Crossing the Mekong Delta: Day 1, Ben Luc to My Tho
I flicked the lightswitch next to my bed in the hotel. The light did not turn on so I panicked, not because I was afraid of the dark, but I was on the fifth floor of the hotel and today was my day of departure. I was facing carrying all four panniers bags and my bicycle (still in the box) down five flights of stairs (the first floor was named “M”). I chose this particular hotel (the Felix Hotel) because of the lift so this wasn’t a good start to the day.
After breakfast and a few rather hazardous and sweaty ascents of the stairs, I jumped in a taxi and made my way to meet Michelle, Matt and Luam who run a local tour operator outfit. We chatted about potential trips in the future, they made me feel very welcome and were extremely helpful in my current journey too. I was then whisked away on a scooter to get some money changed and for a new SIM card and phone.
They ordered me another taxi, this time through the Vietnamese version of Uber. When the taxi arrived it was clear that my bike box would not fit into the back, so I finally got rid of the cumbersome and now battered box.
I said my farewells to the team, then headed out to Ben Luc, whizzing through the Ho Chi Min City streets with the British boy-band Blue as the soundtrack. All very surreal really.
An hour later, my driver dropped me and my bike at a small restaurant where some smiling women cooked me vegetables and rice.
I reassembled my bike (much to the amusement of the women), then took to the road for the first time in Vietnam. By this point I was dripping with sweat from the reassemble, but as soon as I began cycling, I cooled immediately. What a feeling, for the first time since arriving I felt as if this was the right thing to do. I was on the road again, navigating the streets of Vietnam. Incredible.
I had a map which was pretty useless, but began using Google maps to navigate. It really proved to be a success, with many of the backroads marked on. I was also a little nervous about the ferry crossings marked on Google maps as one crossing was pretty vital to my day’s ride if I was to make it to My Tho that evening.
There are plenty of disadvantages of using a mobile phone to navigate and ordinarily I would be dead set against it. What if the battery runs out? You spend too long staring at your phone! These are all arguments against, and certainly I am hoping to reduce my phone usage anyway. On this occasion however, the details was stupendous and undoubtedly better than any map, all without using data. I was reliably informed that there aren’t really any good Vietnamese maps out there, and with the closure of many ferry services in the Mekong area, I felt like the phone was justified.
In any case, I didn’t have it out all the time, just to check every now and then where I was (I’m really having to justify this as I love maps!). Without Google I perhaps wouldn’t have been able to cross this non-motorised vehicle bridge.
My first ferry existed. I hadn’t a clue how long it would take, how much it would be and when the next would leave, but figured I’d work it out. I paid my 2000VND (about £0.06), parked my bike next to all of the scooters, bought a fanta, some non-descript crisps and a sugar cane drink, and waited.
It was only 30 minutes before the boat pulled in, engines started and we all made our way onto the ferry.
It was refreshing to cross with the wind in my face. It really was sweltering at this stage, so any breeze was much appreciated. My fellow passengers gave me and my bike the once overs throughout the 20 minute crossing.
The other side of the water we disembarked the ferry and I was back navigating the backroads. This wasn’t necessary, I could have taken the main roads. I found far more pleasure in the backroads however, and Google made it pretty easy.
Soon I entered the town of My Tho. The traffic picked up and suddenly I was surrounded by countless scooters, carrying everything from buckets of ducks to building steel. I arrived at the Mekong once again and managed to catch a beautiful sunset as it dropped below the orange horizon.
Ahead of me was a rather large bridge, I really hadn’t been anticipating it and could see that it was already really rather busy, and fast. I hurried along, turned my lights on and was soon on the hard shoulder of a rather unpleasant busy road over the river. Luckily it was short lived, and the other side I turned off at the first opportunity, heading east along a small peninsula to my accommodation for the evening, The Mekong homestay.
I was welcomed by Than who showed me to my room. Apparently the restaurant was now shut, but he agreed to whip me something up in 30 minutes or so.
After a shower and some laundry, Than showed me the shrimps that he’d caught that day that would form the basis for our dinner. They were still alive.
The dinner was incredible, fresh and full of flavour, the perfect end for my first days’ ride.
We were also joined by Than’s neighbour, also a farmer. He asked me how old I though he was, I made a conservative guess of 55…he was 83!!! Either I’m terrible at ages or living on the Mekong is good for you!