16 September – Chau Doc
Wake up about 7.00am, and I guess the good news is that I did manage some sleep.
But geez, waking often, and either feeling hot, or cold, coupled with bouts of profuse sweating, and then dealing with a nose running like a tap; it wasn’t heaps of fun….
So yeah, the good news is there was some sleep achieved, and more good news is that the muscle aches seem to have eased.
But laying there, I come to the realisation that I now have a really sore throat, and that severe case of lethargy I’m feeling, means I’m in no hurry to make a move to the vertical position.
I doze for another hour or so, before putting my big boy pants on and set about trying to actually achieve something today.
Out to the balcony for breakfast, forcing myself to actually eat, I decide on a baguette with jam.
Yep, a bloody jam roll….
Fruit today is dragon fruit, and while that, as always, promises so much with its colourful skin and interesting looking flesh, it delivers about as much as the jam roll does.
And then finish off with a green tea; still pinning my hopes on it doing me good, seeing as it tastes so ordinary.
It’s all just really pissing me off, feeling this way.
While sitting there ‘enjoying’ my breakfast, Lisa gets a message from Shinegi, a friend we met in Hanoi back in 2017.
The plan this trip is to spend a couple of nights in her home town of Thanh Hoa, which is about three hours south of Hanoi. We’d also organised a night in Ninh Binh on the way down, which is on the same train line, to catch up with Toan and Toan. Otherwise known as T1 and T2.
Unfortunately, Shinegi is dealing with some family issues, and this has now scuttled the Thanh Hoa bit, so a decision needs to be made on where to allocate those extra two nights.
My thinking at the moment is to add a night to Ninh Binh, as well as one to Hanoi, but Lisa is a bit undecided. We’ll have a think about that over the next few hours.
Gee, we’ve had some plans altered over the journey of planning this trip.
But hey, it’s Vietnam and Cambodia; we’ve learnt over the years that it happens.
Breakfast done, and spanner thrown into the works of our plans, we head downstairs to see about those bikes we sorted last night. The very efficient young guy at the desk already has them organised, so we’re quickly on our way.
And as far as bikes go, well, compared to the only other ones we’ve ridden this trip, they’re good!
Working brakes and gears; always a nice surprise!
Although starting off in gear 26, out of 27, was initially somewhat problematic. Fortunately you can test spirit levels on the street we’re in, so that issue was quickly solved.
Up to the left, away from Le Loi street, and then around to a road that will, hopefully, get us close to our loose plan of heading out towards Sam Mountain.
I’m not really sure why we picked Sam Mountain. I suspect the main reason was that it is reasonably close to town. But really, the fact that it’s a mountain, coupled with the fact that we’re riding bikes, means that in the event that we do actually get that far, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll attempt to ride to the top.
So yeah, seems the whole thinking thing was somewhat lacking at the time of planning….
Oh well, and not for the first time, we’ll just make it all about the journey.
Onto a fairly main road, and it would be fair to say it’s not one of the better ones we’ve been on. Pot holed and dusty, along with more trucks and buses than is ideal. And it’s hot.
I quickly come to the conclusion that it’s not a terribly enjoyable experience at the moment, and if I’m already thinking that, then I know Lisa will be of the same mindset.
With that knowledge, I decide the best course of action is to not look at Lisa. At all.
Occasional checking of Maps.me proves that things are going well, until, because of a strong desire to get off this hot, bumpy, dusty, and busy road, I put more faith into the App than I should.
Off to the left, around a small block, and we’re then quickly back on to the road I was hoping to get off.
That didn’t really work….
It does however put us near a small shop selling bottles of water, and seeing as how we’ve massively underestimated the heat, we stop to buy a 1.5 litre bottle.
10 000 Dong lighter in the wallet, but 1.5 kilos heavier in the backpack, I’m not totally convinced I’ve made things better….
A bit further up we turn on to the road that takes you to the mountain, which we can see up ahead. It’s a big wide road of about eight lanes, and one of those ones that has cars and motorbikes separated.
That separated part of the scenario is good, as it makes things a little easier. The fact that it’s so wide, and therefore very open, makes things not so good.
Depending on the amount of cloud cover at any given time, things range from pleasant, to rather warm, to feeling like you’re being cooked alive. I also half expect to see the bike tyres melt into the surface of the road, at any moment.
Still trying to ignore Lisa, but that’s becoming difficult as I can hear groans and other noises coming from her direction.
But that’s okay, I’ve been making the same sort of noises. Just a little more discreetly.
We pull over under one of the few trees offering shade on the side of the road, for a rest and a much needed drink. And only partly because I wanted to reduce that extra 1.5 kilo weight I was carrying.
With our t-shirts now wetter than they get in the washing machine, I check Maps.me. While Sam Mountain isn’t too far away, it may as well be another 50 kilometres. It just ain’t going to happen.
The heat on this road is just too much, and really, what are we going to achieve when we get there, anyway?
The realisation that there’s no way we’re going to be riding up it when we do get there, confirms the futility of our original plan.
Yep, what the hell was I thinking…..
There’s a road off to the left, and Maps.me says it will, eventually, take us back to Chau Doc. It doesn’t take much to convince the groaning and grunting one to abandon our plans, and we’re soon on a much narrower road with significantly more shade.
It’s still warm, but it’s now much more pleasant. And it’s also far more scenic, with more greenery than bitumen, to keep us occupied.
A bit further up we come across a nuoc mia cart, and well, the question doesn’t really need to be asked. We pull up, and the girl and guy running it, who probably didn’t really expect to see a couple of Western tourists today, quickly organise some chairs, while instructing us to park our bikes over the other side of the road.
Seat taken, we soon have our very cold, and much appreciated, nuoc mia da’s. They’re always good, but sometimes they’re just that much better.
But I think it’s like having a beer, sometimes it’s more than just the actual taste. It’s very much how you’re feeling, who you’re with, and where you are. Often, it’s just a moment where things come together to make the whole thing better.
And today, it was very much better. Sitting in the shade of the trees, on a fairly quiet country road, just watching, as usual, the world go by. However, being such a quiet road, there wasn’t really much to watch. But that didn’t matter. We didn’t need anything else, at that particular point in time.
Cooling shade, refreshing drink, Vietnamese countryside, and some locals that couldn’t do enough for us; they even gave us a complimentary jug of water, as well as a hand fan for Lisa, who was using her hat to generate a breeze.
We sat, and just took it all in, while trying, with limited success, to interact with our incredibly friendly hosts. Yep, another occasion where I really wished I had some useful Vietnamese.
Oh well, as I’ve mentioned before, words don’t always have to be spoken.
Suitably cooled, it was time to hit the road again, even though we didn’t really want to. And it wasn’t because we didn’t want to ride again, it was just that neither of us really wanted this particular moment, seemingly insignificant moment, even, to end.
But it was time, so the 10 000 Dong bill was paid, along with a heap of cam on’s given.
Back on the bikes, and that earlier lush green scenery starts to get even better, with glimpses between the trees of rice fields stretching off into the distance. More, and many, smiles and hellos as we go, and we eventually get to an intersection with traffic lights.
While I was expecting the intersection, I wasn’t expecting the traffic lights. They looked a little out of place; funny, even.
We turned left, after having to wait for the lights to change, of course, and continued on. This road was much busier than the one we turned off, but nowhere near as busy as the one that went straight to Sam Mountain. Which was fortunate.
It also wasn’t anywhere near as hot, which was even more fortunate.
And the scenery?
More farmland. But more open, which made it easier to take in, as well as photograph.
But, once again, therein lay the problem. How to get the camera to capture what I was seeing.
No amazing, incomparable Angkor ruins, or even the incredible mountains of far North Vietnam, but still stunning scenery, nonetheless, in its own right.
Yep, ordinary, every day, flat as a pancake, Vietnamese countryside, filled predominately with green rice paddies.
And it is probably all about the ‘green’ bit. It is very green. Amazingly green. But just describing it as ‘green’, kind of undersells it. But I don’t have a word that describes it any better. It’s like a green I have never seen before.
Anyway, regardless of the colour description, it was pretty good, and once again, just great to be back experiencing the countryside of the Mekong.
On we go, taking it all in, and then miss the left turn we were supposed to take. Double back, and make it a right instead, and we’re now on the road that runs parallel with Le Loi.
Next intersection we veer left, instead of turning right, so once again we rectify that little mistake. I’d like to say that Lisa was looking after directions, but she wasn’t.
Maybe it’s because I’m sick….
We eventually find our way to the street the hotel is in, and we’re soon back ‘home’. Bikes dropped off and we head upstairs.
Hot, sweaty, and absolutely stuffed, but very content and pleased with what we achieved. And no regrets whatsoever, about abandoning Sam Mountain.
A quick cool down, and then it’s out to find lunch before it’s too late. The thinking is a banh mi, but ideally, something different to yesterday’s banh mi.
We look, but don’t find, so we change our expectations. We’ve seen so many food carts advertising Com Tam, and while we know that com is rice, it’s the tam bit that has thrown us. We actually asked the young guy at the hotel what it was, but something got a bit lost in translation there.
Now, with banh mi not really being an option, the ‘com tam’ cart we’ve just passed might now give us the opportunity to find out exactly what it is.
Lisa’s a little unsure, but we head back, anyway. She then goes from unsure, to rather concerned, when she notices some rice drying on a plate, in the sun.
“What if it’s rice that’s been done like that?”, she asks, screwing her face up a little.
“Well, if that’s what it is, then that’s what it will be”, I reply. “And anyway, look at how many places are actually doing it; it’s obviously very popular here with the locals. And if that’s the case, then that’s what we should be eating as well”, I say, a little surprised, and slightly exasperated, at her apprehension. Especially since she’s actually been so much more adventurous this trip.
Bullet is bitten, and as we make our way towards the cart, the young girl is already clearing a table for us.
The decision of barbequed chicken is made, and while we wait for it, we get chatting with a young guy who is just finishing his lunch. Actually, he gets chatting with us, seeing as apart from pleasant acknowledgements, we generally don’t assume English is spoken when in slightly out of the way places, like Chau Doc. Anyway, he was a lovely young guy who was studying at university, and I think he just enjoyed the opportunity to test out his English on us. Which in the end, was probably better than ours.
Well, mine, anyway….
He leaves just as our food arrives, and along with the chicken and rice, it comes with cucumber, as well as a small bowl of vegetable soup. We were also given a complimentary glass of iced tea.
And the food? Especially for someone that is really only going through the motions, when it comes to eating, at the moment?
Including that vegetable soup.
Vegetable soup! Who would have thought!
And that possibly scary rice?
Yep, great, too!
It actually reminds me of broken rice, and as it turns out, there’s good reason for that. A Google search later revealed that that is exactly what it is.
Should have just Googled it in the first place….
As we finish lunch, big, black, ominous looking clouds appear to be heading towards us. Even though the hotel is only a short distance away, having had some experience with rain in the Mekong – it can be capable of washing your car within 20 seconds without you even touching it – we fix up the 60 000 Dong bill (yes, just under $4 AUD for two) and head back.
We make it in time, and as it turned out, it ended up being more steady, than torrential. The timing was actually good, as a recovery session was much needed. Lethargy, while probably not as bad as it has been, is still a thing, but the sore throat and the chest congestion is my main issue now.
An hour or two later, feeling a little better, we head outside, despite the fact that it’s still drizzling. And with the drizzle, as well as the increased humidity, it seems Lisa has now finally reached the stage where she has well, and truly, given up on her hair.
A caphe sua da would be nice, but the main job is to find an ATM, which so far, we haven’t needed. It’s one of the advantages of always taking Dong home with you from the previous trip.
It means finding currency is not a necessity when you return, and it also gives you an excuse to actually return, in the first place.
Yep, I’m occasionally smarter than I look…..
Up on to Le Loi, and if it’s been one of those difficult / annoying streets to walk, over the last few days, the rain and the now drizzle, hasn’t made it any easier.
I don’t know, I’m normally pretty easy going when it comes to such things, but this road just grates on me. There seems to more traffic than there should be, and the beeping seems to be far more excessive, as well.
It just doesn’t seem to be as necessary in a small-ish town like this.
Perhaps my tolerance levels have deteriorated at the same rate my health has…..
The first ATM we get to is a Vietcom bank, and this is where I do the boring facts and figures bit.
Three million is the limit, and the ATM fee is 50 000 Dong.
We need a bit more for accommodation expenses, so in the interests of research, we move on to another ATM.
We get to another two, and unfortunately, I can’t remember the actual names of the banks.
But, with one looking a bit dodgy, we tried the other. This particular one actually told us the exchange rate they were going to use; 14 900 Dong to the dollar (AUD); which rarely happens.
That might not necessarily be too bad, but when I know the current rate is around 15 900, well, we ain’t doing business with each other today. And anyway, their withdrawal limit was also only two million.
So, back to the Vietcom ATM to take out another three million Dong.
Lesson / little tip – always check things before proceeding, and if you’re not happy, go elsewhere. There’s usually another ATM not too far away.
Wallet now bulging, and now closer to beer o’clock than caphe sua da time, we head back to the hotel for beers on the balcony.
But stopping at the shop on the corner of our street first, which is run by a lovely old guy, for a couple of beers for later on.
Hidden in my pockets; geez, I feel like a kid hiding beer from my parents; we head upstairs. Beers into fridge, and then we adjourn to the balcony to drink the hotel’s beers.
It’s wet up there after the rain, but that becomes less of an issue than the really bad music blaring from a house over the road.
Ahhh, the Vietnamese and their karaoke penchant….
Beers done, music ‘enjoyed’, we head in to get ready for dinner. And for the first time in close to a week, I actually feel like I have my appetite back. I’m actually looking forward to eating something.
It’s a nice feeling.
We end up back at our pho place from last night, and as was the case then, it’s just beautiful. And again, I really love the setting.
Things still being rather damp, along with not really wanting to battle Le Loi street anymore, we head back to the hotel for a quiet night in.
A quick stop at the old guy on the corner for a couple more beers, as well as a Mirinda (orange soft drink) for Lisa, (40 000 Dong total) and I’m a bit annoyed I only found him today. He is just a lovely guy, and I really wish I’d frequented him a bit more often while we’ve been in Chau Doc.
Then again, we’ve only really had two days here, and hey, if I’d found him first, we may not have met our Bun Ca / icy cold beer, ladies.
Yep, better to spread the love, I guess….
Hotel bill paid on the way up to the room, and then it’s on to the bed for the same old, same old of notes, Trip Advisor, and beers.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
As well as making a decision on our altered Hanoi / Thanh Hoa plans.
We initially had four nights planned in Hanoi, followed by one night Ninh Binh and two nights in Thanh Hoa, and then a final four nights back in Hanoi to finish the trip off.
My suggestion of two nights in Ninh Binh, and then the extra night in Hanoi at the end, is rejected by someone who apparently knows better. One night in Ninh Binh, and six in Hanoi to finish, is the way to go, it seems.
As much as I love Hanoi, I have a feeling that ten nights might just be a bit too much.
Time will tell…..
So, Chau Doc?
I’d decided yesterday that I really liked Chau Doc, and nothing has changed today. Yes, Le Loi street annoys me somewhat, but I like the feel of the town. And it goes without saying that I love the people. But I always expected I would.
It’s been unfortunate that I’ve felt the way that I have, and I feel like we’ve missed so much. This thing that I have has certainly impacted what we’ve been able to do and see. It’s been a constant, and it’s been frustrating. And I’m just really sick of having to deal with it.
But hey, what can you do.
So, would I return?
Yes, I would.
But will I return?
Possibly. But only if it flowed with other places we wanted to visit. Because of distances involved, it would unlikely be a stand alone visit.
But who knows.
Regardless, all things considered, I’ve really enjoyed our time here.