Wednesday, October 12, 2011

1-Day Bike Tour of the Mekong Delta (Part 1)

My wife and I flew to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) last weekend to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. I wanted to do something special together and I found out that there were tour operators in Vietnam offering tours on bicycle. I said to myself, this is something I want to do with the missus. I mean, we ziplined in Korea, reverse bungeed in Singapore, and skyjumped in Macau, why not bike tour in Vietnam!

I did some research beforehand and chose Vietnam Bike Tours (VBT) as my tour provider. It had most positive reviews in TripAdvisor.  I searched their official website for tour packages and signed up to do the 1-Day Bike Tour of the Mekong Delta. It was easy to make arrangements with Mr. Vu Trong of VBT. Despite the exchange of a lot of emails (I had many questions), he was very accommodating.

The tour package already includes a bike and helmet, but I still brought my Brompton. After all, what’s the use of having a folding bike if you don’t take it with you, right?
Anyway, on the day of the tour, we were fetched at our hotel by the VBT Tour Guide, Mr. Tiger. He was accompanied by a driver, whose name I cannot remember. He loaded my folding bike in the van, and we were off to the Mekong Delta! We were with another bike tourist: Floren, a risks consultant from France.
We left Ho Chi Minh City at 8am and travelled 55 kms south to the town of Tan AnWe stopped at the Co-op Mart, where Tiger and the driver unloaded and tuned up our bikes. The bikes provided by VBT were Marin Pioneer Trail bikes. They showed a little age, but were still trail worthy.
My Brompton M6L and VBT's Marin Pioneer Trail
Look, Ma, there are Jollibees in Vietnam!
With our tour guide, Mr. Tiger
At 9:30am, we left Co-op Mart to start our bike tour. The Tan An area looked like a typical Philippine rural town. If not for framed photos of Ho Chi Minh on walls and signboards, one would think he was biking in Laguna or Bulacan. Outside the town proper, it was just rice field after rice field. Ang naiiba lang, at talagang napansin ko, may mga nitso o puntod sa gitna ng iilang palayan.  I asked why there were singular graves in the middle of the rice fields--because in the Philippines, graves have to be in a cemetery. Tiger said their local governments allow the families to bury their loved ones in their property. Weird.
We're in Vietnam, alright! Check out at the Vietnamese Cyclo!
Ria had to take the Brompton because the Marin Pioneer Trail provided by VBT was too big for her. (N.B.: My wife does not bike. This was her first bike tour)
We passed by a lot of kids on bikes. Some of them greeted us with, "Xin Chao!," which is Hello in Vietnamese.
The weather cooperated with us for the first 6 kilometers... Then it rained.
We found shelter in Vietnam's version of sari-sari store. Tiger ordered Bon-Bon (Lanzones in Filipino) and Vietnamese Iced Coffee. We waited for the rain to subside and stayed in the sari-sari store for a good 30 minutes. By this time the VBT Van had arrived and Ria decided to hitch a ride because she was tired of pedaling.
Ang isa pang napansin ko sa Vietnam, madaming mga sari-sari store na puno ng mga duyan.  I asked why there were a lot of hammocks and chairs underneath a leafy shade next to a store. I mean there was a group of hammocks every after 500 meters along the highway. Tiger said they were for people to lie down on when they had their iced coffee. In effect, their local sari-sari stores were their version of Starbucks.
Tiger, Floren (the other bike tourist) and I continued cycling the South Vietnam countryside. From the cemented roads, we made our way to a small village lined up next to one of the tributaries of the Mekong River. The bike path we followed was narrow, it was almost a single track, but it was cool because there were houses on our right and the river on our immediate left! One wrong move and I could've fallen in the water.

After 10 kms of biking, we came out to the main road and stopped at the parked VBT Van where Ria and the driver were waiting. He offered us cold wet wipes, ice water, and sliced watermelons and dragon fruit. Yum!!!
Ria rejoined our small tour group and we proceeded to the town of My Tho
We biked another 8 kilometers and stopped at a big Buddha shrine, where the VBT Van was again waiting for us. Had another water break.
At the Buddha Shrine with fellow bike tourist, Floren.
Ria was exhausted. She couldn't bike anymore and so she rode the van. Tiger, Floren and I biked a few more kilometers until we reached the Ferry Terminal in My Tho.
At the My Tho Ferry Terminal
We biked a total of 28 kilometers from Tan An to My Tho.

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