Thursday, March 14th, 2013 – Ho Chi Minh City to Bao Loc

Distance travelled today 208 kilometres – Total distance travelled 526 kilometres

Today, I will start the narrative from the very end. 

After a long and tiring journey, we were at the Memories Hotel in Bao Loc. In retrospect, it had been the hardest day of our trip to that point and we arrived completely exhausted, terribly dirty and just before it began to rain. We washed our faces in the room, but we still looked a bit like pandas. If our hair had been black, we might easily have been mistaken for Khmer refugees and that would not have been good. There were a lot of them living as vagrants in those parts and they were not very popular.

In the morning, our departure regime was a bit delayed. The hotel turned out to be swarming with a large group of tourists from Japan. This meant that the breakfast took a lot longer than usual and then we had to wait for Minh to be brought back from the overnight parking garage in which the hotel had insisted we park him. Apparently, many little motorbikes are stolen every day …

The journey through Ho Chi Minh City was surprisingly easy but, for the first forty kilometres or so, the traffic volume was simply horrendous. There were few cars, it was mainly ancient and unsafe looking lorries and tens of thousands of little motorbikes like ours. It was nerve racking for me as a passenger, other riders frequently came so close they brushed my legs. I cannot imagine what it was like for David trying to weave his way through the milling, motorised, throng.

Finally we left the bulk of the traffic behind and, once we were well clear of the city, the roads were largely empty. Of course, this dwindling of the traffic volume coincided with literally endless roadworks. For at least the next fifty kilometres, which takes a long time to drive, anyway, on a tiny motorbike, much of the surface was dug up and we wended our way for kilometre after kilometre through dunes of red sand and soil. The air was full of dust which settled on everything, including us. Somewhere in those dunes, we also had to take an enforced detour. 

To be honest, long distance travel on a machine like Minh was very punishing to a certain part of the anatomy, particularly if there were two of you. For that reason we tried to stop and walk around for a few minutes at least once an hour, or every forty kilometres, whichever was the sooner. It was usually the hour ! We were even keen to stop and try, usually fruitlessly, to match signposts to our photocopied map just to have a quick break from the road.

It was not a particularly interesting journey. It was just a drab mixture of shanty style towns and countryside. I took a few pictures, just to record it, but there was nothing of real significance.

We crossed the large Dong Nai river, close to the point where it leaves a large lake called Ho Tri An and we could see a village of floating houses.

Some areas were far better “kept” than others. This uplift often seemed to coincide with more “party” regalia on view. Perhaps it all depended on the enthusiasm of the local cadre !

At one point, in one of these areas, we saw a huge (and rather dramatic) statue, no doubt commemorating the communist victory, on top of a high hill and accessed by hundreds of steps. On any other day, we might have walked up, but it was not going to happen on this one.

In another place, we also saw a huge carved Buddha on top of a rocky hill. It was visible for from a great distance away.

We stopped often, maybe too often, for refreshments because it was quite punishingly hot. There were little shacks every few kilometres and a quick look around revealed that a lot of the fruit that was on sale was growing wild on nearby bushes.

hen we thought we “only” had about seventy kilometres to go, we decided to split it into forty and thirty kilometre chunks. Surprise, surprise, the final thirty kilometre stretch became forty and then fifty kilometres and we still had not reached our destination. This was probably due to the detour but, in all honesty, in Vietnam it quite often seemed as if somebody thought of a random number and then painted it next to a town name on a sign. It was brutal and punishing and it got to the point where we hardly knew how to sit on the saddle. The road surface was also very bumpy and uneven and I frequently exclaimed “My ass !!”, sometimes, it seemed, every two or three metres. To try and keep my spirits up, David was composing humorous little poems. At least HE thought they were humorous, my softest part was of another opinion. He recited something all the way, always coming up with a little rhyme for every situation. Strangely, if I asked him to repeat one, he had usually already forgotten it. He did quote me this, which he said was not his own work “If your ass is feeling rotten, there is no need to be so glum, let the sun shine on your bottom, let the breeze caress your bum.” That is the end of the poetry insert. It probably is better they are usually forgotten.

The road slowly climbed into some fairly serious mountains and Minh was frequently doing less than twenty kilometres per hour. At least our camera battery had the decency to die so I did not even have to think about taking more photos.

Finally, after a long, long climb, we thought we must be where our hotel was supposed to be. But, we could not find it. Although I tried to convince a group of local Vietnamese citizens that the hotel MUST be a maximum of a kilometre away, I could not, because it was not. They insisted and, unfortunately, were right, that it was still another ten kilometres farther on. Those last kilometres seemed to take an eternity and there was a marked absence of poetry coming from the driver’s seat.

We checked in and were given a lovely room. Then we went to the restaurant where we ate some weird local dish. Strangely, although it was the first food, apart from fruit, we had eaten since our breakfast, neither of us was very hungry. While we ate, the background music was another plaintiff Vietnamese song. David told me it meant “Grandma, Grandma, I found the bag of potatoes, but you were not in it.” Then he got a bit cross because his telephone battery had gone flat and that was actually quite a problem because there were no clocks anywhere and that was what we were using to tell the time. At least the hotel had electricity to recharge it and we plugged it in next to the camera !

We took another shower before bed, revelling in the warm water. That had been a day to forget !