Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First day of our road trip!!!

I'll try and update this map as we go. Click on it to see the first road section we covered (South, in pink, circled in light pink) from HCMC to Long Hai (not on the map as too small, but very near Vung Tau)

Ok, now we’re on the road ! It’s real stuff. We left HCMC yesterday, motorbike packed and bags organised. We had decided to stop at Long Hai for the night, about 130 kms South East of HCMC (See the map). I know, it sounds like 100 kms a day is barely anything, but it is. Because the roads in VN are not the kind of roads you know. We drive around 50kms/hour, but sometimes the road is but a dirt path, even the national roads, and our average speed for the day takes a hit. We also stopped several times, which I was delighted with. I was like a kid, excited at everything. Being on the road really works for me, far gone are these summer days where I felt depressed and generally blah.

Stop 1, after one hour on the road. The bags were set on the bike in a way that just didn’t work for us. There was too little room on the bike seats for both of us, we were squished. The first stop was about rearranging the bags in a small coffee stall on the side of the road. We had a drink for energy and a little snack. We were still close enough to HCMC for the roads to be busy and full of trucks. Although I must say, here’s another plus for HCMC vs Hanoi : trucks have their own side of the road, on the left, when motorbikes drive on the right. A concept thoroughly ignored – or inexistant, in Hanoi.

I enjoyed our first stop. We chatted with locals and Dan was eating processed sausages soooo good that even a hungry dog refused when we gave him one.

Stop 2 : The young (flaming) receptionist guy in our HCMC hotel told us to stop in Long Thanh on our way to Long Hai, as it is the cradle of milk production for the whole country. Now, if you don’t live here, you can’t know about Vinamilk. Vinamilk is the number one milk brand in Vietnam (until yesterday, we thought it twas the only milk brand in Vietnam), and the tune from the advert will forever be burnt in your head after a month of living here. Because it plays on TV and in every supermarket, every 5 minutes. So, we sang along on the bike until reaching the area around Long Thanh, where, sure enough, we started seeing pictures and statues of cows on the side of the road. We stopped in a sort of dairy fare where we ate ice cream and drank a glass of fresh milk. I was shoked to see the whole thing wasn’t Vinamilk but some other dairy brand which I’ve never seen in Hanoi. The whole place was pretty deserted, even despite the awesome looking water theme park. We were the only foreigners and people smiled at us in wondering what the hell we were doing there. Fun. We both ate our new found favourite noodles (Bun Bo Hue for me and Banh Canh for Dan) + one ice cream and a glass of milk each. It cost us 5 dollars altogether.

I love milk and was super happy in that place. Dan forced me to leave because of some trivial worry about not wanting to drive the dangerous roads filled with killer trucks and suicidal buses at night, when there are no lights on the road at all… pfff. All right then.

Stop 3 : Around the region of Tan Thanh, there is an umbelievable number of newly built, grand, sweesh, extremely modern churches. Catholic, perhaps, I’m not sure. But they violently clash with the environment, because when I say modern, I mean MODERN, like… designer – cubic style. I wonder what that’s about, and I’ll look into it. But when we saw what looked like an immense Pagoda or temple, I’m not sure, with gigantic statues of a Buddha I don’t yet know (standing, tall, slim, holding his hand up with the thumb and middle finger joined), we decided to stop. I asked the locals « who is this ? », pointing at the statue, and they told me, but I don’t remember. Something else to look into. This temple was very new, also. It seems like the region’s money mainly goes into building grandiose worship places, as in between beautiful churches and pagodas, the streets and the shops were generally falling apart.

Stop 4 : A bit further from the churches region, was a newly developed industrial area. You can see the factories far away behind the rice paddies, it’s not like they ruin the very area around the road. What does change the experience of the driver through, is the appearance of many, many appartment buildings all around, lodging, we can only assume, the industrial and factories staff. It was pretty umbelivable to see all those modern appartment complexes in the middle of nowhere, in Vietnam’s country side. Because of this huge boost in the region dynamic, the towns around are sooo modern, I mean, small but more modern than Hanoi, the capital. Freshly painted buildings (actually, probably freshly buit for most of them), tons of shops, restaurants and even a couple of shopping centers. That is, in a town springing from nowhere, surrounded by fields and rice paddies.

So, we made Ba Ria, the main one of these towns, our last stop before Long Hai, and enjoyed a cold coke on the main square. The sunset was beautiful. We were, by that point, so dirty and dusty and tired that the locals, extremely friendly as they were, could not help giggling at our rugged appearance.

Stop 5 : Long Hai, here we are.

I cannot believe we had never heard of this place. It’s a lovely little town, village, almost, set on the beach, so very quiet and friendly. We dropped our stuff at a hotel (a military academy overlooking the beach, with tennis courts and cantines, insanely cheap) and enjoyed a beer and a seafood rice soup on the main square. Kids came to speak to us, teenagers tried their english and we chatted with a great-grandmother about her family. Her 2 year old great grand son stared at us and repeated « khong » at everything we said to him. « khong » means « no ». So, it’s international now that no is the first word kids learn to say, even in Long Hai.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The name of Buddha in question is Sakyamuni; he's more often depicted meditating in the "Lotus" position.
    I'm surprised you guys discovered the road linking Saigon and Long Thanh to be in such bad shapes. The central government has Long Thanh slated for a while now as the site of construction for a huge new international airport, replacing the one at Tan Son Nhut.

  3. Thanks for the info. The road is not so much in a bad shape but as one undergoing construction. Pretty much the entire road is being expanded with wider roads while at the same time improving the current road; maybe in preparation for a new airport.