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2007 Cycling Trip (Mekong River Delta)

November 12, 2007, "Xe Ðạp Xuyên Việt" kicked off the Mekong River Delta Bike Ride with seven biking members (Minh, Tân, Hùng, Hàm, and Anh), a non-biking rider (Hằng Ðịnh), and a tour guide (Nguyễn Hoàng Nam).  On this ride, we utilized one road bike, four touring bikes, and one motorbike.

We started in Hồ Chí Minh City (formerly Sài Gòn) and travelled south through nearly all the provinces of the Mekong Delta Zone with the exception of Vĩnh Long, Hậu Giang and the city of Cần thơ which were part of the 2005 bike ride (see 05' bike ride page).  This area south of HCM City is an area known in Việt Nam "Ðồng Bằng Sông Cửu Long" (Mekong River Delta).  Through this area, the ride distance covered approximately 790 km of biking.  The bike paths consisted mostly of back roads situated away from Việt Nam's central Highway 1A, criss-crossing into towns and going through the heart of South Việt Nam rural Areas.  This type of travelling on bike is a detour from previous rides where we planned our travel mostly on and along Highway 1A corridor.  The objective of this ride was to observe first hand life in a typical Việt Nam country side otherwise not frequented and seen by many travelers.  The bike lengths were intentionally planned short with the focus of sightseeing and exploration.  On this ride, a couple of adjustments were made regarding pre-planned biking legs.  These legs include Hà Tiên to Châu Ðốc and Cao Lãnh to Tân Thạnh.  We had to forego these pre-planned legs because of bad road conditions which made it hazardous and unsafe to ride; safety is the most important part of the trip.

The Mekong River Delta Area Bike Ride was an exciting and memorable trip.  Our bike ride is slow and evenly paced, very different from a set-up to that of "Tour de France", where riders simply zipped through the landscape accompanied by support vans and crews.  Zipping through a country is not the best way to see the sceneries and converse with the locals.  A slow ride, like ours, we think is the best way to do such a trip.  Also, having a strong and sturdy bike helps to alleviate stress and worries of a bike breakdown during the trip.  This ride was specially enjoyable in that we did not encounter any major bike problems, not a single broken spoke or a warped rim.

Mekong River Delta Area.  The Mekong River Delta Area is famous for its rivers, a relatively flat terrain level, and a large population.  The land here is extremely fertile as a result of years of sediment deposits of topsoil carried down from the North by the Mekong River.  More people are drawn to this area than anywhere else in Việt Nam.  Part of the reason is that there is abundance of food year round.  Here, rice planting is done throughout the year.  Fruit trees are more easily grown than anywhere else in Việt Nam.  Additionally, an endless supply of fresh water from the Mekong River allows easier irrigation of the land as well as giving life to a thriving industry that subsist on water commerce, anywhere from fishing to transporting goods through the water.  On this bike ride, we find everything described above as true with the exception of a completely flat terrain.  There are areas in the Mekong Delta that are not entirely flat.  A stretch of land in An Giang province consists of small rolling hills that stretched as long as 10 kilometers.  The inclide on these hills, however, are not steeped; these hills will slow you down as you bike, but will not wear your legs and knees out like those hills in Central Việt Nam.

Peaceful and merry people!  It is often said that Southerners in Việt Nam are a peaceful and merry people.  Having tour the South, we can say from first hand experience that this statement is generally true.  People down South tend to be relaxed and outgoing, seemingly more so than people in other areas.  We find this may partially have to do with certain down times during the year when the fields can not be harvested due to rain.  During a bike rest stop, we were informed by a drink vendor that the month of November is a down month for tending rice paddies because rain and flood water soak the fields making farmer helpless to work.  As such, most people resort to this period of relaxation by spending time visiting relatives, neighbors, and friends.  Overall, we find the mood to be festive throughout the South during the bike tour.  Another unique quality about Southerners is an unassuming straightforwardness in conversation.  Why bike tour Việt Nam when you can do it sitting in an air condition automobile is a question we often get asked along the road.  To which we reply, join us and you will see how fun it really is...for us there is no better experience is seeing a country than on a bike...

Weather!  Typhoon Peipah-a category 1 storm-was the twenty third storm of the 2007 typhoon season in the western pacific.  It was forcasted to hit Việt Nam.  It hit us in the news through the intercom as we are about to touch ground from our airplane into Tân Sơn Nhất Airport at HCM City.  Not imaginary!  It did happen on this 07 Mekong River Delta Bike trip.  When we heard the news, our hearts just sank.  A category 1 means a catastrophe in the making.  Many lives will be affected not mention the destruction to the land.  A major typhoon is known to wash away houses and livestocks, including roads.  After hearing the news, we had plenty to worry about.  And this typhoon was ravaging Central and North Việt Nam.  If the South becomes affected by the typhoon, we will likely have to pedal and swim both in the rain and in the flood to get through this trip.  We went ahead with our bike trip plans anyway.  Fortunately, the typhoon never made it down to South Việt Nam.  We got through the trip with very little weather problems.

Map-Error!  On the 07' bike ride, we had an experience that we would like to share here that may help those who are contemplating such a ride.  As in previous bike trips, we carried with us the latest copy of a Việt Nam map.  The map shows in detail the roads, bridges, and ferry crossing; perhaps as detail as a map can get.  We found that maps do not always correspond to reality, regardless of how clear in layout and how recent in print it may be.  On our way from Bến Tre to Trà Vinh, a ferry crossing named Ferry Cổ Chiên shown on the map suddenly was nowhere to be found when we arrived at the site.  There are some remnants of a ferry terminal, but not single ferry in sight.  Dumbfounded, we asked the locals who amusingly told us a Ferry Cổ Chiên is being built, but will not be finished until later 08'.  If the map publisher intent is to provide guidance and direction, then we can only sat and despair.  The other alternative is to swim with our bikes across the river.  Furtunately for us, the locals pointed to us another ferry crossing 10 kilometer away, through an unmarked dirt road that will get us across the river.  This ferry crossing and the road leading to it was nowhere to be found on the map.

The error on the map not only happened at the Ferry Cổ Chiên crossing, but again on provincial road 865 crossing a bridge at Kênh Mười Hạt into the town of Tân An.  Upon arrival at Kênh Mười Hạt and again to our dismay, we discovered a closed road leading toward the bridge.  A review of the map showned that this is a primary road into Tân An.  From here on, no other road exists to cross over from Kênh Mười Hạt into Tân An.  With the road closed, we literally will have to swim with our bikes to cross the river and connect to the road leading to Tân An.  Talking to the locals, we realized that the bridge had collapsed from years ago.  There hasn't been enough money to rebuild the bridge.  Luckily for vehicles, there is sign warning of a closed road.  Otherwise, a ride during the dusk hours will put the driver and his vehicle right into the river, which could easily had been us.  The map publisher did not update their 2007 map to account for this closed road and collapsed bridge.  Fortunately for us, there was a small ferry that was recently put in for the purpose of helping pedestrians and mopeds to cross the river.  The point in sharing this experience is when planning bike rides in Việt Nam, be wary of what is not the map...it may not be there.

Road and Accidents.  The Mekong River Delta Area contains all the flavors that the Mekong River Delta is known for:  an abundance of tropical fruits dotting the land, the majestic rivers and tibutaries running through the landscape, lush green rice paddlies stretching endlessly into the horizon....As tourists, we can't help but look at these sceneries with dreamy eyes.  But as bicyclist, the enjoyment only last as quick as we see it.  The accidents we see along the road make us realize that reality is as harsh as it is pretty.  Việt Nam's economy is changing and growing.  Along with it, there are much more motorbikes, automobiles, and trucks.  Accidents on the road, especially in the South, an area known for its high concentration of people.  As most of us know, the world of a sober driver and a drunk đriver are two totally separate worlds.  When driving is predicated with alcohol, moving vehicles become instruments of death.  The pain and suffering that individuals and families will suffer continue long after the accidents is cleared and road is restored.

Ngày
(ngày-tháng-năm)

Lộ Trình

Đường Dài

12/11/2007

Sài Gòn-Mỹ Tho

62 km (39 miles)

13/11/2007

Mỹ Tho-Trà Vinh

58 km (36 miles)

14/11/2007

Trà Vinh-Sóc Trăng

55 km (34 miles)

15/11/2007

Sóc Trăng-Cà Mau

115 km (72 miles)

16/11/2007

Cà Mau-Rạch Giá

128 km (80 miles)

17/11/2007

Rest day-explore Phú Quốc Island


18/11/2007

Rest day-explore Phú Quốc Island


19/11/2007

Rạch Giá-Châu Đốc

119 km (74 miles)

20/11/2007

Châu Đốc-Cao Lãnh

99 km (62 miles)

21/11/2007

Cao Lãnh-Tân An

99 km (62 miles)

22/11/2007

Tân An-Sài Gòn

53 km (33 miles)

Mekong River Delta Bike Ride is about 788 km (492 miles).  Divided into 9 legs.  Completed in 11 days.