long ride toward Cat Tien

Cycling out of Saigon: about an awkward encounter and the long ride toward Cat Tien

The ride out of Saigon is actually much easier than we had anticipated. It is almost a straight shot out of town and onto the highway, where a designated scooter lane keeps us separate from the busses, trucks, and cars. As we reach the outskirts of town the traffic is slowly dying down and the insane cacophony of honking and beeping is calming down to a more tolerable decibel level.

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It’s an easy ride out of Saigon

Just a couple miles outside the city limit a gentleman on a scooter pulls up next to Ron and is trying his best to communicate with him. He gestures to stop at the next cafe for a cup of coffee. After a couple miles of pedaling up and down a few small rollers we meet up with him and his son at a small outside cafe. We sit down, order iced coffee and cold drinks and are trying to chat with the two excited strangers. Unfortunately, we quickly figure out that we have a huge communication problem. We don’t speak Vietnamese and the two guys do not speak a lick of English. Between sips of coffee and awkward silent moments we manage to find out that the older gentleman is a policeman in town and on his way home. The only way, we know that for certain is by him showing us his badge and other official papers. With lots of charades and guessing we try our best to have a conversation but somehow it turns out to be mostly a strange situation and we really wish, we could have the magic ability to learn a new language as soon as we enter a new country.

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Colorful decorations on one of the many churches we encounter near Saigon

Eventually our drinks are empty and all of us are strangely relieved to say our goodbyes. Happy about the encounter but sad not to be able to have a real conversation, we depart and continue our ride toward Cat Tien National Park.

It takes us about three days of mostly uneventfully cycling over rolling hills in the tropical heat to make it to our next destination. Initially we stay on A1, a national highway, where lots of trucks travel along our side, but traffic is overall tolerable. Eventually, we turned onto the smaller national road 20. We  ride past temples and churches, we stop to take pictures of a floating village on a lake and take a break by one of the many war memorials.

Drivers are courteous, the locals are nice, and we stop at several small cafés for iced coffee and freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.

The very sweet, thick vietnamese iced coffee is delicious and together with the yummy sugar cane juice it has definitely become one of our favourite power drinks while in SE-Asia.
Most of the street side cafés along the road are furnished with small kid size tables and chairs and the best of all they are all adorned with hammocks and make for great rest places in the tropical heat.

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Taking a break, we wish we could have those cafes at home

As we stop in a small guesthouse in a little village along our way, it is obvious that western tourists are rare here. Nobody speaks English, but somehow we are able to communicate anyway. We get a room and find a local family restaurant for dinner. At the restaurant, we are unable to read the menu and nobody is able to translate for us. We point at a couple of the advertisement pictures and hope to get some sort of beef or pork.

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Our first guest house after leaving Saigon

Apparently, that is not quite what the restaurant is known for and we are shown a big platter with a variety of fresh uncooked fish to choose from. That is not really what we had in mind, so we continue to point at the pictures on the wall. Eventually the owner makes a phone call and shortly afterward a young man appears, who speaks English–a friend of the family who lives down the road. He asks what we want to eat and tells us that the restaurant is really famous for its seafood. We tell him, we were really looking forward to beef or pork and noodles. He helps us order and soon several plates with grilled pork sausages, fried rice-paper-rolls, noodles, skewers, fresh vegetables, herbs, and salad leafs appear together with a bowl of water and lots of sheets of rice paper. It is what we ordered, but we have no clue how all this stuff is actually supposed to go together. Aware of our puzzled looks the restaurant owner quickly grabs a chair and pulls it up along our table. Then he laughs and grabs a rice paper, puts some water on it and starts to skilfully place pieces from every plate onto the rice paper with his chopsticks, then he rolls everything up into the rice paper like a spring roll. “This is how you do it! It is Nem Nuong. Do you want me to prepare some more for you?”

“No thank you, we think we got it.” and we start making our own spring rolls.

The helpful, young man continues to hang out for a little bit longer and chats with us. According to him, we are the first western tourist to come into the restaurant and the family is very surprised how we even found it. Everybody is very helpful and happy to have us and before he leaves he makes sure that we are all taken care of and that there are no more questions. He even invites us to come by his house for coffee later. Unfortunately, it is already late and dark by the time we leave the restaurant. So we decide to head back to our rooms and call it a night.

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Riding along

Somewhere along our way, Jessica gets to celebrate her first big milestone–her first 1000 miles on the road.

Despite her knee hurting, having had numerous stomach problems throughout Cambodia, and trying to get into shape, she keeps pedalling on.

Congratulations!

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lots of easy rolling hills

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another huge nativity scene

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sometimes traffic can get a little thicker

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dragon serpent at one of the temples along our route

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one of the many “happy Buddhas”

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Supposedly, Vietnam is one of the world’s leading coffee exporters. Here we are riding past coffee beans drying in the sun

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Another guest house we stayed in. The kids are having a good time watching us pumping up the bike tires

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This is everybody’s favorite photo-pose. Kids from the guest house

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we found a quiet country road

 

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