When we decided to stay in Vietnam for a full nine days (as opposed to squeeze in a visit to Cambodia) we knew that we had a little bit of time on our hands and wanted to at least get out of Ho Chi Minh City for part of it. We’d heard talk of a place called Mekong Delta that was a few hours away by bus, and if it’s a few hours a way by bus, we thought, then it must also be reachable by motorbike, right?
Oh yeah, it is.
Franklin, Sascha, and I geared up with a couple $4-a-day motorbikes, a printed out Google map, and the kind of collective sense of careless adventure that you see in adventure movies but you secretly know usually ends badly in real life… And at the last minute we were joined by our new friend, Julia of Germany, a 20-year-old girl traveling alone who agreed to join a motorbike roadtrip with three guys she’d met the night before (and mom, you were worried about me?).
We set out with a general direction in mind (I was the navigator, so, never fear). We managed to escape Ho Chi Minh City unscathed, which is no feat to balk at; as I’ve mentioned before, the motorbike traffic is absolutely insane in the city. The landscape soon became much more rural, and we were tearing up the open road at (what seemed like) high speeds. A few hours into the trip we pulled up alongside a guy on a motorbike wearing a yellow tank top and aviator sunglasses, easily blowing his cover as a foreign traveler. I gave him the “ahoy, mate” salute as we passed him. We pulled over a little while later to get some beverages (salted lemonade – crazy delicious), and sure enough here comes other-traveler-dude, “Hey do you guys have sunscreen?” If you put that into Google translate and select the language of Lonely Road Warrior in Vietnam it translates to, “Hello, would you like to be friends? I’m flying solo, which is badass, but deep down I also desire the company of my peers. My name is Ryan.” Ryan’s from Canada and was also headed Mekong Delta-way, so he joined the team, making it a magical five bandits riding into the wind. It’s wonderful how easily you make friends in strange situations – it’s one of the best parts about the traveling/backpacking/hostel-living/Vietnam-road-tripping scene.
The road was long and hot. After five hours flying down Vietnam roads on a motorbike, the our thighs were sunburnt, our faces caked in sweat and dirt, and our backs were killing us. We got slightly lost on the way down there, had to back track, but ended up cruising into the city of Cần Thơ just after night fall. With no plan, and absolutely no idea where we were in the city, we drove towards the river, following the density of city lights, until we started seeing hotel signs. We secured two rooms in a small hotel for the night, and headed out for some food. With some excellent Googling by Julia, we landed on a small restaurant called Mekong that was bombalicious and cheap as all hell. I ordered a Vietnamese pancake and it was comically large and really delicious.
After dinner we were somehow convinced to take a boat tour of the famous Mekong Floating Markets at 5:45AM the next morning. I couldn’t tell you the last time I was up that early (unless it was up that late). It turned out to be a great decision; we road a small motorboat down the river as the sun rose, arriving at the market just as all the folks were getting out there to buy, sell, and trade their stuff. It was more of a business-to-business market; mostly wholesale type exchanges of fruits, vegetables, fresh seafood, etc. The pictures do the describing here: We followed up the boat trip with another meal at our new favorite restaurant, Mekong. After we ate, we walked around Can Tho for a little bit and we were back on the road before midday, this time with a little bit better of a sense of direction. Along the way we stopped at a roadside restaurant with dozens of hammocks to kick back on. There were lots of these types of restaurants, and it makes so much sense. Perfect road trip rest stop; I’m bringing this idea to the states.
We cruised back with confidence until about five hours later when we re-entered Ho Chi Minh City, and navigational shit hit the fan, so to speak. We tried to stay together, but as the traffic got heavier and crazier we all simultaneously thought, “fuck it,” as we disappeared from each other’s lines of sight.
Julia and I cruised through the city, trying to recognize the name of any of the major streets. It was actually an awesome drive that took us through China Town, and shot us out along the river where people were racing remote control boats in front of a big crowd of people. I eventually got my bearings and put us on track to land back at our hotel. About four blocks from the hotel, we’re dodging and dipping out of traffic, avoiding elderly women in the street and motorbikes seemingly driven by infants (seriously), we, to our surprise and excitement, passed Franklin on the side of the road. Somehow, magically, we all managed to rendezvous within blocks of the hotel and cruise into the driveway unscathed. We were disgustingly dirty, exhausted, delirious, smelly, and terrified… but unscathed.