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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Vietnam Diaries #4: A 200 KM bike trip, and being mini celebrities

All along the way we were treated to the beautiful countryside of Vietnam!

My friend was visiting from Singapore, and thus it was finally time to stay back in Saigon for the weekend and do the things around Saigon which I had never done! 

However, the work week, which allowed only a few hours of sleep everyday happened and it was 7:30 AM on the Saturday morning as we ran around from one Tourist company to other asking us to take to the Cu Chi Tunnels (one famous site of war) and Cao Dai Temple (a new religion blemished in Vietnam!). Well, o'course travel companies being extremely efficient had optimized everything and there was no room for us. 

After much deliberation we decided we will go to Cu Chi tunnels the next day, and will be a little adventurous today. We would rent motorbikes - the manual 50-70 cc Vietnamese one and will venture to Cao Dai Temple - a good 100 km away.

For those who don't know, driving in Vietnam is not for faint hearted; esp. driving a motorbike. It truly feels like being in a motorbike race with enormous number of participants. Well, I guess I will write separately on it.

Given I am from India, I can drive very easily in such mad traffic. Thus after taking elaborate directions and writing the Vietnamese phrase to ask for directions down on paper, and memorizing them, off we went (and none of our phones had GPS!)

The ride was great, though it was almost 35 degrees and the sun was beaming down on us. But well, again, both of us were from India and the weather in Delhi at the same time was 45 degrees. So we went on.

After driving almost continuously for 2 hours, and having covered only around 60 km - we decided to stop for iced coffee and something to eat on a giant roadside restaurant. Stepping in the restaurant, and on seeing huge glass jars with snakes and scorpions in them we immediately cancelled plans to eat and settled for a Coffee. (With my shaky Vietnamese I was able to convey that we are vegetarian and just want Coffee).

Deliberately a small picture, to minimize the effect!
It was almost 3 PM and we were another 20 km from the temple. We had been traveling for almost 4 hours and there was no way we were going to make it. I usually never turn back, and sometimes pushing yourself that extra bit is all it takes. But having recently read  'Into Thin Air' I was more appreciative how 'turning back' is a mature thing to do in itself. There was no way we wanted to be stuck far away in some countryside where not a single person spoke English. So, THAT close to the temple, and after having traveled so much we turned back!

The return journey was much more relaxed as we had ample time now on our hands to eat and chillax. Immediate priority after turning back was food - we hadn't had anything after breakfast! Being close to temple, we were in good luck - and we were able to find a veg place! 

It was a small place in middle of no where, and those people had apparently never seen foreigners. We created a mini-stir by stepping inside and conversing in half baked Vietnamese.We were quickly made to sit, given iced green tea to drink, followed by delicious bowls of vegetarian noodles soup. All this while the entire family gathered around us and tried to speak to us. I tried repeating multiple times 'toi khong hieu viet' to mean that I don't understand Vietnamese, but that did little to deter their enthusiasm. 

They repeated something several times of which I was only able to capture Xinh Dep meaning beautiful. Finally they pointed out the earrings on my friends ear and made signs to show that they really liked it. And then they tried asking her where's the nose ring? Apparently, they knew something about India afterall! We took off, but not before trying to speak to their daughter and giving our share of Kit Kat and Oreo to her. 

Smile Please! 
As we hit Saigon, it was already dark and was time for delayed 4'o clock rains. One of the heaviest downpour of my life hit me, but nevertheless we continued driving and covered another 15-20 km in that downpour hour with already mad city rush thrown into chaos! Our map became a lump by the time we reached.

What a day! I am sure my friend would be quite thankful to me, as little chances otherwise she would have got to experience all this in that short trip to Vietnam. I think I made her obnoxious Visa fees worth it.

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