February 1, 2013
We had packed everything the night before and woke up at 530am. Chandler had the bright idea of buying yogurt, bananas, mangosteen and granola bars the night before so we could have breakfast before we left the hotel. Usually we waste around a half hour or hour of prime riding time to track down identifiable vegetarian breakfast. We were on the road at 6am, hoping to beat the morning rush into Saigon.
The first hour was quiet and we saw very little traffic as we biked past people up early exercising in town. Soon My Tho faded into rice paddy farmland and the road got a bit narrower. We said hello to lots of students on their way to school. We watched the intense orange sun come up over some coconut trees lining one of the rice fields. The early morning is probably my favorite time to ride.
The countryside soon diminished into suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC aka Saigon), the largest city in Vietnam. The traffic increased the closer we got to the city, but it wasn’t too bad. The road was divided and had two lanes in either direction plus a wide shoulder. The cars, trucks and buses stayed in the inside lane with motorbikes in the outside lane.
For some reason, once we hit the highway, we were on fire. There was no wind and the pavement was great. Our average speed was around 15mph and neither of us was the least bit tired.
In an admiral effort to avoid highways, the GPS took us on a bizarre little tour of some intensely smelling vegetable, fish and meat markets on the edge of the urban area of HCMC. We popped out on main road leading to the city center and suddenly we were in the thick of the most maddening traffic we had ever “participated” in. It didn’t feel particularly dangerous- there was such a density of motorbikes that no one could really go very fast- but it was intense on the senses. It felt about 10 degrees warmer amidst the thousands of motorbikes puttering, revving and honking. We tried unsuccessfully to limit breathing in the hazy air which smelled obviously of exhaust from the bikes mixed with sooty diesel plumes from the spare bus or truck.
It was around 10:30 at this point and starting to really heat up. We spent a while riding in circles trying to find a hotel that someone had recommended, but we couldn’t find it and settled on the Lonely Planet backup Chan had stored in the GPS. The Madame Cuc 184 turned out to be a nice small hotel off on a small alley (away from the NOISE!!!), and suited us perfectly. We took obligatory post ride showers, then found a place to eat a pile of pasta, that may or may not have been kind of nasty but tasted amazing at the time.