Our Last Day Riding in Vietnam - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

December 28, 2016

Our Last Day Riding in Vietnam

Tri Ton to Ha Tien

Tri Ton to Ha Tien 49.5 miles

Dear little friends,

During the night it was kind of noisy in our Nha Nghi, what with dogs barking and people coming and going and talking loudly in the hallways. Also, there was this little matter going on in my bowels that made itself known in the morning. We weren’t feeling the love in this guesthouse. We had a 48-mile day ahead of us. And it was our last full day of riding in Vietnam. We got up earlier than we ever had and were out the door at 6 am, loudspeaker time.

To be perfectly frank I was worried about the day, its length, whether our back road shortcut would be a good road or a hell road, and the food poisoning settling in which makes life feel dicey and full of potentially embarrassing outcomes. Literally.

The road west out of Tri Ton was mere steps from our guesthouse and off we went and after a zig-zag were once again snugged up to a canal. The road was smooth, tree-lined and fairly quiet. More bridges and small ferries appeared, more boats, more villages. When we got sidelined by a suddenly stopped bus we looked to our right and there was a banh mi stand and we seated ourselves on the little chairs and snarfed down the fresh eggy goodness.

The beautiful road west of Tri Ton.
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8000 dong for a banh mi, why we eat so many of them. That's a 30-cent sandwich, folks.
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There were two possible routes to Ha Tien, both the same length, and we had to choose one. So we chose the one where we would take a shortcut road north and meet up with the road between Chau Doc and Ha Tien. This road skirts the Cambodian border. When we got to the shortcut road we first had to cross one of the charming bridges over the canal, this one wide enough for cars or smallish trucks. And on the other side, stretching for miles was a flat green plain of rice with a few hills behind them. Spectacular.

Leaving the road and about to cross a bridge over the canal.
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The view from the canal bridge.
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Canal cargo boat.
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Vietnam has a lot of people to feed. They are renowned in neighboring countries for the amount of chemicals and GMO seed used to accomplish this and the beautiful rice was often dotted with signs advertising just which commercial product had been applied there. Men with gas-powered sprayers walked in the rice unprotected, misting and misting. It was not a little disconcerting.

A million acres of too-perfect rice.
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Along the shortcut road.
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Besides chemical farming Vietnam is polluting their soil forever with plastic covers. When they break down from sunlight they are plowed back in.
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Our sweet shortcut road was absolutely perfect. Flat, tree-lined, and very, very quiet. For weeks we had been traveling long distances that were always inhabited, you couldn’t stop without a motorbike pulling up and insisting they needed to park where you stood or go where you had paused briefly. Forget trying to pee outside, there was always an audience. But on this road we heard birds instead of motors, or if there were motors they were the gentle chug-chugs of boats on the smaller canal we followed. Small huts by the road appeared occasionally and of course we passed a few lone karaoke singers serenading the chemical-ized rice.

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A peaceful canal scene and a million ducks.
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Sedge grasses harvested from the wetlands.
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Reluctantly we turned onto Duong N1 but it was fine, and would make a southern turn that straight-arrowed us to the coast and Ha Tien. For the first time in Vietnam, on our very last day riding there, we met two cycling tourists going the opposite way. Then awhile later a supported tour group of cyclists who of course were on a timeline and none of them dreamed of stopping to chat. When we reached the turn there was only a canal between us and Cambodia for a few minutes, then we went back inland. In a few days we would be in Cambodia for real.

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A shady rest area next to the canal.
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These sedge bundles will probably be made into brooms.
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Meet Piet and Dominique, from Belgium. They were lots of fun to talk to and we wished they were going the same direction as us. www.tangatanga.com/pletniki
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Somewhere on that straightaway I was able to find suitable cover for a “nature walk” and good thing, too. Now I knew I could make it the rest of the way to Ha Tien and I stopped worrying and just enjoyed the riding. The sun was hot, the wind at our backs, the fields fresh, the trees giving us some shade. Vietnam had kicked our asses plenty of times during this trip but this day was a real gift and we took it greedily.

Even in the middle of nowhere Vietnam has excellent wifi, and this was the case all over the country.
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"Did we miss the city we are about to leave?"
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Long canals stretch out into the Mekong Delta.
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Duong N1 runs into QL80 at the coast, which was surprisingly terrible, with deep jagged non-shoulders, lots of traffic, and beachy-type vendor stalls. We stopped for a papaya, shoved it into a pannier and crossed the big bridge into Ha Tien. A guy on a motorbike had given us a card for a guesthouse that was not in the Lonely Planet neighborhood. We entered that neighborhood and realized that Lonely Planet does not mention that nearly every single large building in Ha Tien is a birdhouse.

Ha Tien, taken from the bridge into town. The ferry on the right takes people (and bikes!) to Phu Quoc Island.
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If we haven’t mentioned it before, the swiftlet nest industry (used in bird’s nest soup) is huge in SE Asia, they build large barnlike structures that look like human dwellings (and sometimes are, on the lower floors) with entry holes for the swiftlets and a loudspeaker on the roof broadcasting swiftlet calls to lure in more birds. It’s the recorded bird calls that are completely and utterly obnoxious and Ha Tien rang with the clicks and clatter of monster-ized swift conversation.

We quickly dismissed the Lonely Planet neighborhood and found the place on the card and it turned out to be friendly, clean, cheap, and birdhouse free. Out in front the manger scene was lit like the Ice Capades, if the real baby Jesus had been born there he might have been quite traumatized, but the light show was helpful to us in finding our way back in a town laid out like a spiderweb.

The manger scene outside our guesthouse complete with disco ball representing The Star.
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Once more the slog up the stairs with four dusty panniers each, slinging them to the floor, back down for the handlebar bag, backpack, helmets, water bottles, and to hand two passports to the young lady at the desk. In the room, turn on the A/C, locate the shampoo and the scrubby thing I use to get the road dirt and grit off of my feet and lower legs. Oh blessed hot water. Oh clean toilet that flushes my illness away. Oh little refrigerator to put the swampy water bottles in. And then, pull out the medical kit and find the ciprofloxacin. Taken twelve hours apart, usually only two or three are needed.

Our room with its blessings: water, shower, and fridge.
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For two months we traveled in Vietnam eating street food and raw lettuce and fresh herbs and had no food-borne illness at all. They have it down, with ice made of bottled water, rinsing raw ingredients in bottled water, and washing their hands. It wasn’t always perfect hygiene and we certainly know how to be careful and watchful about food that may have been left out for hours but I give Vietnam a lot of credit. Every house and boat we saw sported the big blue bottle of ionized water delivered daily. That is a great thing.

A slightly spendy but clean papaya shake on the waterfront, Ha Tien.
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So we went downtown Ha Tien and we had a fruit shake by the river and a Com Tam with egg on top and watched the motorbikes buzz up and down the streets. People turn their heads and say hello as they pass. Children tool around town freely with their friends on bikes like we did when we were kids. And when dusk falls, the stupid bird loudspeakers stop with the stupid chirping and from our room there is only the sound of a nearby chicken and the church bells’ call to mass. Somebody later that night goes out to unplug the manger scene, but it’s not us, because we are long asleep.

Today's ride: 50 miles (80 km)
Total: 1,301 miles (2,094 km)

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