Next Stop: Mountain Biking through the Mekong Delta

Leaving Cambodia was surprisingly difficult for me – I had really fallen in love with that country and its people.

We decided to travel down the Mekong river by boat to the Vietnamese border, and then continue  by bus to Saigon. This is the Saigon City Hall.

Crossing the border between the two countries on the river was quite interesting – in Cambodia you rarely see a street sign in the countryside – in Vietnam even the river is  regulated with dos and don’ts…

After a couple of days in Saigon – an interesting city, that did not conquer my heart – we decided to explore the South of Vietnam – the region of the Mekong Delta – by mountain bike.

Vietnam is a very heavily populated country in some areas, and the streets can be very busy.

A lot of people wear the traditional conical hat.

During the four day ride, we didn’t see any other tourists, and the locals were curious about our endeavor…

…kids came running into the street to look at us…

The Vietnamese call the Mekong River “Nine Dragons”, as it has nine arms, and countless side streams and canals. As a result there are thousands of different bridges – some of them just an arrangement of spindly logs expertly positioned over the river.

Some bridges are a little bit more elaborate…

We biked for four days and crossed an endless number of  these nerve-wracking bridges on the way.

The biking was relaxing and easy, mostly flat…

and crossing over all these crazy bridges was fun.

Everywhere we went people liked to show us their children and grandchildren…

The biggest challenge was to protect myself from the burning sun during the hottest hours of the day. 

Fortunately I had learned some tricks from the Vietnamese people:

So, here I go…

Statues of Ho Chi Minh and Socialist propaganda are everywhere…

and there are loudspeakers even in the most remote parts of the countryside.

The most memorable moments were when people invited us into their gardens or homes, which happened on several occasions.

These women were playing cards and invited me to join them…

That was great fun, and despite the fact that they spoke no English they patiently tried to explain the game to me so I could join!

All the signs on the cards were in some kind of beautiful script though, which looked very interesting – but all cards looked the same to me. Some helpful color markings saved me every now and then, still it’s good that I did not play for money.

This family invited us into their garden to drink tea with them, and we spent some time chatting and playing with their little puppies.

The men of the family were interested in looking at our mountain bikes…

…the woman were interested in studying my teeth from close up. Unfortunately not many Vietnamese people are able to keep much of their teeth beyond the age of 30 or so…

For many centuries the Mekong Delta was a part of Cambodia, and many people there still speak the Khmer language – and it was very nice being able to communicate with the people with the basic knowledge we had picked up in Cambodia.

This is a coffee break at a local roadside coffee shop with Kevin, the other member of our little cycling group.

People are much better off in Vietnam than in Cambodia – kids are wearing earrings…

…have bikes their own size and ritzy schoolbags… all of this was rare in Cambodia.

This family invited us to drink some rice wine with them – a very strong concoction that resembles more a “schnaps” than a wine 🙂 and it was dangerously strong after several hours of biking right before lunch…

This was a typical lunch stop…

… we were happy to just sit in the shade and eat our food…

and when I asked “where I could wash my hands” (as the British say) this is where they led me…

Sometimes the paths were really muddy though, and almost impossible to bike through.

At some point Nat was giving a helping hand to some workers on a truck which they found hilarious and they insisted on taking photos of us with their mobile phones…

Here is Tico our guide wearing a Grapefruit on his head… He was a very competent and funny guide, born in the Mekong Delta, with a fascinating family story – and he seemed to know every single path and trail out there by heart…

Tico also told us that some of the locals asked him why “we are doing all that…” – meaning – “why are they biking on the tiny, muddy roads in the burning sun through the villages when they have a wonderfully air-conditioned van at their disposal???”

We all consumed a ridiculous amount of water during the day…

… and at the end of four days of biking we were tired but very happy…

– and already making plans for the next bike trip!

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