28th November to 1st December

Thursday 28 November

Today is a rest day. After the two difficult biking days from Phnom Penh to here, it’s good to just sleep, relax, put some order in our things, ! We get up late in the morning, and have a big breakfast. There is a supermarket of Western products just next to the towers, so we happily find milk, cereals, eggs and bacon, and even chestnut spread.

The day continues like this, between resting, updating the website, and taking care of the bicycles and stuff. In the afternoon, the swimming pool nearby is much appreciated. We go to eat dinner at a Korean restaurant which is also serving pasta and pizza.

Friday 29 November

Today, we also have a lazy morning. We leave the house around noon, to go to the centre. Our first destination is the Saigon office of the agency Vietnam Impressive, to buy the train tickets. It’s on the other side of the city, in a quite undeveloped area. But the address they give is not the correct one: once we are there, there is no travel agency. And after calling the central office in Hanoi, they tell us that anyway the Saigon office cannot sell train tickets. What’s the point of having an office in Saigon? So we have to go to the train station. We go to eat a small lunch in Pizza Hut: we are again disappointed by a Western chain of restaurant: quite expensive and not really good. We have to stick to local food!

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We go to visit the War Remnants Museum, in the centre. Of course, we are talking of the Vietnam war. There is the outside patio, and three floors in the building. Outside, we see many of the vehicles of the US army that fell into the North-Vietnamese hands. It’s impressive to see all the mechanics they have invented and adapted for Vietnam, and despite that, they lost the war against warriors with much less equipment. Inside the building, it’s organised in several photographic exhibitions, with some text about it. The photos are really impressive, especially the ones about the consequences of the Agent Orange. The dioxin contained in this chemical product (used to destroy the forest and so the hiding refugee of the communists) provoke many malformation and genetic problems up to 3 generations later. Some portraits are hardly bearable, you see absolute freaks instead of children! how could a country pretending to defend the good values deliberately commit such crimes? The other exhibitions of the museum summarize the chronology of the aggression of Vietnam, the “historic true facts” (seen from Hanoi), the support received by the North Vietnamese from other countries, the success of the reconstruction! well, it was interesting, but I was bothered by the high level of propaganda.

After the museum, we go to the train station. The way is very funny, with streets packed with scooters, or with an entire neighbourhood having streets of less than 1m large (a total maze, where the locals were leading us to the train station). In the station, after visiting several booths, we finally decide not to buy any ticket now. We will see on the way, when we are tired and want to take the train. Apparently, the train are never full, so it should not be a problem if we don’t book seat.

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In the evening, we go out with Hector. We go to the centre to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant for tourists. The food is very good, but the price also are quite high. After the wonderful dinner, we go to have a glass at the top of the Sheraton hotel. From here, there is an impressive view on the skyline by night, just under us. Here too, the price of the cocktail is quite high, but the landscape justifies it.

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Saturday 30 November

We get up at 7h30. Today will be a tough day: we have to do 110km to reach our destination, Vung Tau, where a couchsurfer is waiting for us. We take our time to prepare our bags, and say goodbye to Hector. We start biking around 9h15. We take breakfast in a small restaurant, in a kind of industrial area in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City! what a difference with yesterday night! Here, we can only order noodle soup, with pork feet if we want (but no one tries the pork feet). But the taste is good, and the price very low. We have much fun while ordering, because they don’t speak a word of English and we don’t speak any Vietnamese either! the most complicated is to get sugar for the tea: here, they serve you tea for free. It’s a very light green tea, with subtle flavour. And locals never put sugar inside. The waiters are not used to customers asking for sugar: with our physical description of sugar, we sometimes get an extra cup, or ice, or a spoon, or straws.

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The city of Ho Chi Minh is so huge! it takes us dozens of kilometres to be out. We head to the South East, to the city of Vung Tau. Whoever might think of riding from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau, you must avoid the road QL51 that we took:it is absolutely ugly, with no view at all, and a crazy traffic of scooters, and a lot of trucks. We rode the 80km of this road, and did not enjoyed at all. We found our motivation in the sugarcane juice, bananas, and the thought of resting on the beach tomorrow. We arrive at Vung Tau for sunset. Our couchsurfer, Ha, comes to pick up us at the entrance of the city. He leave in the Seaview complex, at the 20th floor of a tower. Ha and his wife, Hai, have prepared dinner for us and some friends. We are spoilt with local typical food: grilled dried fish, grilled dried beef, that we dip into a mixture of spices salt and ants (it’s very good but a bit too spicy for me), grilled fish, morning vegetable soup, a kind of sweet radish as fruit, pomelo! And to digest from this wonderful meal, we go downstairs enjoy Vietnamese coffee and ginger tea.

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Sunday 1 December

Today, we are going to visit Vung Tau. Everything has been arranged by Ha: one cousin of his wife, also called Hai, will be our guide for the day. We first go to take breakfast: it’s typical to have a noodle soup here for breakfast. It’s very good in fact, to get warm and fill your energy. After breakfast, we go to the beach. The water is quite brown, but the waves are very attractive: they are not too high, and quite irregular, making it funny to play inside.

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After this refreshment, we go to see the Jesus statue of the city. It’s on a hill, next to the sea! there are some 700 stairs to climb to the statue. It looks very much like the Corcovado statue of the Christ in Rio, but in smaller. There are also two big cannons next to the statue, probably protecting the port of Vung Tau in older times. We then go to eat sea food in a restaurant near the seashore. The grilled octopus is absolutely delicious.

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In the afternoon, we go for a small rest in Hai’s house. On the way, we finally found the typical Vietnamese conic hat that we were dreaming these days. When we cross the city with this hat, a lot of people look at us, and laugh! apparently it’s not the best way to disguise. But we are happy to pedal with the hat. After the rest, we go to another hill, this time entirely by bicycle, where there is a pagoda. A pagoda is like a Buddhist temple, but with monks residing inside. In Vietnam, their Buddhism is mixed with teachings from Confucius and from Lao Tse. That’s why, next to many Buddha statues, you also can find representations of these two philosophers.

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Next destination of our tour is the lighthouse. And guess what, we have to climb another hill. Some of us have found the good technics: getting pulled by Hai’s scooter. We arrive at the lighthouse, ,it’s already dark. It’s a pity we did not come half an hour earlier. We have a good view on both the sea, and the peninsula of Vung Tau. Afterwards, we go back to Ha’s house for dinner. They again prepared typical food for us, with tofu, morning glory, and many parts of the pig (mouth, tongue, intestines!). That’s very good.

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And of course, here is the video of these days!