Friday, February 14, 2014

Last day of riding in Vietnam! Mui Ne to Saigon (HCMC)

Day 26 - Saturday, November 30
Distance - 205 kms = total for day ~ 7 hrs
Trip Odometer =  3291 kms (Total for trip)
Route - Hwy #1 west of Mui Ne (through Phan Thiet) into District 1 - Ho Chi Minh City!
Hotel -  Bich Duyen Hotel ($17 US)
Weather -  Excellent.  Sunny and hot.

Last Day on the road in Vietnam.

Bitter sweet.

We were up and at 'em at 5 am and on the road before 6.  It was a cool morning leaving Mui Ne and as we were pulling out of the resort town,  the sun was slowly coming up.  We had a beautiful first few hours of riding.  It was busy at times and more relaxed at other times traveling along the #1.  The road was similar as we had sections that were somewhat narrower, and other sections that were quite wide with big open shoulders with tons of room to pass which was a nice treat.  With that, we had the angry truck traffic and buses with their big, angry-loud horns.  The local mini-buses were the most aggressive and the worst when it came to passing.  These drivers would pull out to pass lines and lines of semi trucks coming in either direction, they didn't seem to care.  It was amazing to watch it and unnerving to be right in the mix of it all.

Above:  This girl had a duck in the pink bag.  I was hoping the duck would pose for the camera, but it was being shy.

The Vietnam map book showed a HUGE highway off-shoot in bright yellow that looked like a main artery into the city with a direct route.  As we got close to this area, I looked left and could see that this route was under construction and would probably take years to finish.  Instead, we had to travel through the area of Bien Hoa (outskirts of HCMC) before heading into the full-dizzy-crazyness of Ho Chi Minh City.  Embracing it's 9 million people was fun to say the least.

As we got deeper and deeper into the city, the traffic intensified and became more and more congested.  It was manageable for the most part, and we both kept our wits and focused on our riding skills obtained over the month of being in Vietnam.  I had booked our hotel in the backpackers area of HCMC and knew we had to get into 'Quan 1' or District 1 of the city.  This was fairly easy.  My GPS showed that we were entering District 1 and then I had to narrow it down even further to our exact location.  Rather than fighting the traffic and weaving in and out of streets, I figured if we pulled over, got some WiFi, loaded Google Maps, we would have a much easier time finding our hotel.  I pulled into a small parking lot that had a huge 'Travel Office' sign and figured this would be a decent enough place to get WiFi and maybe some help.  Well, what happened next was incredible.  A young woman was just getting off work and her husband was there to pick her up on a scooter (remember, HCMC has about 9 million people and almost as many moto-scoots).  He suggested we follow him as he knew the area so we agreed to follow him.  I tried to tell him to take it slow as he jetted out of the parking lot.  I then told Amanda to keep on the throttle to keep up... it was intense.  We eventually arrived to a small alleyway as our pilot guide hopped off his scoot and started walking down to double check.  He pointed down this alley and told us to ride our bikes right in (although it was barely wide enough for foot traffic).  This young couple was a saving grace for taking us out of their way and I offered him some money for helping us.  He refused the money and said in perfect english, 'Vietnamese people are known for their hospitality'.  I gave him a man-hug and highfive and thanked him profusely for helping us out.

We negotiated our bikes down the alley and arrived at our <almost> final destination of the Bich Duyen Hotel.  Amanda and I had a good huge hug with some loud 'WE MADE IT!' and 'WE ARE ALIVE!' We were greeted with enthusiasm from the young man at the front desk and we started unloading our bikes.  Amanda wanted to head up to our room for a shower, but I said we should stay in our sweaty clothes as we were not quite finished our work for the day.  We still had our final challenge... to find Flamingo Travel's HCMC office and to drop the bikes.

We were both very ready to be finished with the ride, but we still had to drop the bikes at Flamingo and the company could them ship them back to Hanoi (which was included in our agreed upon rental price).  I wasn't really excited about navigating more of the city, but knew it had to be done.  I showed the uber eager front desk Flamingo's address, and he said it was easy to find... he came into the alley, pointed down and said, 'Continue down the alley to the end, turn left, ride down a couple hundred meters and it'll be there on the right'.  Wow and wow.  It WAS that close and THAT easy.  We couldn't believe it.  We were thrilled.  The Flamingo Travel HCMC office was literally right there... we couldn't have booked a better, closer hotel (and at a GREAT price of $17/night for a double w/private bathroom).


It took us just about 1-2 minutes to get to the Flamingo Office and I immediately started taking my GPS mount off the bike.  The guy at the office called the Hanoi office and put me on the phone with the woman we booked the bikes through.  She originally told me that our cash deposit for the bikes was to be waiting for us in the HCMC office but she knew we were flying back to Hanoi the following day on the plane (she also booked these flights for us).  She told us we could pick the deposit up the next day in Hanoi upon arrival.  We also 'donated' our helmets to Flamingo Travel.  Seeing that we bought them in Hanoi, we thought we might be able to sell them, but instead, we just added them to the pile of helmets in their office... hopefully a couple of fellow Canucks will be able to appreciate the flags on the back.

We had our thumbs-up-high-fives with these gents, had one final look at our trusty bikes that we became quite close to and we started walking in the opposite direction back to the hotel.  It was a weird feeling, walking away from the bikes after 3291 km with them, but equally, it was a great feeling of accomplishment and success.  Our travel adventure wasn't quite over, but with the bikes, in the chaotic traffic of Vietnam, it was over.  

Nice custom bike above...

The first thing I did when I got back to the Bich Duyen Hotel was shoot a picture of my Travel Log that I had been keeping.  I was meticulous in documenting the trip for myself and for ADV Rider once we got home.  (I also plan to write a final summary at the end of this RR with more detailed information on hotel costs, trip costs etc.)

 My chicken-scratch Travel Log of our little scoot trip through Vietnam

Our afternoon was super chill.  After showers and a relax, we found a smoothie shop where we ordered up a couple of fresh-fruit smoothies and then we went and sat in the adjacent park and watched HCMC life-go-by.  Later in the day, after walking around the backpackers area of District 1, we found a perfect spot for a couple of beers and another welcomed relax.  Amanda and I both really enjoyed people watching and relaxing during our only afternoon in the city.  We parked our butts at a corner-bar perfect for our viewing pleasure.  I decided to shoot another video with my phone and included it below.  Notice how many bikes go by with more than x2 people... some with 3 and I think you'll notice a bike with x4 at one point making the corner.  Also, notice that this 4 way intersection doesn't have any traffic lights, and people just go.... truly amazing how it all 'works'.  Enjoy.

After beers at the corner bar, it was time to find some eats.  We took a peddy-cab (pedal bike with cart) ride to the city centre and took the elevator up one of the higher buildings.  We both figured we deserved $7 cocktails with a view.

We went to the Nha Hang Ngon restaurant which was pumped-up in the Lonely Planet.  It was an excellent choice.  The menu had pretty much any style of 'street-food' you could imagine with various cooks working at stations around the circumference of the establishment.  The price were good, the food was delicious and the ambiance was perfect for our one and only dinner in HCMC.  

We had booked a flight at the beginning of our trip from HCMC back north to Hanoi for our final couple of nights.  I was originally interested in taking the train from HCMC to Hanoi as I love trains, but after further research, this wasn't the way to travel.  Turns out, the painful trail journey is over 32 hours north and the ticket is about $40 for a higher class cabin.  Our one-way flights from HCMC to Hanoi were about $50/each and took a grand total of 2 hours on a jet... kind of a no-brainer decision (as much as I love trains).

We were looking forward to travelling back up to Hanoi where our trip started.  I had booked a plush hotel for our final x2 nights and we were both looking forward to Hanoi as we really enjoyed it from the start.

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