Looking inside and down the road - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

December 3, 2023

Looking inside and down the road

Phu Tan to Chau Doc

Dear little friends,

Those who know something about southern Vietnam know that Chau Doc is basically a border town, a jumping spot into Cambodia. And Chau Doc is where we’ve been heading for a few days now. And this is why: we love Vietnam. But Vietnam is wearing us out. 

If every day outside of Saigon had been like today, maybe we wouldn’t be heading for the border, but unfortunately the frenetic traffic and extreme overcrowding on both the roads and the sides of the roads were just too much for us. We knew that just a few days in, that it probably wasn’t going to get much better. The population in Vietnam is densely packed along the roads, in order to save valuable farmland for food production. We went entire days without a glimpse of the millions of acres of rice, fruit, vegetables that were growing just yards away from us. 

On our last trip we were able to take some beautiful farm roads in the delta but they just hadn’t happened for us so we scrapped plans to go to Rach Gia near the coast and head northwest instead. Last night we ended up in a hotel that was next door to a karaoke joint where a wedding was taking place. The manager put us up two flights of stairs and as far away from the chaos as possible and we only heard a faint thumping beat that we ignored and slept through.

So, today was our last day of riding in Vietnam, a hop on some promising roads that turned into the most beautiful and fun day of our trip so far. We were going to follow canals most of the way, and on canals, there is usually a busy side and a not-busy side. Our map put us on the not-busy side, and immediately we were riding through Sunday morning life in very rural Vietnam. Sometimes it can feel like we’re riding through people’s living rooms.

Our favorite kind of road. I’m particularly fond of the seafoam green trim on some of the houses, a color I have long associated with Burma when it seemed to be the only paint color they had.
Heart 16 Comment 2
Ron SuchanekThat's a nice road.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Ron SuchanekThis was my favorite road we rode on in Vietnam.
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2 months ago
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There were many folks sitting out in family groups, men groups, women groups, children groups. Just hanging with coffee or soup, talking and visiting and yelling ‘HEY-lo” to us as we sailed by. When we say hello back, there is a lot of cackling from them and chuckling from us and everybody is happy.

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As I ride along, I sometimes realize what a sensory overload this sort of riding can be. There is so much happening visually, audibly, smell-ibly. And emotionally. There are very poor people living out there and some of the folks our age or older have been physically marked by lifetimes of intense labor and childhoods of war. The elders are usually much smaller than later generations, bent over from working in the fields or lack of calcium in their diets. Sometimes their eyes only register confusion when they see us, or don’t register us at all, they are looking inside and down the road. We are just silly to them. I respect that.

Therefore the people who greet us raucously and the people looking through us are to be treated differently and it’s my job to respond in a responsible, conscious way. 

It’s not clear to us what they are drying here.
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John SolemWater hyacinth?
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2 months ago
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Overall, the ride is completely delightful. We were in the shade of carefully tended trees and palms on a very narrow road. There were very few cars, always a plus. In these villages there are few shops but there are dozens of little shops on wheels, selling clothing, produce, brooms, flip-flops, you name it. Little restaurants on wheels go from spot to spot with banh mi or soup fixings. It’s pretty cool. One lady beamed at us from her banh mi cart and we had to stop, she fried up various meats on sticks and loaded them onto bread, put them in bags, and we went on our way.

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More customers in line.
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On any given riding day in Vietnam we encounter either a wedding or a funeral, and the party/wake is set up right in the road. We don’t generally photograph the funerals but the weddings are fair game.
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It took a while to find a suitable spot to eat our banh mi and we chose a coffee stop that had some shade and seemed to be hopping. It was a restaurant too, and had a billiards table, a chalkboard where children were drawing, a tv with a soccer game. After we ordered our coffee and pulled out our banh mi, the owner pulled up a chair to our table and we used the phone to talk to her. She relayed our particulars to the neighboring table that had three little kids and some women at it. 

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They’re warming up now.
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We know that all kids in Vietnam are taught English. They don’t get much chance to use it but if they are in a bold group of peers they will scream “What is your name?”, and then scatter and screech when you answer. A child without their pals will almost always be frozen in shyness to say such a thing to you. But it turns out the two girls at the neighboring table were able to speak with very active encouragement from the grownups and one of the women overcame her shyness also and we were able to talk to her as well. She used to be a tour guide in Saigon, but mostly for Chinese tourists. Her English was pretty good, and I’m completely bowled by anybody who can speak three languages. 

Chattering and jokes followed, compliments to each other, compliments to the grandmother with her beautiful young face, handing the phone to them to show them my three little grandkids. It’s so much fun. I come away from that wishing for a babelfish, something I’ve longed for ever since I first read “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The babelfish is a fish that slips into your ear and translates every language in the universe. I want that. I’ll always want that.

She eventually spoke to us in flawless English sentences.
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But it was time to heave off before it got too much hotter. We were now on a road north, out of the village zone, and right out in the open, with the rice fields in full view, each one at a different stage of planting and harvest. In nearly each field is at least one gravesite, raised above the fields, sometimes guarded by fences, hedges, trees, or even elaborate pagoda roofs. We wonder what will happen as little by little the food production area gets reduced by those who want their bones to rest on their family lands. In the fields below the graves young men walk with long sprayers of chemicals, which would explain the lack of snakes and lizards on these farm roads. I don’t know what to say about that. I’m not the one who has to feed all these folks.

Rice straw being used as a mulch and soil conditioner for planting beds.
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Baby rice coming up. After germination/seedling planting in a wet field they draw the water down to enable the roots to go deeper. Then fields are re-flooded for the growing season. The engineering and water resource management of rice growing is precise and community-based.
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After the harvest.
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This family has netted up part of the canal for a fish pond.
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I had run out of water and was longing for ice but we only had another 4 miles or so and the sun was so bright and beautiful, everything was lit up, there was a bit of a breeze, I wasn’t dying of thirst yet. And before we knew it we were riding downhill to another free ferry, and on the other side were plunged into another urban traffic mess of honking and rumbling and people going every which way. 

This ostentatious house in the middle of rice fields is totally Bruce’s style, don’t you think?
Heart 9 Comment 4
Jen RahnThe only thing that's missing is the ornate vanity letters "BOOF" across the gate.

Totally him!
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Jen RahnYes! Palace of Boof.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo John SolemRight! No wood!
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2 months ago
Busy ferries going back and forth to Chau Doc.
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Scott AndersonThe exhaust nd rod must be overwhelming when they all start up.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Scott AndersonSometimes it is bad. There was a good breeze on the river this time.
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2 months ago

Sometimes you see clearly that you’ve made the right decision. It was time to leave Vietnam, even though Vietnam threw one last beautiful day of riding at us. I appreciate that, I love that. And I love Vietnam. But I don’t want to die on my bicycle and ride with traffic like that day after day. We pulled into our guesthouse which was out of the city center. There was a shady courtyard with flowers and big old koi. Our room is way in the back and outside the window are banana trees and swooping birds and quiet, quiet, quiet. There will be a boat trip in two days to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where there will be another flavor of urban chaos but then we’ll be off again on our upstream journey. 

Another safe landing.
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Bill ShaneyfeltLooks like blue waterlily.

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/334777-Nymphaea-gigantea
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2 months ago
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Today's ride: 23 miles (37 km)
Total: 178 miles (286 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 20
Comment on this entry Comment 5
Bill ShaneyfeltNot at all sure, but they look a lot like periwinkle.

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/53327-Vinca
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2 months ago
Jen RahnBabelfish! I want one, too!
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2 months ago
Rachael AndersonI’m glad you had a nice last day!
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2 months ago
Kristen ArnimGood luck on the next leg!
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2 months ago
Ron SuchanekI confess to bailing on The Hitchhiker's Guide after a few chapters so didn't read about the babel fish. But I want them.
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2 months ago