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In Transit

I leave England, school and having a flat to hit the road and to parts and plans unknown once more. It was fun to be in one place for a bit, to have friends and a neighborhood again. I miss the road and an opportunity to drive across America came up. I’ve been meaning to do this ever since I drove across Vietnam. Why am I driving across another, albeit much smaller, country instead of my own?

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“What’s in the large bag?” is a fun question to come up with answers that don’t let the baggage person know it is a bicycle. I think “kinetic natural art sculpture” is my favorite answer so far.

I landed in New York just in time to celebrate the Superbowl and Chinese New Years on the same day. This is my yearly or bi-yearly dose of snow that did make me wonder if two Californians would be ok driving through the northeast during a blizzard.

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Because none of my friends live in Manhattan anymore, I get a great view of the island from Queens.

Luckily the northeast and the eight states we shot through went by real quickly and we hit the south for barbecue and warm weather galore. I’ve driven from Chicago to Los Angeles before but mostly missed the south that time.

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We stayed on a plantation our first night, already out of the cold and across six states in one day!

My friend and I would marvel at how many states we drove through. The west coast is not that fast to shoot through so many small states. My European friends were confused that I could drive a whole day and not leave the state

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The lovely car that someone let me drive getting our car mishaps out of the way early on the second morning. We kept the nail on our dashboard as a good luck charm.

The destinations we stopped by were picked by a mixture of places I wanted to eat, national parks my friend and I wanted to see and cities I’ve been meaning to check out to see if they might be a good fit for living in in the future.

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I missed good barbecue… and ridiculous American portions. Food comas during driving are hilarious.

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Seriously though, I would not mind owning a rig to smoke meats this big one day. #LifeGoals

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Outside a small batch whiskey distillery in Nashville. I was here for the hot chicken, design and to be one of those LA people possibly moving to Nashville.

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If I had a bumper sticker, it would say, “Will stop for gravy, biscuits, chicken fried things, really anything you would put gravy on.”

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The famous Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans for beignets and chicory coffee at all hours of the day and night.

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How could you not love the wide open road surrounded by endless sky and water topped with many layers of dreamy clouds.

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We stopped at a gator rescue. This involved getting to hold adorable baby gators. One of two times the trip involved critters on the road not for eating. The other was also in the bayou and involved a black pig ambling across our path at dusk. Somehow I missed going pig hunting in Austin AND getting roadkill pig, but alas, it’s not my car.

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Not quite the season to do all the beautiful art and earthworks scattered through the southwest but we did stop in Marfa. I did not know everything is shut down Monday through Wednesday so we mostly got to see this.

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Well, we also stopped to try to see the missing encounter or alien like lights that are supposed to be visible in the area. With views like this, you do kind of feel unearthly.

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The twisted path down to the Carlsbad Caverns. Or hell. Whichever you want to imagine.

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We zig zagged across New Mexico looking for everything that could be found with the infamous Hatch chiles. A former roommate from New Mexico instilled a love of these particular chiles that the state is so rightly proud of.

This included a stop at Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences. There’s something charming about a former hot springs town that was fading into the dust near a bunch of military complexes. The addition of an abandoned recently built spaceport that was supposed to be the first consumer space flight port only makes it better. The poor disinterested worker there was much more excited to tell us about where to get a great hatch cheeseburger.

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Chile relleno in a burrito, hatch chiles in a burger, Christmas style sauces (both red and green) on enchiladas, I could wax Dr. Seussian about hatch chiles forever. That tiny cup in the lower left corner from Horseman’s Haven was the real killer though. One drop burned my mouth to tears. Worth it.

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We got to the Grand Canyon just in time to see both snow and clear skies for their one hundredth anniversary. Happy birthday canyon!

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I will also always stop for roadside fried foods. This is one of my favorites, known as Navajo fry bread. You can get it topped with butter and honey or with taco fillings.

Nothing like a good road trip to end having a place to live again. Do I want to live on the road in America? I’m not quite sure yet but I certainly keep falling in love with all these places.

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Really I just like reasons for holidays and celebrations, as evident by my three new years this year.  However I do think it is momentous to celebrate the fact that I have made it around the globe.  Granted 380 days is a lot longer than 80, I’m also taking my sweet time a lot more than that adventure and its lack of stopping anywhere.   Let’s ignore the fact that I already celebrated my 365 days traveling.  So what does an avid eater do to celebrate?

The only way I know how to celebrate: by accidentally taking porn-like photos of tender meat in low lighting.

My last meal in Madrid and in Europe was at Botin, the “world’s oldest restaurant” based on Guinness records and contested by a bunch of other ancient places.  The more important part is they have crackly skinned moist pork and it is in an ancient wooden cellar that managed to escape the bombings of so many wars.  The restaurant is pretty touristy and I got told to return three hours later when I showed up fifteen minutes after they opened, but that’s what you get for not being able to make a reservation online for less than three people.  I had to get some chocolate and churros to bide my time, the horrors of my day.  When I showed up later I got crammed in a corner where the walls crumbled on me occasionally and I was mildly squished next to a giant humidifier disguised as a ye olde wood door.  Yet the tender pork in crisp skin swimming in a pool of its own juices with a couple of potatoes was enough to make it awesome still.  I just wish I had the money and a stomach not full of churros and chocolate to have ordered the roasted baby lamb as well.  Lamb is already tender as a young sheep, is baby lamb extra tender?

This is also a good time to reflect on all the things I have learned over the past year.  I’m oft asked why I went on this trip and one of the answers I give is, “This is cheaper than graduate school and the learning is a lot more fun and practical.”

The big one: Was a Round The World Trip ticket worth it?

Yes and no.  It was a good deal and I had a lot of flexibility in my flights, free changes to date/time and only $125 for changes for location changes.  I even managed to change my flight for free when I missed my flight due to misunderstanding military time was being used.  Who flies at 1 AM?!  That’s the end of the good news.  The other half is that it took an average of 40 minutes of hold time and a week worth of calling daily to make changes.  For LAN I found that LAN America is handicapped and tells you to call back daily just to tell you they screwed up, and it’ll take probably another three days. Call back then, we have no power to change anything without our supervisor!  Calling LAN Chile was much more effective as their call center people could make changes immediately if it was for date/time.  I did get blacked out of the entire summer for going to Europe which was fortunate for my wallet but annoying for flexibility’s sake.  From other travelers’ reports I have compiled that the Latin American airlines (LAN and TAM) seem to be the worst, I’ve never had a good run in with AA even prior to current bankruptcy service issues, and the developed European nations (FinnAir and Lufthansa) had the most friendly and helpful service.  Would I do it again?  I probably wouldn’t have made it around the world in one year without it, but I’m not sure if being in India right now inhaling curries would’ve been a bad thing.

What do you need to carry?

I’m not really sure still, but I can tell you to plan for your weather.  I can also tell you what I really haven’t used.  I still haven’t been in good camping climate so the sleeping bag has only been optionally used.  My clothes have been wrecked after being worn for a year and I’ve had to buy a lot of new stuff.  Don’t buy it in Asia unless you are of their tiny proportions.

My laptop has been a blessing and a curse.  I’ve typed out lengthy e-mails on a phone this trip and it’s a pain in the ass.  You could use the free computers at hostels but I will warn you that I get blocked a lot from website that report the entire router’s IP has been blocked to spambots at multiple hostels.  So it’s been convenient to have a computer of my own and to view travel info on a full size screen.  The curse is that it’s broken three times, changing my travel plans three times, so that I had to hustle to a developed city with an authorized Apple repair center and then sit there waiting in a more expensive city.  And these fine authorized folk in Singapore of all places only managed to break my laptop the first fix so that it caused the second problem.  Oy.  It’s also heavy and the biggest item I constantly worry about getting stolen or losing.  I do carry a PacSafe slash proof bag which has been awesome when I can’t find a locker.

The ISYT (youth travel) card I bought hasn’t been used once.  Being under 26 would’ve been more useful for youth discounts and my almost decade old university ID worked just fine most places.

Is Couch Surfing a good idea? / How do I find a good place to stay (Couches and hostels/guesthouses)

Yes, this is a definite yes for Couch Surfing.  Even if you are feeling timid about staying in a stranger’s house it’s one of the best and most reliable ways I’ve had to find locals in the big cities I’m going to even if just for a coffee, drink or meal.  And big cities are the hardest places for me to connect with locals so it’s a boon.  As for finding good places to sleep/eat/drink, it’s really pretty similar on any website.  You start getting used to filtering by places with lots of reviews and what is really important in reviews.  At some point you realize all the reviews about “the best hostel breakfast ever!” and “the best meal I’ve had in my 3 weeks in Spain!” on every location you look at cannot be real.   As with anything new you find, your experience may rock the socks off a place with no reviews or even a great reviewed place will be terrible.  Smart filtering will still up your chances.  So far the only bad hostels I’ve had were because they were party hostels, not because of any terrible dirtiness or anything.  I personally filter for clean, just out of tourist area but walkable, not a party place, and family run.  As for couch surfing, I’ve met a few people I didn’t click with, amazing people that keep in touch more often than friends from back home, and one cult who made intelligent conversation and great Thai food.

This does lead me into how do I find good eating places.  Sadly backpacker joints are generally overpriced for the area and mediocre to terrible.  Apparently backpacking means you have bad taste.  My general go to websites have been Chowhound and Simon Seeks however both are more skewed towards people with money and less towards your budget traveler.  Lonely Planet and other guides tend to value cleanliness and comfortable (read: tastes altered to your pansy tourist taste buds) over actual good taste.  Also there is some strange curse of success where once in a guidebook many places know they can stop caring because a constant stream of one time visitors will come in.  Otherwise I find local food blogs the best spots to find pertinent budget information for eating tasty local foods.

So there’s my thoughts on traveling and eating my way around the world for one year.  I’m not stopping just yet as I’ve landed on my feet in Ecuador so I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more on the way.  Every continent operates a little differently and South America should be a fun challenge.

Cambodia is covered by a series of rivers and waterways that was key to the ancient Khmer civilization.  It was the transport method, the bringer of more rice harvests, and the road to success and control.  These days I’m finding a pleasant place to stroll and a good way to orient your way around every town I’ve been in.  To get to Battambang from Siem Reap, I took a boat across the Tonle Sap and into smaller rivers.

A pleasant if slow route from Siem Reap to Battambang that is lined with endless rice fields and riverside shacks. Vietnamese cannot own land so many of them live on water.

In modern times, the roads are much faster than the water ways. In this case it is 1/4 of the price and 1/3 of the time to go by bus. You better love slow boats!

Good thing I love waving at passing children and cows. Not an exciting ride for those on a tight travel schedule though.

The Tonle Sap is interesting in that half the year water flows into it from the Mekong, but when rainy season hits, the flow goes the other way.  I’d like to see that exchange.

I sat next to a nice Spaniard from the Canary Islands who told me he used to make commercials with puffy white clouds and loves the ones in Cambodia. I agree, the cloud watching in this country is first rate.

I toyed with the idea of going by bus and then doing some kayaking in town.  I’m sure the locals think foreigners are nuts.  Why would you pay to laboriously row yourself somewhere when you could way less money to get a tuk tuk or motorboat?!  Green Orange Kayak and Cafe 11 km out of town is run by the Feda Cambodia NGO and rents out kayaks and guides to those interested.  They’re a tad hard to contact by e-mail and I had better luck calling organizer Sokha directly.  After a confused motorcycle taxi finally found where I was supposed to be, I set off.

The awesome clouds continued. I particularly enjoyed this lonely puffy one rolling over the dry landscape.

They give you a correctly landmarked but not to scale laminated map.  The curves of the river tricked me into thinking I had made both more and less progress than I realized.  I’ve only been kayaking for maybe an hour or two before at a time as it isn’t cheap in America.  I didn’t realize three hours of kayaking downstream would be such a workout!  This is not for the out of shape.  Usually I enjoy waving to the various small children, but as I have the arms of a T. Rex, I couldn’t get out of range fast enough and they just would not stop waving and saying hello.  It’s more pleasant to exchange fast greetings on a bicycle than screaming hello constantly on the water.  I did enjoy the haunting chants I heard from one of the many pagodas I drifted by.

More beautiful views of brown waterways, rural villages, rice fields and blue skies.

I had a delightful chat with the two young men who helped me get in the kayak and picked me up again in town.  They were not pushy at all and almost forgot to collect money from me at the end.  If an “authentic rural life” scene is what you are after, I’d say the kayak trip is the choice for the fit or time crunched and the boat ride is for those who like to sit for ten hours at a time.   Enjoy it while you can.  As road conditions continually increase, a lot of boats have already disappeared and there seem to only be tourists plying the routes these days.  Going by water is certainly a gentler and more fun ride for me than by land.

I miss my motorcycle.  I look at roads longingly from buses before realizing the roads here are awful and the rains killed the fun or riding in Vietnam.  Yet I long for the freedom of the road and racing to remote locales.  However while I had the motorcycle, every road looked like a road to be ridden, and I just about never rode a bike.  So now that I am motorcycle free, I have gotten to rediscover the joys of bicycling down these rural roads.

Phnom Penh was not my favorite place.  As it was my first stop in Cambodia, I had to wonder if I just did not like Cambodia.  It is a country racing to become international, loving Pizza Hut more than its own cuisine.  Phnom Penh was said to be a “gourmet’s paradine” by multiple articles.  I guess if they mean you want to go somewhere foreign to eat slightly cheaper versions of international food, then hey you’re set.  Khmer food seemed to be second fiddle to western food in all the tourist facing restaurants and the tourist district was so big it took me a bit to wander out of it.

I am quite pleased that Kratie (pronounced crah-chay), a mere day’s bus ride away, feels worlds away from all of that.  It is a quiet, stoplight free town on the Mekong river.  Most people, like me, show up to see the freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins.  I missed seeing this when I skipped all of the south of Laos so I am happy to have a chance to do so now.

The mighty Mekong and a beautiful sky.

I thought I would miss the park but luckily there’s a giant dolphin statue out front.  Lots of travelers complain about the entrance/boat fee, which is steep for my budget at the moment at $9 a pop ($7 a person if you had more people).  However it is free for Cambodians and they do some conservation here.  I’m pretty sure I have to pay that much to get into a Californian national or state park as well.  It’s pretty darned cheap for a private boat ride though.  Those whale watching boat trips are a good $40 or more dollars to be shoved on a boat with 40 other people.

The girls are always wearing at least twice as much clothing. The extremes here involve women in fancy clothing and heels doing everything to my personal favorite, women and girls who live in their matching two piece pattern covered pajamas.

What can live here? Is that a tumbleweed reaching for the sky? I liked watching another plant that would succumb to the current but pull itself up every few minutes.

My experiences with whale watching in California involved risking my easy to trigger sea sickness for hours at a time to maybe, or maybe not, see a whale.  I was quite pleasantly surprised to see dolphins pretty much as soon as we finished our 45 minute journey upstream.  They remind me a bit of whales, only showing their top sides and blasting out a spray of water and air.  I did get to see the tail of one as it dove as well.  While not the jumping, frolicking dolphins of the ocean, they are still pleasant to watch.  Seeing dolphins come up every few minutes was a pleasant and surprisingly frequent event.

Oh I guess that’s what the rest of the dolphin looks like. Unfortunately the videos I took of the dolphins are not particularly impressive. This is the big sign letting you know where the park is on the one track road.

The sunset as I rode back to town was absolutely stunning. At home, I’m the slowest rider always but here I ride three times as fast as the people. The beautiful views help distract me from my increasingly sore butt on these awful roads.

The second day I took a short ferry (by ferry, I definitely mean small wooden boat) to Koh Trong, an island in the middle of the Mekong.  I’m usually a night owl but it’s not the best way here as one of the best times of day for physical exertion is at dawn.  I dragged myself out of bed early and took to hitting the rural paths on a city bike.  I wish they had some thicker wheeled mountain bikes with suspension for the sake of my rear.

Waking up early means a beautiful shade filled bike ride.

Well at least I don’t have to miss the cows blocking my path from my motorcycling days.

The path disappeared a few times. This time it went straight into a cornfield. I regret wearing flip flops.

These ducklings are adorable! Bills first in the mud. Dig, dig, dig!

It’s so peaceful you’d never guess that the afternoon would be filled with ridiculous thunderstorms and sideways rain.

The whole Mekong region is just so beautifully green.

Definitely worth a stop if you are in the country.  It feels so peaceful and laid-back, like the Mekong area I fell in love with in Laos.  I’m not sure if the ten hour (probably more like twelve) ride to Siem Reap will be very pleasant, but it seems a shame to come to Cambodia and not go to Angkor Wat.  To be honest though, I think I may be more excited about slow river life than I am about tourists elbowing for photos at temples in another international town.

After two months I’ve gathered some thoughts and tips for anyone who is thinking about riding in Vietnam.  The long and the short is that this was one of the highlights of my year round trip but very hard to do legally, pleasantly and thoroughly if you want to do it on a short vacation.

A cow’s (and bus’s or other motorbike’s) favorite thing to do: get in my way right as I’m coming by.

Legality:

This is the one you see the most disagreement about.  Although your International Driving Permit will list Vietnam as a covered country, the government has decided otherwise.  Travel insurance generally won’t cover you for accidents if you are riding illegally, so to be covered you do need a local license.  I covered how to get a local license here, in this post.  It did take me a month and my friend from Texas failed to get one when my California license went through.  If you do want to have your bases covered, I’d recommend having an International Driving Permit ready, a translator, and some wiggle room in time.  I’m aware most people think I’m nuts, but you don’t need your insurance to cover you until you really need them in any situation, so I’d rather be safe.

Stranded (repairs and other concerns):

I actually didn’t have to worry about much on the road.  I carried some snacks at first, but there is everything you need on the road.  Only once the entire two months did I worry about finding a place to sleep in the middle of a national park, and even then I found one shortly.  A guesthouse, a restaurant, and a repair shop are always nearby.

It does feel like everyone in this country knows how to fix a bike and strap large amounts of objects onto the back of them.  I never had any serious problems with my bike and it was pretty easy to find someone to fix problems or give an oil change.  The hardest part is convincing the mechanic that what you think are problems are in this country.  I could never really get anyone to fix my slightly leaning kickstand (only one even tried, one other told me to put a rock shim under it) or fix my taillight for night driving (they tried, but they also didn’t care, no one really uses them).  Then you get to watch in a mix of amazement and cringing as you see them make do with what they have and fix your bike with spit and tape.  But hey, it always worked, so who am I to complain?

Language:

It took me months to learn how to count to ten.  There are a few useful words for riding:

– “Sua Chua/Son Sua”: repair, with accents I am not including.  The former is confusing because with different accents, it is the word for yogurt.  Which they do sell at repair shops along with ice cream (kem). “xe may” means motorcycles in case you accidentally spot a bicycle or car repair.

– “Khach San/Nha Nghi”: Hotel/guesthouse.

– “Quan”: restaurant.  On the road it is more common to see “com dia/pho/bun/chao”: rice plates, rice noodles, rice noodles and rice porridge.
[DSCF124] a cow’s (and bus’s) favorite thing to do: get in my way

Dangers:

The people here drive crazy, but there are some general rules.  They just don’t make sense to most Western people ever.  The biggest rule is this: if you can go, go, and try not to stop.  The other big rule is that size wins.  So this is why you see people jetting everywhere in between giant buses and trucks who will do as they please.  Also, please use your horn always.  Here it means “I am here, where you can’t see me”.  So use it loudly and often like the locals.

Roads and route info:

The 1A highway was the bane of my riding existence.  Some of it was beautiful but this is where most of the buses and trucks that tried to run me off the road were.  The road is also often in bad condition with so many heavy vehicles, so there are rather deep grooves running over the road.  It’s like driving parallel to foot deep speed bumps constantly.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail is very beautiful in the north, lush with greenery and mostly empty.  I highly recommend riding on it.  I hear in the south there is construction at the moment so I had avoided it.

The northwest loop is a good one week excursion if you just want to ride and see scenery but do nothing else.  The views were gorgeous and changed so much daily I thought I had changed countries.  That said, there are chunks of road west of Sapa that are so covered in landslides that it was the most dangerous rock and dirt roads I drove the entire time I was in the country.

The Mekong Delta is rather flat so it is good for anyone who is riding a bicycle as well as motorcycle.  The roads are in pretty good condition and the cities not so far apart, so it’s a good place to start and get some practice in if you need it.  Also, enjoy a ferry ride or five with your motorcycle!

Useful things to have:

There was wifi in most of the places I stopped.  The guides I used were a few years old and many were rather loud in proclamations of no wi-fi or ATMs nearby.  This country has exploded in wealth and development, so wi-fi is pretty common now.  ATMs I had a little more trouble with but it was still pretty easy to find one in most towns.

Getting a local SIM card is really pretty useful.  Instead of a paper map I used Google Maps, which worked great.  Vinaphone and Viettel have great coverage all over the country.  The only place I didn’t have coverage was on the ocean.  For about 2 dollars a month you can get unlimited internet for maps and looking up other useful info.  Google translate is useful for communicating the more complicated things you can’t pantomime.

We got extra butt cushions because these tiny bikes were not made for long rides or for big foreigners.  Many people ride 300 km a day, which on tiny 100-150 cc bikes means almost all day riding.  Do your butt a favor and either ride less or get something cushy.

Wear protective gear.  I ran into four separate people with oozing pus wounds and one with her entire legs covered in open wounds.  No one else does, but accidents are common in this country, particularly for travelers.  Be ready.  I opted for my full face American helmet over the only top of the head flimsy fashionable ordeals here.  You bet I was glad I had it when I took my slow tumble to the rocks and the side of my helmet, that would not have been covered in a Vietnamese helmet, was missing paint.

Random last tips:

I’m a slow traveler.  Most backpackers zoom from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City or the reverse in a mere three weeks.  I did it in almost three months and relished every moment.  This is a large beautiful country, and if you have limited time I recommend only trying to see part of it.  You can get from one end to the other but they seemed to miss a lot of stuff in between.  Those were my favorite parts of the country.

So there you go, the basics of riding in Vietnam.  I do recommend this trip for any experienced riders with lots of free time.  I never did manage to find a couple where the woman was riding out of sheer want.  I met one couple where the woman rode because they had to carry three kids.  I think I saw another woman get in front of her man for two seconds before deciding it was a bad idea and letting him ride.  Shame, the men don’t seem to ride any safer or better.  In any case, Vietnam is a beautiful country that I greatly enjoyed seeing on two wheels.

The last few days have been a lot of hurried riding from the crashing water of waves on the ocean into the onslaught of thunderstorms.  I raced through the last curving coastal roads following sand dunes, stopped for a pleasant lunch with some cows overlooking the sea, and curved inland as the sky dropped buckets.  The land near the coast is said to be the best for growing green dragon fruit, the beautiful pink and green fruit with a white fleshy center full of black kiwi like seeds.

Dragonfruit grow like some weird hybrid of dreadlocked palm tree-cactus. And here I thought pineapples grew funny. Can you spot the spiky pink and green fruit?

Now that I’m riding alone, I do not ride all that much per day.  It takes a good bit of energy out of me and I’d rather be able to walk around and enjoy the rest of my day.  That means I don’t usually take my meals on the road as I’m only riding for a few hours.  On the road to Saigon I made an exception as I found Banh Bao vendors lined up ten deep.  These are meat filled steamed wheat buns that I usually spot on the back of motorbike vendors that I can’t get the attention of, so I’ve been craving them for a while.  Back in San Francisco I had multiple friends who were on Atkins like wheat free diets to lose weight.  I don’t think I could do it, I can’t imagine giving up breads, cakes, and noodles.

Google Maps has been serving me pretty well as I travel.  I don’t think I’ve broken out the paper map once while on the road.  It certainly isn’t up to date enough sometimes though and has some issues.  This time it told me there was a bridge across the river.  I sat in a horde of bikes and cars, wondering what was taking so long.  This must be the world’s slowest drawbridge ever.  Ah, no it is a ferry.  How the heck do you confuse the two of those on a map?!  On the upside the ferry is fast and pleasant.

Finally, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (ye olde Saigon, renamed after the war).  I do not intend to explore just yet, I will have to return to Saigon to sell my motorbike to another backpacker.  It is a huge city, with close to ten million residents spread out over a huge area criss crossed by a huge network of roads.   That part feels like home.  When I was 16, I was a rather aggressive driver.  I raced into every opening I could for the thrill of driving, convinced that everyone else should do the same and we’d all go faster.  As I’ve aged I’ve mellowed out my driving a good bit, but little did I know my teenage driving dreams were how the Vietnamese drive.  I’m not convinced it makes anyone go faster.  Combined with the rain, the millions of not-grid like roads made me a rather more lost than usual.  I think I spent at least an hour looping through Saigon’s many streets.

Actually in Saigon I met up with a few Vietnamese Couchsurfers who were a rather friendly bunch with great English skills.  After my flakey and cult experiences, it is nice to know that some cities in Asia have healthy Couchsurfing communities.  I left in the morning and moved further south to explore the Mekong Delta.  I have made it though, i’ve finished the Hanoi to Saigon ride.  I’ll be back Saigon, I’ll be back to eat your delicious secrets.

My last few weeks were spent racing through the central area of Vietnam.  Shame I had to move so fast really, it was a beautiful area covered in what’s been the best sand and wonderful food.  Now I’m in the south central part of the country, much less scary than the less South Central I lived in.  The central coast was home to many large cities of the Open Bus tour, so there were quite a bit of foreigners and took me quite a bit of walking to get to some good, cheap local food.

Outside of Nha Trang I’ve been in random seaside towns or at worst for crowds, Vietnamese resort towns. They are amusing in an entirely different way.  It usually still means mediocre, expensive food sadly.  There are still the crowds, if not more so because of the tour buses.  I enjoyed watching a bunch of Vietnamese tourists and locals mix as they rollerbladed along promenades in obstacle courses.  Their wheels even lit up in neon technicolored moving lights, like everything else in this country.

Vietnamese tourists means I get to contend with whole tour buses and lots of motorbikes worth of people at Cham sites.

What are the differences then between a Vietnamese crowded beach and a foreign one you might ask?   The Vietnamese tourist beaches though, there is generally trash everywhere.  This is a beautiful country but those who live here do not seem to want to take care of it.  I worry when I see lots of broken glass everywhere.  There are generally seafood restaurants everywhere; shacks, on tarps on the beach, in things that look like hotels or homes, and anywhere else you might take a gander.  I have partaken in the various offerings, often including fresh tanks of still squirming fare.  This was something I didn’t understand about all the foreign restaurants in Nha Trang.  You have a bountiful sea, why are you concentrating so much on fries and meat?  Seafood was cheaper, even in the foreign restaurants I noticed.  Vietnamese people tend to not know how to swim, especially the women and children.  You will see the latter groups wearing bright orange and green life vests that everyone seems to own or renting giant truck inner tubes.  They also hide in the shade even in the setting sun.

They have a weird sense of “cute” style here. I think this creepy little guy is a trash can. There are no penguins around these parts, and certainly none with bow ties.

I cannot explain what this even creepier little guy glancing at you from behind a tree  is supposed to be.

There seems to be a preference in cheaper places to have windows, which is great when you’re by the sea and near a refreshing breeze.  The thing I don’t get is why no one here uses screen windows.  Instead there is a complex system of lots of bugs, mosquito nets over beds, geckos in the houses to eat bugs, cats to eat geckos, dogs to eat cats, and humans to eat everything but the mosquito nets.

Alas, not everything can be deliciously fresh seafood and calm, sea breezes.  In one town, I managed to get propositioned by two drunk men outside a weird amusement park.  The security guard nearby was too busy horseplaying with them to do much to either let me in the park or to stop the men.  It is unfortunate to find out that the same lewd hand signals are used everywhere and that there are men like this allowed to be around places for children.  A luxury coach full of children drove out of the park and right by me as all this was occurring.  I had to forcefully shove the drunker of the two men away from blocking my bike and from his futile attempts to jump on the back. What I’ve read of the amusement park was that it was full of hilarious statues and second rate attractions.  Well, that certainly wasn’t Disneyland and those were worse than second rate attractions.

A longer lasting problem has been that I have been stricken with food poisoning.  Indeed, one would think this ails me more often given how I eat.  I have had minor bouts with the most common traveler issue but this one has me sidelined for a few days.  On the upside, what better place to be sick than one where I can chill out on a bed all day staring at the ocean?

Well, if I’m going to be sick, at least it’s somewhere gorgeous!

I’m pretty sure for ten bucks this would not be the two views I see outside my windows in most other countries.

Do not take the one or two bad things that happen to me in the wrong way.  For every negative thing it feels like many more wonderful things happen.  I greatly enjoyed chatting with the local woman swimming at the beach who at first approached me cautiously.  She watched some other locals interact with me in a broken batch of Mandarin, Vietnamese and random English words.  I guess there’s an hydroelectric plant nearby so a lot of the locals know a few Mandarin phrases.  Soon though this woman gathered the courage up to come up and practice some English.  In the middle of our conversation she jumped up and ran back to her bike to give me a perfectly ripe custard apple.  There are few things more perfect than a delicious custard apple on the beach. I’ve also enjoyed chatting with the batch of child actors and their parents who are at my hotel.  They seem ever so happy to wave hello every time they see me and ask how I’m doing.

I meant to take more time to read and do a bit of writing and drawing anyways so this has been a perfect opportunity.  I have a few more beach towns to go, although the next two are one big foreign stop and one big Vietnamese/expat stop.  I’ll enjoy this quieter beach while it lasts.