Vietnam by Bike, Bus, Boat and Train I

After two months in Laos I crossed the border to Vietnam and it was a change from the beginning. A change that felt good. After the rural quietness of Laos, Vietnam was busy and loud. Even Plei Can, the first city I reached a few hours after the border crossing seemed busier than Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
From now on the plan was to cycle southwards to Saigon. There I had to find a place to shelter my bike. My parents would come to Vietnam and the plan was to travel together by bus and train for three weeks.
I had been warned in advance that camping would be difficult because Vietnam is densely settled. In fact, there is an endless line of houses following the roads bloating up from time to time to villages and cities. As the price of a room was just 4 to 5 Euro and as it became annoying after a while to be watched and questioned all the time while camping, I slept more and more in guesthouses. I had one very nice evening with a coffee farmer and his friends. He allowed me to sleep next to his field, they made a campfire, we talked by Google Translator and watched Tom and Jerry on his smartphone. In the following pics he is the young guy with the scooter.
After a week and about 400 kilometers ahead of Saigon, cycling found an sudden end. After 4000 kilometers of cycling in total, my tires were so worn out that I had three flat tires per day. Finally, on a highway, going downhill with 40 kilometer per hour, I got a flat tire again and fell on the road. Luckily, at that moment there were none of the omnipresent busses or trucks directly behind me. Only scooters that stopped immediately. Suddenly a lot of people offered me everything. Something to drink, food, help, even money. But even my last patch didn’t let my bike roll again. Hong Thuy Nguyen, a woman from the next village, invited me to her home. She and her husband (the couple seen on the last photo in the next album) offered me some food and helped me to catch a bus from the roadside, so I went on to Saigon when the sun went down. On the way there, the bus had a flat tire…

The arrival in Saigon was another soothing culture shock conducted by seven million people. Except of Bangkok in the beginning of my trip, I had never seen something comparable. To save money, I pushed my bicycle the few kilometers to the hostel. At the reception desk I understood that there are two of the same name. In the end, I pushed the bike with the flat tire 12 kilometer through the city and arrived soaked in sweat at 1 o’clock at the right one. But it was a very warm welcome, I got one night plus a bottle of water for free and I also could store my bike for three weeks in their basement.

Because of my early arrival I had a few days’ time to roam the city. I skipped most sights and focused on everyday life. It didn’t matter at which time I went to the streets. This city literally sleeps never, there is always a market or a streetfood shop that is open.
The unfamiliar settledness also released unknown energies in me and I spend a lot of time writing diary and sorting photos.

Something very exciting about Saigon is the wiring of the city. I cannot imagine that there is a person who got an overview about this. Every device seems to have its own thin wire fusing again and again with others to thicker and thicker bunches which than suddenly vanish into the ground. I followed the wire of an Lightbulb two kilometer until it disappeared into the floor.

Taking pictures in the night is a very grateful thing, as the light is often sparse but also more varied. Also because of the heat I often spent a lot of hours walking through the city in darkness.

After a week it was time to leave Saigon to move on to Hanoi. The often-heard phrase “Don’t go it’s very uncomfortable” made it especially appealing to do the whole 1600-kilometer ride in a sleeping-bus. The ticket was just about 25 euro and the trip should last forty-eight hours. So, I locked the bike in the basement of the hostel and embarked the dimmed bus at 1 o’clock am. Except of me, there were five other passengers and two drivers. But this didn’t mean that the free space stayed unused. Twenty minutes after departure we stopped in a backyard and all free space was loaded up with corncobs and boxes full of anything. Then we finally left the city and I tried to sink in a timeless twilight state. Thankfully, there was (in difference to prior overland trips in Azerbaijani or Romanian busses) no music playing. The ticket price included three meals per day, which were taken in special bus-stop restaurants. The first thing the drivers did at these stops was to put a basket full of flipflops (absolute shoe-prohibition in the bus) in front of the door. Than the whole crew went to a huge refectory which had space for two to eight busloads of people at one time, and out of a huge kitchen everybody briskly got his food. After fifteen minutes the ride went on. With the time passing by, I got more and more the feeling that we are going too fast. Would we really need 48 hours to Hanoi?

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