A Travellerspoint blog

Salt water, Saddle sores, and near death experiences!

Planes and Buses suck!

sunny 30 °C
View Our trip through SEA on jented's travel map.

After our journey on the bikes, we are relaxing at Whale Island resort near Nha Trang. It is a well-deserved quiet rest stop for a day and half after all the honking and swerving that takes place on Hwy 1. It is a peaceful paradise but quite cool and rained up until the time we checked in. It was very windy but enjoyed dry clothes and not having to get on a bike again the next morning, etc.

We tried to go in the ocean but the wind was very strong and cool. We went for a several km long walk on a very rugged trail around the island. It took us to a very beautiful lookout, a small local fishermen hammock rest stop and someone's front yard complete with puppies barking and chasing at our heels! Very diverse terrain. There was also lots of beutiful butterflies along the route too.

That night, after supper, we finally got Jen playing pool! We drank a few beers and I played our guides till they went to bed then Jen and I played 2 games! And she said she hates pool.

The next day, we boarded the boat at 10 am to head into Nha Trang to catch an afternoon flight to Saigon. On the bus ride to Nha Trang, we drove over some of the road we biked and the saddle sores ached just remembering the original journey. After a brief lunch in Nha Trang, we took the 45 min ride outside of town to the Nha Trang Airport which is located at the old Air Force Base used by the US in the Vietnam war. Very small airport but big huge runway and field area. Our flight to Saigon was very full and we were boarding a twin engined turbo-prop plane when we noticed a few mechanics staring at the large cargo bay door at the front of the plane. It looked like they were trying to close it and were examining the latch. We also noticed that a few tires looked very low and we joked about lending them our bike pump. It was at this time we all discussed the sketchy flight record of Vietnam Airlines. We boarded and before long, were taxiing down the runway. The plane climbed and I was catching a great view of the old airbase when the plane very suddenly dropped nose first and plunged at least 100 feet before recovering much lower in the sky. The cabin pressure had changed noticeably and there was also an odd burning smell entering the cabin. Shortly thereafter, the plane slowed down and was doing a really steep bank when the pilot came on saying there were "Technical difficulties and we had to go back to the airport. Sorry" We landed safely and were quite eager to get off the plane. As we disembarked, a crew was examining the large cargo bay door again. The announcement should of been more accurate like" Ladies and Gentlemen, the big huge door on the side of the plane popped open in mid-air and we are all very lucky to be alive. Have a nice day." The confusion of the english speaking passengers who could not understand the vietnamese instructions made the situation seem even more panicky as we slowly found out through word of mouth (no announcement) that the flight was cancelled and we would have to leave the next morning.

We boarded a city bus and and Adam, our tour leader, took us to a nicer hotel than where the airline put you up and we got back to the airport the next morning before the big rush. Once through security, we noticed that the plane with the door issue was the only one on the tarmac. We discussed quite seriously renting a car. Then, a newer Airbus A320 jet pulled up and we breathed a sigh of relief. We boarded the plane, taxied out to the end of the runway about to take-off when the pilots said, "We have to return to the airport we are having technical difficulties. Our apologies" We couldn't believe it. When we came back to a stop, the pilot said "We are checking out a hot brake indicator. We will check it out and might only be a few minutes delay." True to his word about 5 mins later"The good news is that the brakes are okay but we need a qaulified engineer to sign off that it was inspected before leaving. We require a fax from Hanoi and that could be 2 hours maybe more. Please wait in the airport". (Jen here: We all tried to convince Ted that he should offer his services as a "qualified engineer" but he said that "Agro" was not the same as "aero"!). So here we were again in Nha Trang airport, deboarded from 2 planes in less than 24 hours! After about an hour or so, the fax came through and we were on our way!

We arrived in Saigon and it is definitely the more "Western" city in Vietnam as it looks very commercial. Lots of new shops, signs, fancy clothiers, etc. In the afternoon, we were trying to book another flight on Vietnam Airlines (we thought about cancelling though) to Phu Quoc, an island SW of Vietnam, but found that flights were booked up until March 21. So we had to take the bus/ferry option b/c we needed to get away from the mass of motorbikes and honking horns. It was also very expensive in Saigon.

The next day, the bus ride took us from Saigon bus depot down a secondary highway for about 6 hours to the town of Rach Gia. Along the way there were a few close calls when the driver passed and lots of honking but the closest call was during some road construction. Our bus and another bus were trying to crowd each other off the temporary, one-lane bridge over top a swamp/river crossing in the Mekong Delta. Our driver was literally sitting out his window and screaming at the other driver in Vietnamese and gesticulating wildly. Had it not been for the fact that the other bus was so close, that the driver could not open his door, it would likely have come to fisticuffs or pushing the other bus right over and off the road. The buses actually smacked mirrors. As the bus went by us, the passengers in the other bus looked helplessly out their windows into our faces only inches away separated by 2 panes of glass and looking equally terrified of rolling over as we were. Again, luckily the buses passed without further incident.

The ferry ride to the island was much quieter and uneventful. Yesterday, we rented a motorbike from our hotel and took off to explore the island. We ventured to the market in town to get some picnic stuff before heading out to a beach. To explain, by motorbike, I mean a city scooter type of bike with street tires. As we headed out of town the road turned to gravel but no big deal as it was very wide. As we got further away, ther road got narrower, more cows wandered down the path, and parts of the road were littered with large rocks and potholes. We tried a few sideroads to a beach and found the resorts and beaches not ideal so we went in search of the large public beach up the road indicated on the map. The road became narrower, involved many narrow bridge crossings, then deteriorated into a single track, goat path through a swampland covered in deep puddles, small concrete culverts and lots of other lost tourists who had various issues controlling their bikes. After sometime, we were quite obviously NOT at the beach and the road signs were of no use as our Vietnamese is not that good. We headed back to town where we walked into the fanciest resort in town, sat on their beach and had a picnic with our food. On the way out, we waved and smiled at the staff before heading out with our bike loaded down, like a local, with groceries and beer to take back to our hotel.

We leave for Saigon on the 7th or March and say farwell to Vietnam on Saturday. We will be in Bangkok till March 18 when we leave for Myanmar. Not sure what internet will be like while in Myanmar but will try to keep the world posted. If you don't hear from us until April all is ok.

Posted by jented 00:50 Archived in Vietnam Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

600km done!

(give or take a few!)

rain 20 °C
View Our trip through SEA on jented's travel map.

Feb. 23 - Feb. 27/08. Cycling sure takes a lot out of you. We didn't have much of a chance to find internet while riding so I thought I would finish up our bike trip with a quick snapshot of the biking after Hoi An! Following this quick break we headed into 5 days of riding.

Hoi-An - Tam Ky: We left Hoi An on a ferry and after we got off we were on a new off-road route (i'm really glad I didn't send over my road bike). It had started to rain again and because the bus had to take the overland route we completely lost Bing (our bus driver). We kept asking locals for directions but they thought we wanted to go the very noisy Hwy #1 so we ended up on some really muddy routes. We even went over this little bamboo bridge in between rice paddies on a route no one had been on before!
Our bikes aren't equiped with fenders (or mudguards in Australian) so you can imagine that we were pretty funny, with our skunk strips over our helmets, to the locals (who all have fenders on their bikes!). We finally met up with Bing but we had a long way to go on our short 52 km ride! IT POURED and all we could do was laugh until we had to stop for our picnic lunch!!! Yeah, we ended up eating baquettes on the bus while every school child in this little town practiced their english on us!!! It was funny...we rode for another hour or so but decided, with what turned out to be only about 5 more km to go, we were just "not having fun" anymore!! We got into Tam Ky drenched and everything we had was covered in mud!!

Tam Ky - Quang Ngai: This was supposed to be a good long day (89km) and of course it started in the RAIN again! We headed off on the notorious Hwy #1...it is noisy and rather dangerous as every animal and mode of transportation rides it too! It was nice to get off the Hwy #1 and have a bit of a break at the pink wedding chapel restaurant. It actually stopped raining so we took off our ponchos very excited. By the time we finished our Vietnamese coffee (cafe sua) it had started to rain again. At least we were on the secondary roads again. We had a big bowl of soup for lunch and finished off our ride to the My Lai Massacre site and then arrived into Quang Ngai...a funny town - we stayed at the Petro Hotel (yes it is owned by a gas company!). Again...we did laundry!!!

Quang Ngai - Quy Nhon: (67km). We left predicting rain but when we started riding we actually saw sun (the first time in Vietnam!). It was an awesome day of heat and beautiful back roads. We were along the coast and saw lots of friendly children (this was now the norm - "hello, hello, hello"). We did a lot of hills that day but it was fun. Ted's legs were tired that day but once he got on the dirt road...he got his mojo going and he was on fire all the way into town. We had an awesome meal of pizza and beer to top off our first day of sun!!!

Quy Nhon - Tuy Hoa: (100km - our longest!). This is also the hilliest day of the ride. It started off with wind (but no rain!). We headed into the hills and did about 10 hills before reaching our first rest stop. The hills were 500m-1km on average (8-10% grade). Ted realized that he is a downhilling specialist. Whereas, I realized I love uphills! It was a super fun day of hard riding. But we had a fast little group and arrived in Tuy Hoa way ahead of schedule. We had to ride around the parking lot for .3km to ensure that we made exactly 100km! Andrea, Ted and I (our whole group minus our guides) went strolling for afternoon beers to celebrate!!! Only one more hard day ahead (but Adam -our guide promised it was short).

Tuy Hoa - Whale Island: (64km) The last day! We were hoping that it would be a breeze (and it was literally as the wind was howling outside of our funny little government hotel!). Shortly after leaving we ascended another hill and then it wasn't long before we hit our second longest hill of the whole ride (4km at around 8-10%). The hill became even more difficult because our gears and cables were so mucky that we didn't really have all of our gears (at least we had the granny gears). It also started to rain. By the time we were at the top it was pouring again, windy and there was tonnes of traffic. Ted started descending and he got some dirt in his eye so he was even more cautious. We got to the bottom and a rest stop just in time for a "cyclone" to hit the top (trees were sideways). We waited it out with another cafe sua and then headed up our last hill and off the Hwy #1 to the pennisula. We were heading to the ferry to go to Whale Island. It continued to rain and so we ended up at this island paradise in wind and rain! We toasted the ended of riding at this lovely private island and enjoyed reading and doing more laundry!

What a blast! This bike trip was awesome. We enjoyed it so much. Definitely recommend Grasshopperadventures to anyone interested in an interesting and beautiful way of seeing Vietnam!!!

Posted by jented 00:33 Archived in Vietnam Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Running into locals....and rain.


rain 16 °C
View Our trip through SEA on jented's travel map.

Today is the 24th pf February but I must recount the past few days from where Jen left of. After cycling from Hue to Lang Co, we stayed at the Lang Co Beach Resort where we were the only occupants. We were to ride to Hoi An and the day starts out with a 10 km long climb up Hai Van Pass. The weather was cloudy but not raining for a change. Jen and the other people took off ahead as we started the 8% grade (quite steep) climb and I was stopping to take some pics. The views were stunning. Equally stunning was the number of transtport trucks coming down the mountain on the wrong side of the road!trip_001.jpg

Luckily there was only the odd motorbike otherwise so the horns and traffic were lighter than normal. When I finally got to the top of the pass, our group had made some great friends at the top.
We sat down to have coffee with them when we noticed our table was covered with trinkets. The sale was on, and now that they befriended us, "You don't forget me! Buy bracelet!" it was hard to extricate ourselves without buying something. We quickly picked the least offensive pieces and headed down the otherside. Sloppy road and all.

We carried on down through Danang, stopped for lunch at Goa's Place at CHina Beach and had some awesome build-your-own spring rolls. The owner showed us, by saying in his best surfer voice, "Check it out man!" It was like having lunch wirth Cheech and Chong. We then finished off the day with a ride down a secondary highway to Hoi An.

With about 10 km to go, Jen riding first and me close behind with Adam and Andrea and the bus following. Out of nowhere I hear a guy right beside me laughing and I thought it was Adam trying to ride to close but in an instant I realized a man on a motorcycle swerved from 2 lanes over right in to me and ran me into the curb! Luckily, the road was quite flat and were only doing about 25-30 km/h. It turns out he was trying to change his glove on while driving, it got stuck and lost control while fighting to get it off.

As for me, I stood up quite quickly and the locals surrounded me. My right leg was badly scraped (road rash) and a large swelling was starting below my right knee. Adam treated my wounds and we got up to ride into town. I shook the man's hand before he left ( we waited for him to go before we go started). It was quite painful but rode the last 10-12 kms in town to the hotel. I was very angry with the guy at first but nothing really could be done about it.


The best part is that Huyen, our local guide (obviously trained with an older version of First Aid) continually poked the swelling in my leg soon after the accident. I was able to move my foot, toes, etc, and nothing was broken. Although the bulge in my leg was not supposed to be there, it deserved more poking until Jen and I told him to stop. He means well. It barely drizzled most of that day and we had the next day off in Hoi An.

Yesterday, we left Hoi An in the gray overcast skies and rain. It rained all day as we meandered on very muddy, dirty roads till we realized we were lost. Once we caught up with the bus, we got back on track and carried onto more dirty roads for about 60 km before we and our bikes were so soaked and dirty that we could not shift gears so we had to board the bus for the last few km into town.

Today, it rained all day again but we had more pavement so we rode all 83 km except for a really bad section of road that would have done the bikes in again and cost the rest of the day.

Everyday we hope for rain and our laundry to come back dry (or at all) before we leave in the AM. Maybe tomorrow!

Still smiling and riding!

Posted by jented 03:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

Saddle sores...

rain 16 °C
View Our trip through SEA on jented's travel map.

The bikes are resting today and so are we! We are in Hoi An today, a lovely beach side town. It is a Unesco site and it really is great town to wander in. It is also the hub of tailors - so because we are now getting comfortable with bargaining (Vietnamese style!) we have begun purchasing some custom made clothes! It is really fun...you try on what you want and pick the fabric and they measure you and make it by the end of the day!

So that has been our day today. We have been on our bikes since Monday. The first two days were short...just 30 km or so around the towns of Hanoi (countryside) and outside Hue (to see a tomb of Tu Duc, former King, and to the Citadel). The riding was fun but wet as it has been raining at least part of the day everyday since Sunday! We bought new ponchos (to decrease the skunk marks up our rears!) and we were good to go. Unfortunately neither of us really packed riding gear for this weather and so we have been layering! It is unusually cold in Vietnam (in fact livestock and people are dying due to the cold).

The first real day of riding saw us go 79km from Hue to Lang Co. We stayed of the #1 highway as much as we could and traveled through little towns where the children would run out of their houses or schools to say "hello". People were surprised to crazy foreigners riding fancy bikes in their streets! The day was good with only a few harder climbs. We were quite speedy as we arrived in town earlier than expected (Huyen, our local guide spent most of the day in the bus b/c he thought we were "too fast"). Since we are a pretty small group the pace is pretty even.

So I think that I will defer to Ted for the rest of the trip details! Hopefully it will stop raining soon!!!!

Posted by jented 01:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Greetings young Grasshopper!

or Grasshopper Tours

overcast 11 °C

The weather outside has not changed on this, day 9 without sun. It rained yesterday and remains cool in Hanoi. The great new, exciting news is that Sunday night we began the bike tour across Vietnam. We have booked with a small company called Grasshopper Tours. They booked us into a swankier hotel than we were accustomed (ie. it has heat).

We met up withour tour group last night over a Hanoi Beer (very good I must say). After being in 2 larger tour groups in the last month we were concerned about the large number of people and what that will be like on bicycles. It was no need to worry as the group is Jen, me, Andrea (a nice lady from Melbourne, Australia) and our leader Adam. 4 people total plus our local vietnamese guides.

Today, we got on bikes and rode around 4 villages around Hanoi, away from the honking and insane traffic. We crossed the Red River by ferry and rode on the narrow levees through rice fields. It was an awesome 27 km ride and it was great to see local agricultural practices up close. Followed by another great meal above a travel agency to warm up afterwards.

Because there have been some "train broken" issues, we are flying to Hue instead of taking the overnight, Reunification Express. The group is of mixed opinion on experiencing the train (possibly sleeping on a noisy, cold train) vs. flying and staying in another heated hotel. Guess we'll see.

Also had the good fortune to run into my old friend Rocky Boyko and Kurt Gibb for a beer in Hanoi. Rocky lives in Regina and happend to be in the neighborhood. It was cool to run into someone from home so far away.

Should have more pics up in a few days as there is no working USB port here today. "USB broken" issues are common here.

Hope the deep freeze at home relents soon!

Posted by jented 01:05 Archived in Vietnam Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

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