Hit The Road Jack

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog

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Hung and Lam packing the bikes for our trip - our backpacks for the three day trip are wrapped in green plastic bags strapped to the back of the bike

So, today begins the big adventure for us two bikie chicks!  VB and I were off on a 3 day motorbike tour from Ho Chi Minh to Dalat.  We had timed our bike trip to finish in Dalat and then we would catch a flight back on New Years Eve back to Ho Chi Minh in the late afternoon to meet up with our friends back in Ho Chi Minh for new years celebrations.

At 8am, our trusty Easy Riders, Hung (prounounced Hoong) and Lam (pronounced Lum) arrived to pick us up from our friends place.  The term Easy Riders appears to be very much a tourist/backpacker type of tour around Vietnam being a pillion pasenger on a motorbike trip from various destinations between Saigon/Dalat/Hoi An even up to the north to Hanoi - you can do day trips or overnight trips like we are doing.

  Neither VB or I had been on a motorbike before, so it would be the first time for us both and we were looking forward to doing something different for both of us. 

Hung and Lam geared up the bikes with our small backpacks for the trip (bear in mind that this was a real challenge for me to pack my three days of clothes and provisions into one small backpack - but I did it!) and they put our "helmets" on - I use the term helmet quite loosely.  Coming from a country where safety standards are A1, and going to a much poorer country where safety is considered, but due to much lower living standards, is not as high a priority as anything else such as basic primary food needs etc, it was a little daunting being presented with my "helmet" for the trip, which didn't appear to be too sturdy.

  VB had a similar type of "helmet" but more resembled a bicycle helmet.  Mmmmmmm.....we had been told that wearing helmets was recently made compulsory by the government, but they didn't specify minimum standards so I guess it's difficult to enforce a certain standard.  We saw numerous people sitting by the roadside with an array of helmets for sale (obviously ranging in different price ranges) but we figured it was a bit too late now to be worried about this - no guts, no glory! 

We were quite excited as we set off into the city and were told that it would take us about an hour to get out of the city of Ho Chi Minh and that we would stop regularly for breaks etc and that we wouldn't be on the bike for more than an hour at a time before we would stop for breaks or a tourist stop.

  We were quite amazed riding in the very thick of the local traffic and many many times, we (or at least me!) were very nervous being so close to so many other bikes, scooter, cars, trucks and buses and weaving in and out of the traffic.  But thankfully nothing went wrong and after a little while, you became used to the openness of riding on the bike.  At first, I clung to Hung for dear life as it seemed that the other bikes traffic types were almost grazing our legs, but I figured that our Easy Riders were very very very experienced riding in this type of traffic.  It's not really for the faint hearted and it wasn't until the next night on our trip that we realised just how dangerous (but very exciting) this trip was going to be.

The dust and grime kicked up by the fumes of cars, bikes, scooters, trucks etc was pretty disgusting, but you did get used to it after a while.

Ready to go!
  I managed to realise that you could easily balance yourself on the bike without having to cut off the circulation of the motorbike driver by clinging onto them - but this took me the first hour really to get out of the city and onto the country highways.  We had our first pit stop at a local gas station and VB and I happily chatted away very excitedly once we got off the bikes for our toilet stop.  We removed our helmets and realised how ridiculous we looked - all the crap from the road and dirt had settled around our faces - so you could see a very clear mark on our faces with the grime and where our sunglasses were as the crap settled on us.  Quite amusing and thank god we didn't know anybody else there to witness our down and dirty appearances - we realised pretty quickly that by the end of each day we would probably be covered in filth from the road.
  But at least it was exciting! 

As we were waiting at the gas station for our drivers to come back, a local girl who was a little intrigued by us foreigners, wanted to practise her limited English skills on us.  After a few attempts at what we thought were answers to her Vietnamese questions in our English and a brief game of charades where we tried to tell her where we were from, we realised that she was a few sandwiches short of a picnic though, and giggled uncontrollably and wanted to kiss us and be our friends........she seemed harmless enough and Hung and Lam knew of her and said that she was "a little sick".  She was so happy though and wanted us to take our photos with her - she found the digital camera amusing and loved that we had a photo of her on our cameras.

 

Onwards we continued and made our first stop at a rubber tree plantation.  Here we wandered around the plantation and Hung explained to us how the rubber was extracted from the base of the trees.  It was very quiet here and once we had finished having a look at the trees, we were about to set off when I heard a loud crack noise, and realised that the bike that Hung and I were on, was not starting.  Lam and VB turned around to see what was going on when they realised half way up the road, we weren't next to them on the road.  It turned out that some part had fallen off on the chain that you kick start (love my very technical description!) and Hung said that we needed to have the bike repaired but that it wouldn't take very long as it was only missing a small, but vital part.

 

True to his word, we literally walked the bike up the road for maybe three minutes to what was somebody's house.  However, at the front of the house was a sign written on cardboard with various motorbike brands which basically signalled that motor bike repairs could be carried out at the house.  We had seen similar signs on our trip in front of  many places by the roadside and were amazed, but then realised that it made perfect sense, as EVERYBODY rides a motorbike and that you would never know where you would break down.  We would in the days to come, see that people on the streets of the city would also have their tools ready by the roadside if you required a repair to your bike.  As predicted, we would have been at this person's house for no more than 20 minutes whilst a guy fixed and replaced the missing part.

Our dirt stained faces - the start of things to come!
  And then we were back on our way again.

We stopped off at several points to take photos and to have Hung explain certain buildings/monuments that we would pass by.  I must say that whilst I oohed and aahed at everything and loved seeing all the every day goings on of people in the country side and seeing the various statues and building etc, I didn't retain much knowledge of the significance of what we were seeing - and of course, there was so much to see that we were whizzing past so quickly.  Woops..........at least I have the photos for memories   :-)     I was very excited in the afternoon when we passed by some children who were riding their bicycles home from school and I saw many young school girls in their traditional white uniforms with the long white flowing tunics that I had seen in pictures before.

   We also saw loads of reunification flags everywhere along the roadside and absolutely stacks of nativity scenes outside the front of people's homes.  Hung explained that the Vietnamese Catholics are quite religious, so building a nativity scene outside your home was very common place at Christmas time.

Given VB and I spoke no Vietnamese, we relied completely upon Hung and Lam to translate everything for us and to describe to us what we were seeing.  We were very lucky that they were very friendly and wanted to share their culture with us and when we stopped for lunch and dinner, we had no idea what food to order, and of course, were at the mercy of their dining decisions.  Luckily, neither VB or I are fussy eaters and the dishes that they chose were very tasty - although sometimes we weren't 100% sure of what we were eating.

  I did have some trepidations that either, or both of us, would end up being sick at some stage on the trip seeing as we would be eating very local food in home style run food stalls which would be basically road stops for local villagers.  However, neither of us succummbed to any stomach upsets or otherwise, and we were very careful to only have bottled water.  I do have to say that the food that we ate at very dodgy looking places, often was very tasty, so you should never judge a book by its cover!

Our final destination for tonight was going to be the Cat Tien National Park.  We were going to overnight it here before continuuing onwards on our journey.  We were to arrive at the National Park in the late afternoon so we could do a walk in the "jungle" and then have dinner and go on a night safari.

Bike repair signs out the front of a house by the side of the road - so handy!
  The drive to the national park was very scenic and we saw lots of lush green fields with ox and cattle and chickens a lot of the time.  When we arrived at the national park, we had to take a dinghy boat across to another area of the national park to reach our lodging for the evening.  The bikes were left at the jetty and off we went on a dodgy looking boat to cross a small body of water that was a disgusting yellow ochre colour and basically looked like crap.  Thankfully, none of us fell in.

We checked into our luxurious accomodation for the evening at $12 USD pp.  Having never quite roughed/backpacked my way in a foreign country before, I was a little taken aback by the room we would be staying in.  Actually the room was not so bad - I could handle that it was pretty basic, but the bathroom was pretty gross.

  One of those all in one bathrooms with the shower, toilet and basin altogther so everything got wet when you had a shower.  That was actually bearable except for the fact that there were lots of spiders resting in the corners of the bathroom and I am petrified of a lot of creepy crawly insects.  So, I was not too impressed with this - but there wasn't much I could do about it. 

VB and I packed on the mosquito repellant and then we were off on a walk into the park with Hung and Lam.  They told us that we had to wear our walking shoes with socks as we would need to put on our leech socks over the top of our shoes so we didn't have uninvited guests into our clothes and shoes.  The leech socks were quite unattractive, but they served their purpose.

Rubber tree plantation
  We went for a beautiful walk in amongst the park where we saw and heard lots of native birds, saw a few leeches along the way and took in the beautiful scenery.

After our walk we had some down time before dinner to lounge in our luxurious accomodation (not!) - so time for a quick nap.  We rocked up to dinner which was then followed by the night safari.  By the time we headed out on the safari truck, it was dark and there would have been about 30 odd people on the safari truck.  I'd never been on something like this before, and as the truck rolled off amongst the rocky path into the national park in the dar, the path ahead was only dimly lit by the beam of the headlights of the safari truck.  It took a little while for our eyes to adjust to the darkness and for some of the more inquisitive travellers (ie me) to dodge the many random branches and miscellaneous leaves and bushes that we drove straight through.

 The safari guide had a fairly bright spotters lamp and kept moving it from one side of the truck to the other to try and catch moving wildlife in amongst the trees.  We saw several deer roaming about and a few different types of birdlife in amongst the trees, some rabbits, and a couple of galloping boars which were trying to dodge the light the spotter was trying to put onto the poor boar, but nothing that was extraordinary.  However, it was definitely good fun trying to spot the roaming and trying to retain our footing on the seats trying to spot wildlife whilst hanging onto the truck as it whipped around the national park on what seemed to be more like a four wheel drive tour.  We were feeling very David Attenborough-like. 

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Hung and Lam packing the bikes for…
Hung and Lam packing the bikes fo…
Ready to go!
Ready to go!
Our dirt stained faces - the start…
Our dirt stained faces - the star…
Bike repair signs out the front of…
Bike repair signs out the front o…
Rubber tree plantation
Rubber tree plantation
Entrance to the Cat Tien National …
Entrance to the Cat Tien National…
Dodgy looking river to cross in a …
Dodgy looking river to cross in a…
On our way for our walk in the par…
On our way for our walk in the pa…
Throught wed move this tree whils…
Throught we'd move this tree whil…
Beautiful spot
Beautiful spot
The start of our pitch black safa…
The start of our pitch black "saf…