Day 29: Bangkok Eastern Station to Velo Thailand: The 1000 mile Journey

The final leg: Ban Phe to Bangkok

Distance: 14km

Total: 1602.4km

Thai FOD: Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never colonized by an European country. In fact, in the Thai language, the name of the country is Prathet Thai which means “land of the free.

Everyday Randomness: on the day you end a cycling tour and you’re already missing the bike!

There was some kick off my chili soup for breakfast this morning so I was all prepped for our bus from Ban Phe to Bangkok. The journey felt like a quick enough four hours, but I suppose the snooze in the middle may have helped with that!

We were of course dreading the cycle from Bangkok bus station to Velo Thailand as it had been so grim the first time. However, I’m relieved to report that this time the commute was completed in half the time and with a lot less stress!

It’s not that we were more experienced or anything but more so the fact that the Garmin was able to navigate to Velo Thailand very easily and the traffic was so much less suffocating. In fairness in Bangkok, which I heavily critised on the first day, it obviously isn’t always horrendous to cycle there. In particular, motorists there really do respect the hand signals and are pretty obliging!

The handover to Velo Thailand was as smooth as they go so I would highly recommend them to anyone! That marked the end of our 1000 mile bike tour across three different countries, in so many different terrains and through so many varied ways of living. North Cambodia was all about the destinations and not so much the journeys. Vietnam was both, as well as being a wonderful trip down memory lane for us. Cycling in Thailand (let’s forget about Bangkok) was unexpectedly charming and excellent value! As Thailand is more developed in terms of tourism it is that bit more difficult to experience “real Thailand” so for me this aspect of the tour far exceeded my expectations!

Luckily the hostel was only 150m down the road (Back Home Backpackers) and is a great place to both relax and sample some of Bangkok’s night life! My final bit of advice is that I would highly recommend taking the local ferry in Bangkok as it is highly entertaining and extremely cheap and well serviced when compared to taxis/tuk tuks!

We’re currently here having some well needed rest and recreation:

It’s hard to know what to say at the end of such a vibrant and varied experience; just that money can’t buy a huge amount of what we saw and learned so get pedalling!

PS Currently considering a mini tour in and around Chiang Mai so stay tuned!

Day 22: Ha Tien to Kep: Coastal Cruising

Ha Tien to Kep

Distance: 40.9km

Total: 1168.3km 

Cambodian FOD: there is a legend that cats are thought to be too perfect. As only Budda can be perfect, cats tails are chopped off! I don’t know if it’s true but there are a lot of cats with no tails here!

Everyday Randomness: Literally cycling through sand:

A fry for breakfast. Not a sentence I thought I’d be writing! This place is infamous for its breakfast and after tasty it I know why. The owner of the Oasis bar goes to Cambodia to buy real sausages and rashers from a British butcher who operates there!! The rashers would rival ones that you get at home and the entire meal was thoroughly enjoyed! The tomatoes were both plump and juicy; a step above the soggy version one usually gets at home!

We had our final Vietnamese coffee before crossing the border into Cambodia. We had been convinced to go to Kep along the Cambodian coast instead of spending as long in Kampot. It was an easy decision because the views around here are the best we’ve had so an opportunity to see a few more was one that we willingly took.

We almost got drawn into a common scam on the Cambodian side where they bring you into qaurantine for a “health check”. The form they get you to fill out is surprisingly official looking but once he started telling us to go over to the temperature sensor and with that we said thanks but we don’t need that, took our passports and walked out! Thankfully that was the only hassle we got and we were on our way in search of salt fields and the coast road.

One of the locals in the Oasis bar had told us how to find the coast road because the road wasn’t on open street maps and I can understand why! We turned onto a fairly standard Cambodian dirt track and literally battled through the head wind until we took a turn and saw these kids in the salt fields:

From there the road was sheltered by trees and we returned to a more acceptable pace. 

We found ourselves at the coast, and an expansive view fairly quickly:

From here, the “road” we were  supposed to take became quite ambiguous. Fortunately, the destination name of Kep is pretty easy to say so many locals pointing us in the right way as we traversed, sometimes by walking, to the coast road. It was some adventure!!

It was great to be on an actual road of sorts but we were seriously exposed to the unconstrained winds! We knew we were doing a short day on the bike so we were relaxed about going half the pace we would usually but it was tough enough going! There was randomly a massive horse statue which is beyond odd considering we haven’t seen an actual horse over here! 

The coast road joined with the main road which was empty besides tuk tuks transporting tourists to see the Crab statue (yes the tree does indicate wind strength):

We sailed along the smoothest surface we had all day into Kep’s main attraction: the crab market. We shared an enormous plate of crab while having the most spectacular views of the Gulf of Thailand. The crab was absolutely delicious in and of itself but the satay style green pepper sauce was also superb. Entertainment was provided by this fellow smacking the sea like there was no tomorrow! Apparently, it’s some form of fishing…!

We cycled out to our bungalow accomodation, the Rusty Keyhole! It is a beautiful spot in the middle of the grassy hills, with comfy chairs and a relaxed, friendly French owner.

After a beautiful sunset we decided to order a local dish (pepper and seafood of course) and their own speciality which is ribs! The seafood dish had a nice but subtle flavour and I’m not quite accustomed to eating about 100 whole peppercorns! The ribs, though lacking in actual rib none were scrumptious and there was plenty to go around as well! Served with a particularly good coleslaw! Looking forward to pancakes in the morning!

Day 21: Rach Gia to Ha Tien: Beautiful Border Town

Rach Gia to Ha Tien

Distance: 90.7km

Total: 1145.4km

Vietnamese FOD: Vietnam is considered to have the lowest unemployment rate of any third world country.

Everyday Randomness: seeing a ridiculously high end road bike just onba stand at the side of the road!

Satisfying is how I would describe breakfast this morning. We haven’t had rice since the first day in Vietnam but this was covered in succulent pork and near juices making it a very tasty dish.

The first 40km were nothing like yesterday. It was a hard slog into the wind on a road so bumpy that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a mountain bike trail! 

Thankfully the place Liam spotted had excellent hammocks, which I learnt the word for yesterday: vông. The coffee was as good as the western people sized hammocks and the price was just incredibly cheap: 30 cent for coffee and ice tea served in a delightfully cute pot. 

Refreshed, we got back into the saddles and the pace increased with the improved road surface. We paused for a few dragon fruit which involved sampling the fruit with the seller (he tasted some too just for good measure) before buying three! One for later! 

We also passed a wedding which is always an entertaining experience for us! Last year we seemed to have a knack for arriving at wedding photo shoots such as: 

This year, we’ve only seen one photo shoot and that was at one of the temples in Angor Wat where the pure groom was sweating buckets in the heat and the attention! However, we have passed by a number of actual weddings like today. The general formula seems to be: a marquee, weighted down with flowers, must be literally on the side of the road, must play very loud music and a picture of the bride and groom already in their wedding outfits must be at the entrance:

Durians have been mentioned previously in relation to their pugent smell but let me tell you as I smelt some today I was relieved. Relieved that I didn’t have to touch or eat one. I forgot to mention that in the hostel in Saigon we were offered free (thankfully) samples of durian. Now these fruit are the most expensive fruit in Vietnam but it literally looks and feels like a raw chicken thigh. The taste is slimy, awful and uncomfortably lasting. A very unpleasant experience all round!

The road surface didn’t last too long unfortunately but the quality of views hit an all time high for the trip:

The bumpiness, potholes and headwind continued but we were literally cycling on the coast so at least we had something appealing to look at as we slogged on. Eventually the town just appeared and we had arrived before we even knew it! We cycled straight to the place we had bookmarked for lunch as it was just after 2pm.

The Oasis bar is owned by an expat who married a Vietnamese woman. Very friendly and helpful guy and the place served good food. We were parched when we got in so ordered orange juice straight away and then got baguettes with tuna and sausage respectively. It was refreshing to get something a bit different and the tuna flavour was so much stronger than I had tasted before. We chilled there for a few hours ordering coffee and beers, it was the ideal way to relax after a tiring day on the bike!

We said to ourselves that we better leave eventually so we checked in at the hotel which was conveniently only 2 minutes down the road. We intended on going back to the Oasis bar for dinner but seeing as we are going to go there for breakfast tomorrow we probably should do three courses in the same place!! The budget was tight enough anyway because we only have a certain amount of Dong left and we don’t want to have to take out anymore! 

So we found a place that is one of the busiest places I’ve seen in Asia, ever! There was a large array of choices of different types of noodles (and macaroni pasta as well of all things!), but everything came with chicken it seemed which is unusual for Vietnam. The dinner was exactly what we needed and was quite light.

We did return to the Oasis bar but only for a couple of beers which were very cheap! We were feeling a bit peckish after our light dinner so we wandered around the night market to see if something would take our fancy. We were just about to give up when we saw this “pizza* stall. Well to be fair it is pizza, they just use rice paper as the base which makes it nice and crispy and probably healthier as well! It tastes as good as it looked! Here’s hoping breakfast will live up to the hype; more on that tomorrow!

Day 20: Can Tho to Rach Gia: Hitting the 1000km Mark

Can Tho to Rach Gia

Distance: 118.5km

Total: 1054.7km

Vietnamese FOD: From August 2006 to March 2007, the Vietnamese dong was the world’s lowest valued currency unit.

Everyday Randomness: ice being thrown in with pigs to keep them cold!

After a fresh noodle breakfast (but not a soup!)which cost a whopping 60cent and was served with ice tea which we’re quickly becoming big fans of, we left Can Tho and our mango coloured hotel.

It was nicely overcast (only ever said by an Irish person who is abroad) and the first 40km flew by. Can Tho’s popution of 1.5 million made more sense to us as we left the city as it took about 10km to reach its outskirts.

From the food tour we know that the Trung Nguyen coffee is one of the best. Since then we have been paying more attention to the type of coffee. We therefore stopped at a place that sold it and had a sweet but sophisticated ice coffee.

We had a cycling comrade with us today, just a local guy who was able to hold about a 21km/hr speed for over 20km on a single speed! Now he was making the most of this drafting opportunity but still pretty impressive!

From there we turned off the road we’d been on and onto a slightly smaller and less smooth road. The decrease in cycling space did not have a direct relationship with the number of large buses unfortunately. However, on the plus side we did manage to stop a guy selling dragon fruit and bought one for about 12 cent! Dragon fruit is more refreshing that water melon and as sweet as a strawberry; perfect.

It was just as well we had it because the food places that were not either occupied by the owner or deserted were few and far between. We looked in every place with plastic chairs for food for about 10km until we eventually found the only busy-looking place for miles. The lunch definitely did not trump breakfast but was much appreciated!

Today, evidence of the paddy fields was prominent. We also got to see what living on the Mekong Delta is like. The first thing that struck me is how calm the water is, it’s very pacifying. It’s quite bizarre to see water in between houses and washing lines strung rather precariously between them. Passing over the myriad of bridges is when the best views can be experienced. Looking left and right brings sights of endless canals as they call them here! 

Rach Gia fast approached us for the last 10km anyways (the previous 20 had been quite the bumpy road)! We were coming in just as sunset was starting and the views were class.

We are literally celebrities here. They must never see tourists as this is the first time we have received attention off the bike. People were literally going out of their way to make sure they got their own personal “Hello” in! 

We were eager to try and catch actual sunset at the waterfront so we showered and headed out. Unfortunately the spot we had picked out on the waterfront had some function on so were only serving food but it was a bit early for that! 

Getting the best of the sunset in Rach Gia:

I think we had seen the best of the sunset anyways because it was quite cloudy and I think actual sunset could have been disappointingly underwhelming! We happened upon a Japanese “cafe” that was actually a full blown restaurant and sat legs crossed for as long as we could (half an hour) while sipping smoothies.

An hour or so later, in a great marketing ploy, they gave us a taster of a pork dish which was unreal. With no where else sounding inspiring in LP we opted to eat there so they were pretty successful! 

We got two beautifully balanced noodle soups with creamy eggs and a salmon sushi which did need a bit of a soy sauce which was surprisingly not present at the table! 

It turned out that Rach Gia wasn’t as cool as we thought it was initially as it lacked a centre where people gathered. We tried and failed to find an ice-cream spot or even a busy beer place. We ended up getting a smoothie and returning back to the hotel to escape the rain!

We’ll be at the border town of Ha Tien tomorrow so have to enjoy our last few days in Vietnam!

Day 19: Can Tho: Floating Markets

Can Tho: Floating Market

Vietnamese FOD: School children are summoned by traditional gongs instead of bells.

Everyday Randomness: our boat driver circling his big boat around to collect a floating pineapple in the middle of the river! 

“Alarm 4:30am” is the last thing I remember Liam saying before I was awoken by said alarm. A brisk walk got us to the waterfront by 5:00am where we were greeted by many offers of private tours.

My impression from the LP was that the Càn Tho tourist office was the place to go but it wasn’t open until 7am which didn’t make much sense as the LP said that most boats leave at 5:30. So we walked down the waterfront until we reached a kiosk where we booked a private 3hr tour (two markets) for €10 each!

The sunrise was spectacular. Well worth the early wake up time! 

The first market is the one that Can Tho is known for. Sizeable boats were laden down with hundreds of pineapples in particular! They boats cleverly had staffs upon which the good that they sold was tied to:

As the second market was further away we just passed along the main market and continued on where there we hardly any tourist boats. Before we were gone too far, a woman in a boat selling coffee came along side us; a godsend!

The great thing about this floating market tour is that you also get a considerable amount of time to take in Mekong Delta life as you go so it’s like a Mekong cruise and floating market tour in one go!

We passed fisherman expertly balanced on the narrowest of boats and multiple houses with dodgy stilt extensions until we got to the second market which was a pure local market and had a real sense of authenticity about it! It was a much more relaxed atmosphere, and we had the time to just watch and take it all in.

The way back towards Can Tho was just as relaxing as we meandered along. Back at the main market, our driver got us onto one of the massive pineapple boats where we had the best views of all!

The pineapple itself was top notch, super soft and juicy! After another lap around and with the pineapple polished off we returned to solid ground in time for breakfast at a more social hour. 

A tasty, good value soup later we went to find coffee that was a bit more upmarket than the one we had consumed at 5:30am. We found just that on Highlands coffee. After a meander around some shops we walked back to the hotel for a well needed hammock break!

Lunch involved a well traversed walk back to the waterfront but the food was well and truly worth it. It is definitely the largest portion of food we had here, ever. It was teeming with fresh vegetables:

After giving ourselves a decent amount of digestion time we did some shopping. As they as not tourist-focussed here (most just do days trips) you don’t get much hassle at all meaning it’s quite a peaceful experience!

Back at the hotel we bumped into a guy what had met in Saigon who was supposed to be in Cambodia by now so it was all very unexpected! He was off on the food tour and we left for dinner. For starter we had the same kind of dish as we had last night, barbecued pork with noodles and vegetables wrapped in rice paper, except better. Mostly because the soy sauce for dipping was less overpowering so you could taste each of the ingredients! For main course we had lovely light rice noodles with day-fresh vegetables and herbs combined with barbecued pork and fried spring rolls. It was the best Vietnamese meal we’ve had since last year! 

Dessert was hot chocolate for a change in a small french cafe which was delicious as well as something different! A different day all around for us really, here’s to a long sleep tonight! 

Day 18: My Tho to Can Tho: Island Hopping

My Tho to Can Tho

Distance: 102km

Total: 936.2km

Vietnamese FOD: The Mekong Delta is the largest rice growing region in Vietnam. It produces almost 2/3 of the rice in Vietnam.

Everyday Randomness: getting lost on one of the thousands of islands in the Mekong Delta.

We took three ferries today and were on as many islands; island hopping I believe is the term. The first was at about the 35km mark after we had successfully tasted the Hu Tieu that we tried to get last night in a lovely riverfront cafe. They also served a hearty cup of coffee. Speaking of coffee, it is a religion over here! This morning we struggled to find places something other than just coffee!

The first ferry crossing didn’t appear on Google maps, in fact the entire river we were about to cross wasn’t there but with maps.me not giving us much to go by we said we take it.

We arrived on a beautiful, small (or so I thought) island with vibrant flowers and surprised residents. We were hoping that where the road ended on the map would also coincide with a ferry crossing but the road just kept on going. For a long while I thought we were going to have to circle the entire island (which I came to realise is very big) just to get back to where we started and we didn’t have a notion what our next move from there would be!

This map gives an indication of just how many islands there are!

Thankfully we arrived at the original ferry line that Google maps had in and all was right with the world! We were very relieved! I wish I could’ve enjoyed the cycle around the island a bit more but sure I’ll enjoy the memories!!!

Parts of the next island seemed to be complete mud baths and we had to get off at times to walk with the bikes. As open street maps was highly inaccurate here we couldn’t tell which roads were “roads” (well wide dirt tracks), which ones were paved roads the width of a footpath and which were literally single tracks in the jungle! I lost count of the number of U-turns we had to make but eventually we managed to find an actual road. I have never been so happy to see tarmacadam!!!

We returned to easier navigation for about 5km or so until we dagger into a cafe for shelter from the rain. Crucially, they had hammocks so this was a particularly good rain break! After about 20 minutes the rain had eased up and didn’t really look like it was going to stop anytime soon so we put the coats on and braved it. It was only 10km to our planned food stop but the rain did get heavier at times and if we were further away we probably would have pulled in!

It stopped completely once we reached the last ferry, which was a case of getting the elbows out to get on it! After the crossing we had a pitstop to put oil on the chains after they had been washed out by the hose in Sisophon. It made some difference and we gliding the next 20km until we got to this bridge, which involved more steady pushing but provided some good views! 

Hotel Xiao (mango hotel) was easy to find due to the mango colour of the hotel. We arrived absolutely filthy from all the rain but we’re delighted to find out that there was a food tour on that evening for the price of the food and a tip of just $5!! Which is extremely good value! 

We scrubbed up and chilled out on the hammocks on the rooftop terrace with a beer until it was time for the tour. The guide had very good English and was a chirpy fellow, he even knew where Ireland was which was a first!! The tour started with barbecue pork in rice paper with so many ingrediant! The root locus and lemongrass (unsure if it was the same lemongrass as is in Thailand) were particularly tasty and the pork was succulent! A good start!

Muffins of all things were on the menu next! The muffins were made rice, contained minced pork and prawns. We wrapped some of the muffin in a mustard leaf together with lettuce and mint. It was then dipped in a fish sauce. It was really really good and totally unique!

Usually the hot pot dishes here can be a bit hit and miss but the next spot had the most delicious eggplant and minced pork hotpot (and beer for €0.50 which is always a plus). Field mice are a speciality in South Vietnam supposedly and this place did very good mice, unfortunately no one else on the tour was up for tasting it so I’ll have to try and convince Liam to go back there tomorrow!!

The dessert stop (Vietnamese people don’t have dessert, to quote the guide “we don’t have any rules, we just eat what we want whenever”) was sticky rice. The woman on the street selling it is there 365 days of the year and I can see why. The sticky rice (normal and turmeric flavour) is put into a waffle with coconut, sugar and peanuts and the whole thing is wrapped in rice paper! Absolutely delicious!

After the tour we walked around the night market which had all kinds of strange food options! We found a stall that sold the savoury pancakes that we had in Dalat last year so we had one of those as well just to add our own stop to the food tour! The pancake was fantastically light and the chilli sauce packed a bit of a kick!

Went to bed very content and early as we have a 4:30am start tomorrow!

Day 17: Saigon to My Tho: Windy Waterways

Saigon to My Tho

Distance: 71.2km

Total: 835.2km

Vietnamese FOD: speed dating has been performed by Vietnamese hill tribes for decades. Tribes travel to what are known as “love markets”.

Everyday Randomness: a guy transporting his window pane on a motorbike bike! Yikes! (Look closely)

After completing a mammoth three course breakfast (noodles, eggs and a baguette, fresh fruit and coffee) for €2.50 at the peaceful courtyard restaurant in the hotel we departed for My Tho.

It was about 10:30 which is very late for us but breakfast turned out to be a long affair and it was actually the perfect time traffic-wise to be leaving Saigon. 

We didn’t have to stray onto Highway 1 at all today. Not that I particularly mind going in the highways, it’s just nice not to be on them if you don’t have to be as sometimes you don’t have a choice!

We did, well, more so Liam had to contend with a fairly constant headwind for the majority of the day but the road was interesting, I lost count of how many bridges we went over!! I particularly enjoyed the small bridges which had 4 plank wide sections for bikes to cross on either side.

We didn’t have a huge appetite after breakfast so we stopped to get a smoothie. After some language barrier confusion we ended up with ice coffee and kiwi smoothies. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of kiwis, the smoothie was surprisingly delicious even if it was a dubious green colour!

The last 30km or so was really enjoyable cycling. Small villages that seemed to be literally​ on distributeries of the Mekong Delta were populated along the route and the bridge crossing afforded great water views left and right as you pedalled over. The temperature was perfect and we managed to beat the rain to our accommodation! 

We passed through the market in My Tho which the Lonely Planet aptly described as having a “typical array of Vietnamese dried fish, exotic fruits and doomed animals”!!

The way the Vietnamese build there houses in towns is very economical. The tiny tall buildings have a quaint character but it always seems that we are on at least the third floor which is not always appreciated after a day on the bike!  

For food that evening we went in search of the local speciality “Hi Tieu” which is a vermicelli soup with dried seafood, pork, chicken, offal and fresh herbs. Unfortunately the place recommended by the LP was deserted which is never a good sign so we went to a place along the way that was busy. We had a delicious stir fry which can sometimes be hard to get here! We popped into a bizarre food court on the way back for smoothies which advertised that it did events and weddings as part of its logo. The food court was adorned with fake trees and even had a face cut out of a couple where you could get your picture taken!! Was a great place to just sit and take it all in!!