Day 10 – Ha Tien, Gulf of Thailand, Vietnam
It’s time for a quick break. We’ve been biking for five days and our bodies are worn down from the road. Long days have added up to about 500km on the odometer, several days we’ve biked into the dark, and traffic is taking its psychological toll. Heat rash is beginning its slow march up our legs – which one of us thought that bike touring in the tropics during the monsoon was a good idea? Our first impressions of the motorbike culture were positive. Nimble, everyone has one, they take care of everything on them, and infrastructure is built to serve them. The curbs are even built with a slant so that motorbikes can be driven onto the sidewalks.
Everyone is used to the traffic here. Kids step into the road without looking, and the motorists (usually) smoothly swerve. (White spray paint and license plate numbers mark the places where someone was not so fortunate – and are more frequent than our parents would probably like). Even dogs have figured out how to cross a busy road. But what took us a bit to realize was that motorbikes on sidewalks means that no space is sacred to the pedestrian. There appears to be no walking culture in this part of Vietnam, and bicycles are only used by vendors, rickshaws and those who can’t afford to buy one with a motor. Even the shortest trip here burns fuel.
And after five days on the road we are far from used to it all. We picked our way through the Delta, getting lost many times and in the end adding a day or two to this leg of the trip – partly because of our poor maps and weak language skills, but also because we chose to seek out smaller, quieter roads. It appears these don’t exist. Everywhere, traffic is constant and impossibly loud. Motorbikes roar each way, on both sides, merging through traffic however they can manage, and they never stop coming. Buses and trucks push through the mayhem with their horns, moving much faster than anyone else and only truly slowing for each other. Makes us wish we had our own airhorns.
We’re hoping for change in Cambodia. We enter tomorrow morning, and move north toward Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat (!!!). The country’s population is far lower, but it looks like the traffic will be concentrated on fewer roads. We’ll see, wish us luck.
On the upside, we will miss the people in Vietnam. Bike touring is incredible for many reasons, but mostly because you meet people that no other tourist has ever had a reason to meet. People have been amazingly helpful and have shown us great hospitality. They help us with language, make sure we have enough food to eat (we pretend that it’s possible). Of course when we find ourselves in towns that are frequented by tourists, the experience is much different…
We cross into Cambodia tomorrow and can imagine the upsides, but cross with wariness of our optimism. For some reason the road makes one superstitious – you don’t say the road will get better, don’t say your bike is good to go, and you certainly don’t quip about how safe it feels here. Don’t even think it. But less tourism, less industry, less traffic, and variable terrain are certain to make us happy. The heat will not abate, the roads will get worse, and we’ll be back to zero with language, but life is full of only goodness. There’s nowhere we’d rather be or be going.