Into the steam - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

November 21, 2023

Into the steam

Dear little friends,

Considering that we had a particularly arduous flight to Taipei (China Airlines has gone dramatically downhill since we flew it last) I’d say that our trip has gone pretty well so far and we’ve had a soft landing. We like those.

You kind of need one when you’re going so far with such a shocking change in time and temperature. And it’s not like we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, we knew it was going to be steamy here in Ho Chi Minh City (I’m going to refer to it by its former name of Saigon from here on out) and we have lots of experience with ridiculous jet lag. But things went so smoothly that I have very little complaint and lots to be thankful for. 

We noticed as we deplaned that many of the Asian passengers were wearing full winter wear. Puffy down jackets, wooly hats, long heavy coats. They strode into the jetway and the punching bag of hot humid tropical air, while we lagged behind them planning our restroom stop to ditch our long-sleeved shirts and our socks. It IS winter in Vietnam but that term seems meaningless when the “feels like” temperature is 99 degrees. 

Immigration was fast and non-intrusive. No photos of our faces or fingerprints taken. The immigration officer asked me what flight I came in on, stamped my passport, and off I went. All of our baggage seemed fine upon arrival, although Bruce’s bike box has some sort of metal part showing through on the bottom, let’s hope that is nothing of importance, shall we? 

Yep. All here and accounted for. This is not something I take for granted.
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We don’t normally stop at the airport moneychangers and SIM card vendors but we didn’t have a dong of Vietnamese currency so I got those, and a taxi, all at the same kiosk. Bruce was getting “sketchy sketch” vibes from the young fellows hanging around that kiosk that do the SIM card part, but it all seemed to turn out well. We were definitely jetlagged and my ears weren’t functioning normally yet after the descent but we were soon in a nice large taxi and scooting into town. 

It’s only 5 miles from the airport to our hotel and we landed shortly before ten in the morning. We had vaguely considered assembling our bikes there and just riding in. Ted Chu wisely had advised us against that and he was right. It would have taken us at least an hour to assemble them, and there was a huge vacant place that they MAY have allowed us to do that in, but in the end, getting an air-conditioned $10 taxi was absolutely the right move as the heat and motorbikes floated us into a city of movement. 

Let’s see, Buddha on dashboard. Wall-to-wall vehicles. We’re in SE Asia all right.
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We like our hotel on its tree-lined street. The people were nice and didn’t squawk about our bike boxes going into our room on the 8th floor (these hotels are tall and skinny, very typical of Vietnam). We can peek down on the action below from our window but it’s mostly fairly quiet and there are tons of eating places very close by. But first, I had to shower and brush my teeth and take a nap on what is one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on and it’s not just because I was so tired. In fact, it’s 4am and I’ve been awake since midnight and am sitting up on said comfy bed doing this jetlag writing (and so is Bruce) and this is as good as it gets, really. 

Hey, you, get off of my cloud.
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After our naps we took a short evening stroll around a few blocks and found a Mi Quang restaurant down a quiet alley. Mi Quang is a central Vietnam dish that we ate in the market in Hoi A last time we were here. We’re also going to eat some northern dishes we love because here in Saigon you can find all those things and once we leave for the delta we will be eating more local southern food. That’s our food strategy, it’s a good one. 

Mi Quang is such an interesting combination of flavors and textures. Thick rice noodles topped with broth, fish (in this case, there were other options as well), a large savory crisp rice cracker, other good stuff, and other good stuff on the side to add to the fun. Wonderful.
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So, first impressions of Saigon. Perhaps loyal readers remember from our last time in Vietnam in 2016 that Bruce got heat stroke about 20 miles away from here and we had to hole up in a pretty wretched Nha Nghi for a couple of nights. We then skirted Saigon with some clever ferry routes and moved into much more rural locales. But I am really happy to be here although it’s clear that this is a really intensely urban scene and motorcycle traffic is beyond the pale. I thought Hanoi was bad, but we stopped at a busy traffic circle at rush hour to observe the scene and it was eye-opening. 

It’s definitely intimidating to watch, but my feeling is that it’s actually probably not as bad being IN the bloodstream of vehicles as it is shuddering at it from the sidewalk. 99% of these drivers are super skilled and deftly wound around pedestrians and each other. They will take one look at our loaded bikes and keep us safe. We’re going to leave on Saturday morning and I’m hoping weekend morning traffic will be manageable for us and we can get to the outskirts of the city in one piece. 

Skilled drivers as they are, they do have an obnoxious tendency to cut up onto the sidewalk to move around traffic and pedestrians better be aware of this very real hazard.
Heart 11 Comment 1
Scott AndersonLooks like scenes we’ve ridden through in Taiwan. Engage your fish brain, keep your lane.
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3 months ago

Saigon is hot. Just thought I might mention that. This might come up again.

We found a little corner bodega and bought a bottle of water to quench our very significant dehydration and a bag of laundry detergent to quench the sweat that will be my loyal friend and follower for most of this trip. It’ll take several bags in the course over three months, no doubt. It’s pretty fun to stand in a store in a new place and pick out laundry detergent, actually. The cheapest and thus the most desirable was labeled “OMO” in a screaming red power font and that was really appropriate, in my opinion. My grandchildren call me “Oma”, and Oma is also cheap and powerfully fonted. OMO did a good job on my first batch of sink laundry so as I said, there’s little to complain about here.

We try very hard to avoid buying bottled water, by the way. Bruce already found both his water filter and his water bottles and hopefully that’s the last of what used to be a very wasteful practice for us. We go through liters of water per day in this climate and are really grateful to have our Sawyer Mini filters, we can’t recommend them enough.

More updates from Saigon will be in the pipeline but for now it’s 4:40 am, time to put the iPad away, shake my fist at jetlag, and give sleep a chance. 

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Comment on this entry Comment 10
Janice BranhamSo glad to read of your successful landing. Thanks for the tip about the Sawyer filters, they could be a good option for our next camping tour. The motorcycle throng is daunting, but claim your space and you'll get through. Hope you got some sleep.
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3 months ago
Jeff ArnimI'm reading this entry while standing in the shower with the heat in the bathroom cranked up as high as it can go to make it feel like I'm there with you.
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3 months ago
Rachael AndersonI’m glad everything went well getting there. Have a great time!
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3 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Jeff ArnimI think you did this same thing a lot when you and Kristen housesat for us in 2016 while we were on our first ride through Vietnam. But at that time you were dealing with our cold house and had to warm up somehow. You had to get your fingers working so you could birth CycleBlaze.
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3 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Rachael AndersonEverything is perfect. We are very excited to be here and we love Saigon.
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3 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Janice BranhamSawyer Minis are the best thing ever. They weigh nothing, take up little space and work fast and efficiently. What a great invention. If these had been around 50 years ago I wouldn't have been so sick in Asia all the time.
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3 months ago
Victa CalvoAndrea/Bruce,

Fantastic to see you two out riding again. Enjoy your steamy adventures. We'll be following you - it's almost as good as being there!
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3 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Victa CalvoYay! So good to have you along with us. We flew over Japan from north to south the other night, were you two down there?
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3 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Victa CalvoThank you, Victor. It will be steamy alright. So far we love it here in Saigon, a city unknown to us before now. If you are in Bangkok around Feb.13th we could have dinner with you like we did last year and, ideally, spend more time with you that we did a year ago. Always good to see you and/or communicate with you.
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3 months ago
Jen RahnA cab ride and a comfy bed.

That's a nice way to kick off the Saigon segment of this adventure!
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2 months ago