Hello to everyone from Phuket, Thailand,
Since we last wrote to you from Hanoi we have covered many miles; some on a bike, some on a bus and the remainder in an airplane. When we last wrote we had just arrived in Hanoi and had yet to explore the city and surrounding areas. Hanoi is one busy, busy city populated with numerous scooters, bicycles and to lesser degree cars. You learn very quickly in Vietnam how to get from one side of the street to the other, simply close your eyes and begin walking at a slow but steady pace. Everything seems to take its cue from you and they bob, weave and mysteriously miss you. Mary is still working on the technique!! We spent most of our time wandering around the many markets, answering the oft asked questions 'what is your name', 'where do you come from', 'where are you going', 'how do you like Vietnam'? It seems that everything is for sale and barter is the name of the game. You are also besieged by the three-wheeled cyclo's who are hustling rides around the town or to your hotel. There is something to be avoided in sitting in a seat that is pedaled by someone behind you with what seems like a death wish, we avoided the offers and stuck to our own propulsion.
We attended the water puppet show which is a must see show when in Hanoi. The concept goes back to the 1100's and the stage floor is water, which represents the rice fields where the shows originated. The actors are wooden puppets manipulated by a cast unseen, an experience hard to describe unless one has seen it.
The evening we and others were enjoying Hanoi, the remainder of the riders were boarding trains for a 17-hour overnight train ride to Hue, then a 13+ hour overnight train ride to Nha Trang. Those who took the ride described it as a ride from hell. The seats were wooden slats with no cushions or padding, some riders bought their own cushions to make the trip more bearable. We being soft and not up to seeing what our masochistic tolerance levels are opted for a 2 1/2 hour plane ride at the exorbitant cost of $US 103 the best money we have spent this year!!
We arrived in Nha Trang the day before the troops arrived and decided we had better stay at a hotel other than where the group was staying as to do otherwise would ensure Tim and company would be extremely upset, as we are not supposed to frequent a hotel before they arrive. This gave us the opportunity to see what accommodations can be had in Vietnam for very little money, suffice to say a $ goes a long way.
The following day we moved to the hotel where the group was staying to find out we were three to a room in what were very tiny rooms, luckily our roommate decided to move on affording us a room to ourselves, thank you.
When we unloaded our bike to get set for the next days ride we were surprised and extremely angry to see just how much damage had been done when the staff loaded the bikes in China. Two broken chain ring bolts, bent derailleurs and abrasion to the bare metal made for a long afternoon trying to find spare parts to effect repairs. While we thought our damage was severe others were even worse off. Seems there is little regard for the vehicles that must carry us safely around the world. Nha Trang to Dalat, 116km
Following a less than adequate breakfast it was off for our first day of riding in Vietnam. The day was sunny and warm and by the time we reached the point where all riders had to board the bus for a 5 1/2 hour drive up the mountain to Dalat the temperature was in the high 90's, with humidity to match. The climb up to Dalat while scenic would have proven to be more than one would want to endure at the end of a long day. The original route from TK&A had us staying at a town at the foot of the climb, but as some who stayed there found out, there was no place to accommodate a group the size of ours. The people along the way were extremely friendly and happy to see western faces riding bicycles; while not as demonstrative as the Chinese they were just as friendly and curious. The roads were great with a wide shoulder and smooth asphalt on which to ride. The group was spread between three hotels one within walking distance of the main hotel where supper was served, the other a bus ride away. The restaurant at the hotel tried but found it difficult to provide adequate hot food for so many hungry riders, this resulted in long anxious lineups and luke warm to cold food.
Dalat layover day,
Not much of a city to layover in but suffice to say we did manage to consume the hours available in short order. We discovered an embroidery art gallery where we got to see the artists at work. It was amazing to see the detail that goes into the pieces and the quality of the finished product. Based on the number of bags leaving the premises the Odyssey riders contributed to the town's economy.
That evening we had another of the meetings to discuss the continuation of Odyssey and for all intents and purpose we could have missed the meeting and simply read the four pieces of paper handed out. Basically the trip will continue for those willing to pay more money, for those not willing to the trip ends in Singapore. TK&A are claiming the money is to cover fuel charges, while we agree fuel has risen the other factors such as basing flights on commercial flights then changing to charter, booking flights days in advance of their departure, ordering planes too small to carry the group then having to charter cargo aircraft ($160,000 expense admitted to by TK&A) and other obvious errors in planning are and were contributing factors to running out of money. The group going on with TK&A is a minority others will go to NZ on their own then fly home, others are simply choosing to leave for home from Singapore. We are all disappointed at this turn of events. Dalat to Phan Thut, 109km
Following a good breakfast it was off for 22 kms uphill followed by about the same number of kms downhill on rough, steep and winding mountain roads. The air was cool at the start but as we descended the temperature was rising, by the time we hit the valley they were once again in the mid to high 90's, weather Mary lives for (not). The remainder of the ride to the bus pick up point was flat to gently rolling with many Vietnamese to cheer us on our way.
Once again we all were picked up by buses and driven the remaining 100kms to the hotel.
This evenings accommodations for us were good while others staying in the other hotel were poor. The one floor had no hot water, no sheets, no A/C and numerous little bugs to keep them company during the night, one of the ladies was so happy she was in tears the next morning looking for alternate accommodations. What they got for the next evening was a mattress on the floor of another rider's room. While we appreciate the fact the volunteer staff need a good nights sleep it continues to amaze me that they get the good rooms and the paying customers are forced to endure a lesser quality.
Phan Thut layover day,
This was a good day to explore this town and interact with the shopkeepers in the town market, a very unique experience. The stalls there sell everything from dead animals, to fake money to live ducks, to things we are still trying to determine. We avoided the temptation to eat from the street vendors whose food looked interesting enough that we bought some, but we chickened out when it came time to ingest.
The best part of the day was watching the world go by on bicycles, scooters, cyclos and on water buffalo drawn carts. The schoolgirls in their white traditional dress riding their bicycles side by side made for some great pictures.
Phan Thut to Saigon, 112km
After an early breakfast and a 6:30AM departure to beat the heat it was off for our last days ride in Vietnam. The weather proved to be a challenge as the sun was relentless and the heat in the high 90's by mid morning. When we stopped for a cool drink the locals were intrigued by the water blisters on Mary's upper exposed arms, they poked and prodded, as they could not believe what they were seeing. Once again we cannot say enough about how friendly the people are all along the way. We did have one guy however that thought throwing a handful of sugar cane at as was great fun, he sure ran a good foot race when we turned around to chastise him in English about his antics, we think he may have learned a few new English words.
The pick up point was at 112km and the bus was a welcome sight to be sure. The drive into Saigon was not that picturesque and it would have made for a less than interesting bike ride as the traffic was what one would expect from any city with a 7,000,000 population, 90% riding motor scooters.
The group was split among three hotels and while ours was in the hinterlands we think we got the best of the bunch, as the staff were super and extremely accommodating. We chose to eat on ourselves this evening and joined two other couples in a super Vietnamese meal at a great restaurant.
Saigon, layover day
We decided today would be a good day to kick back wandered around a little bit and just enjoy. We also decided a hair cut was in order and little did we know what kind of experience we were in for. If you can imagine, a shampoo sitting in the chair, a rinse off while laying with your head in a sink followed by a facial scrub a head, shoulder and arm massage, a cut and blow dry all for the lofty price of about $US7.50 that's right 7.50. Hell I was tempted to get a hair cut every day.
When we returned from our days outing imagine our surprise when I received a phone call from the manager wishing me a Happy Birthday and finding a beautiful flower arrangement in our room compliments of the hotel management. No it was not from Tim Kneeland. Apparently the hotel when they retain your passports note this information and take the time to go out of their way to acknowledge these events, guess where we will stay if we ever return? The evening meal was at a hotel other than where we were staying and it turned out to be an excellent spread. Saigon to Phuket, Thailand.
While none of the staff seemed too sure what the sequence of events were for the day, we managed to get to the airport, checked in, and on our way in an orderly fashion. Malaysian Airlines provided great service and got us to Thailand on time and in comfort. Once again getting from the airport to the hotels was a little trying, as we had to sit on the buses in blazing heat while the staff got to the hotel to try and sort out rooms. We are in two different hotels and some of us had to move to another hotel today, as the one we were in could not accommodate the group. It was reported by the hotel management that the rooms were not confirmed until a week or so before our arrival, great forward planning; it also explains why mail destined for some of the riders was turned away. The rooms we must report are good and we were lucky enough to get two to a room.
We are staying at Patong Bay, which seems to be the gay, lesbian and hooker capital of Thailand. We will be here for 2 1/2 days, why would we spend 1/2 day in Paris and 2 1/2 in Patong Bay? Makes one wonder.
For those of you planning on visiting Vietnam do not delay, do it now. We found the people great, the accommodations inexpensive, many sights to see and all in all a bargain for what little it will cost. They even have Coke, which Mary was forever grateful for.
We will close for now. Stay tuned as we get ready for our trek to Singapore, we will ride for a total of 12 days with one rest day and cover many, many miles what with four days in excess of 100 miles.
Dave & Mary