In Vietnam; Sunday, May 8
We arrived in Saigon on the evening of May 7, and spent the day walking and exploring this wild and wooly feeling, huge city of 11 million. 5 million of them ride motorbikes; unlike China, they generally follow the direction of the flow of traffic. They don't however always follow the stop lights and traffic signs.
We met our tour guide in our hotel lobby at 6:00 PM. Vu Ton, our guide, was a 28 year old Vietnamese who has been leading tours for about 5 years. After describing our tour and what to expect -- we would be riding on sometimes narrow paths with a lip, passing other bikes and motorbikes (so try not to ride off the edge as the lip makes it hard to get back on), crossing narrow bridges, meeting back up with the van at certain times such as lunch, etc. He gave us a
bag with two water bottles, our two jerseys, and nice mini back packs which we stowed upstairs. Business done, he took us to dinner.
A short walk away was a lovely Vietnamese restaurant. Vu ordered a variety of foods for us to try, from fish, to a beef dish, rice (served at pretty much every meal, unless you opt for a noodle dish). The food was fabulous; the guys drank beer while I enjoyed a screwdriver. Vu told us that not even the Vietnamese drink their tap water, so all water is bottled water. Even the ice is made from bottled water. (That made me less concerned about having had lettuce wraps for lunch; I was halfway through them when I realized what I had ordered....produce is one of the top things to avoid).
Back at the hotel we organized our cycling stuff for an early departure and called it a night.
Day 1, Monday, May 9; Saigon to Tra Vihn, Vietnam; 50k (30 mi)
We had met with the guide Sunday night only to learn that the minimum registrations required was two, and -- since there are two of us, we were heading off on a private tour. I was thankful to have had Sunday to wander through Saigon not only to see some of the town, but to get a reality check about how very hot it is here. At this time of year mid-90s and humidity 50% and over re the norm. Sunday's high was 98; today it was 99 with humidity of 55%.
We met Vu in the lobby at 7:30, and were driven two hours by our van to the starting point. I was relieved to have learned we would not be riding directly from Saigon. I cannot imagine navigating the roads there with the millions (literally) of small motorbikes that more than half of the population uses as their sole transportation.
Vu had told us (to my relief) that we would not be riding directly out of Saigon. I would have been a wreck at the thought of being in the mix with the motorbikes, cars and occasional bike on those narrow streets. Instead, we drove about an hour and a half outside of town while he told us more history and culture.
Almost immediately on the other side of the street -- I did not actually see it -- was a hearse of some form on it's "dragon ride." They are permitted to drive Above the speed limit to get the body to the burial site because it is of the utmost importance that the deceased be buried at the "golden moment." Cops won't even stop them. I don't know how the golden moment is determined, or by whom; I never got the chance or remembered to ask.
In a nutshell, saigon's population numbers approx 11 million; 5 million of those are on motorbikes. 4 million are Saigonese, the rest are immigrants to the City. After three generations, children are registered as Saigonese. Your registration in the "red book" is very Important as the dictates much of what you can do. You must be registered in order to attend school, buy a house, rent an apartment, etc. if you buy a house, you are considered permanent resident' if you rent an apartment -- even for 30 years -- you are considered temporary. Vu's son's registration follows the maternal line, and she was born in Saigon (she is second generation), so he is Saigonese due to his third generation status.
Before long, we were out in the country. I noticed sarcophagi in the fields, most at a 45% angle to the road, painted a solid color such as Aqua or white. The deceased is not actually buried inside. In the olden days, the bodies were buried outside the villages, but it was quickly discovered that Animals would dig them up to eat. Now they are buried in the field or near the house, and the sarcophagus is place on top (sometimes on a concrete platform) filled with sand. With the body beneath it cannot be dug up, and the family can keep an eye on their ancestors. Vietnamese have an ancestor holiday similar to Mexico's "Day of the Dead" when the tombs are cleaned and repaired. Some bear simple hand-painted name signs' others have fancy commercially produced plaques.
To be continued... And photos added later.