Four nights in Saigon - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

November 21, 2023 to November 25, 2023

Four nights in Saigon

Dear little friends,

We planned for four nights in Saigon and contemplated adding another if we wanted to. This is because we know it takes several days to get ourselves un-discombobulated, to get whatever sleep we can in the post jet-lag fuzz of time confusion, to get ourselves out during the morning to do things and be back in the air-con by noon, to assemble our bikes slowly and carefully.

It was a pretty good plan. 

Saigon is an enormous city, maybe even a mega-city. We saw only a tiny fraction of it. The morning after visiting the War Remnants Museum we took a walk through the park to see the Notre Dame Cathedral but when we got there it was covered in scaffolding and it looks like this renovation is going to take a looooooong time. And apparently it’s been going on a long time already because there are vines growing up the scaffolding. Of course, this is the tropics and those vines may only be ten hours old. It seems like they are renovating the inside too.

But right next door is the old Post Office, and tour buses, tourists, souvenir vendors, a lot of activity. The Post Office is beautiful, with the original curved wooden counters and benches, the telephone booths, the tiled floor, the arched ceiling and fancy light fixtures. 

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This is still a working Post Office. Uncle Ho oversees day-to-day operations.
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The meticulous restoration of the floor tiles really made us happy.
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Right next to the Post Office is “Book Street”, a pedestrian only green block with several book stores and plenty of benches and coffee shops for pleasant reading.
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Brent HirakGod, didn’t we used to have book streets here? I guess there’s a reason to never leave that beautiful place
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2 months ago
Jeff ArnimSorry scooters.
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2 months ago

Bike assembly was going smoothly. Our hotel room was spacious enough for each of us to have an assembly area and a place for the bikes to stand. We put the racks and such on, with plenty of time and coolness to do a thorough, unrushed job. One of the last accessories was Bruce’s bike computer. While we were testing it we realized the front disk rotor was not right. Dang.

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It’s always so fun to see them waiting to come out and have an adventure.
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Ron SuchanekAren't you afraid of getting it dirty?
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Ron SuchanekToo late.
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2 months ago

So I mapped out the way to a promising looking bike shop about a mile away. There are always bike shops but most of them just have a raft of plastic looking bikes for children, you want to find the ones with repair stands and a lot of good lookin’ bikes in the inventory. The one we found was a Trek dealer and had good reviews.

Mind you, we have seen precious few serious cyclists in Saigon, unfortunately. Like, zero. Maybe one or two. A few old people/vendors on ancient one-speeds. All over the place the city had blue-and-white bike share bikes lined up forlornly but not once did we see anybody riding one. That seemed ominous.

Even the blithe selfie-taker on the sign wasn’t enough to convince people to take a bicycle out on the streets of Saigon.
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We rolled the bikes out of the elevator, one at a time. The bellhop guys swarmed us like butterflies, trying to carry them down to the sidewalk for us, and checking them out carefully. One of them did not care for the angle of my weird Bike Friday fender and tried to fix that but it’s hopeless. It’s a weird fender and there’s no satisfaction trying to straighten it out. We were a little anxious about our shakedown ride to the bike shop but it all worked out fine and we got to experience “bloodstream riding” where you find your place in the stream of motorbikes, be alert for sudden obstacles, AND try to at least glance at your surroundings occasionally. Our new bikes are a dream to ride.

Mr. Biker Saigon assessed that rotor like a surgeon, got his rotor straightening tool out, and set to. He spent a good 15 minutes listening and watching the wheel rotate, crimped the rotor here and there, this way and that. And then the wheel spun free. He would not accept payment. 

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Scott AndersonYes, that’s the tool I was telling Bruce about. SO much better than the hammer handle the mechanic used to straighten mine back in Ferrara this spring.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Scott AndersonThis guy was so meticulous. He would gently bend the rotor with his tool and I would raise bike up and he would give the wheel a spin. We did this repeatedly for at least 15 minutes and never a word was spoken between us until he was satisfied and then he said, "Free."
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2 months ago

Yes. We wrote up glowing Google reviews to add to his collection.

There were walks around to find a bank to change money, a visit to the market where I picked up a little bag to put my phone in when I’m walking around finding banks to change money at. It’s really really hot and humid and I just keep washing things and hanging them up to dry. But in the evening it does cool down and we find a little dinner somewhere and then call it a night.

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Jen RahnThis is my morning smile.

Thank you!
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2 months ago
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Bun Cha, a signature dish from Hanoi in the far north.
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Gregory GarceauGreat picture of Boof on a Bun Cha mission. It might be the same look I have every time I dig into an Upper Michigan pasty, which is my version of a unique cultural dining experience.
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2 months ago

But Saigon does NOT call it a night, Friday evening saw every sidewalk parked with motorbikes three deep and people shopping and eating and looking pretty glamorous. It’s a really big city, thronged with people and traffic. We didn’t see very much of it but every block is a microcosm, with surprising tiny alleyways, a woman selling bananas in front of a glitzy fashion store, women in a lot of makeup and skimpy evening wear, guys hanging out on tiny plastic chairs with their pals, the honking, the movement at your elbow, the swivel of your head to see if a motorbike is going to shoot out of an alley or up onto the sidewalk and honk at you in annoyance for blocking THEIR sidewalk. 

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It’s exciting but exhausting and there was nothing to do for it but retreat to our room, close the door on the chaos, get our stuff washed and packed and a map out of the city ready to follow in the morning. Four nights was enough. Every night we each sleep a little longer and better, on our comfy bed in the cool air, 8 floors above the hum down on the street. We did well. But it’s time to get outta this place.

Today's ride: 1 mile (2 km)
Total: 1 mile (2 km)

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Gregory GarceauI've never heard the term "bloodstream riding" before. Did you coin it? Either way, your description was perfect, and I can picture you two pulsing your way through the arteries.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Gregory GarceauI don’t know if I coined it, honestly, but ever since we rode in Hanoi 7 years ago it’s how I’ve conceptualized how the flow of motorbike traffic works in Vietnam. For the most part, they are considerate of us and our bumbling around in the midst of an otherwise elegant flow. Many of them are in a big hurry and come closer than feels comfortable (to us). Now we are out in the delta towns and there are elders on bicycles that have their own set of rules, and there also seems to be more people who are unwilling to cross into their own lane of traffic and just ride right into our lane and even honk at us to get out of their way! One town will feel smooth, another frenetic and crazy. I guess it’s just what each locale is willing to tolerate.
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2 months ago
Lyle McLeodTo Andrea BrownI used to refer to the traffic as ‘Brownian motion by mopeds’, but your bloodstream metaphor is more apt. These folks actually do get to their intended destination, eventually, smiling the whole time. Have to see it to believe it!
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2 months ago