Mini Itinerary

Blog / Into Saigon's Gravitational Field

10 January 2012

Attached to journey: 10 January 2012 La Gi to Phu My by Bike

Knobbled for baguettes again! I've really not sorted the eating patterns of Vietnam out. Rice is not for dinner, ok, I think I've got that straight. I've been offered rice porridge for dinner, but elsewhere in Asia, that's pretty squarely in the breakfast department. What's going on? Anyway, I thought baguettes were an all day kind of thing, but I don't see any on sale as I roll out of La Gi.

I track them down within a few kilometres. I have to dance about a bit in front of the stall before the stallholder, who's sat several metres away, bothers to come over to sell to me. The baguettes are the flimsiest I've had, but also the cheapest. The tastiest part is the last, where my sweaty grip has added salt to the surface.

I've a shortish ride to Ba Ria planned today, but I'm conscious that every kilometre I go beyond the town is a kilometre wiped off the slate for the run into Saigon tomorrow. Clocking a hundred kilometres or so would be just the ticket.

For lunch I seek rice. Loads of places serve only noodles. Another difficulty is that plenty of places aren't open, but the signs stay out. Or a place can be operational, but the staff have wandered off or passed out in a hammock. Or it's so dark inside that by the time you can tell it's open, you've passed it. The stop-start can be time consuming, and isn't much fun when you're getting hungry. Today I find a big corner place with a massive sign for rice out front - I get rice and veggies, a small deep fried fish and a Coke. It might be the ideal protein/carbohydrate cycling lunch.

The 20km or so after lunch go fast. I don't really know what's happened to the tailwind from a few days ago. I guess I'm not really going south any more, there's more tree cover, and there's a bit more up and down, so all told its effect is diminished - that's if it's still blowing at all.

Past Ba Ria and into bonus kilometres territory, the QL51 road is huge. Right now it's under construction, but this is looking like being two or three lanes each way when it's complete. There's plenty of space right now for lots of people riding motorbikes the wrong way - i.e. at me.

I'm rolling into Phu My trying to decide whether I stop here or press on some 20km to the next decent-sized town. I see a stand selling 'cold coconuts'. These are coconuts with the outer husk removed that are then stored in an ice bath. When you buy one, they hack a nick in the top, pop in a straw, and you slurp out the chilled coconut milk. No added sugar, no dilution, no chemicals. I've heard it's chock full of electrolytes. The first one's so refreshing I get a second. I decide to stay in Phu My rather than race darkness to the next town.

Soon after getting back on the road, I'm not sure the coconut stand plan was the right one, as it seems accommodation is limited. I spot a sign directing me down an alley to a guesthouse. The room's not great but it's acceptable, and everything goes smoothly until I ask how much. Noone else has failed to understand my no doubt poor pronunciation of the Vietnamese for 'how much?' Eh? I point at the room, show some money, and ask how much again. Eh? I'm holding out my phone, with the calculator screen up (clue: it's got lots of numbers on it) and again ask how much. Eh? This is around the time I decide to call it a deal breaker, and ride off again.

It's a Sinolinguistic blur of an evening. While I'm looking for a room I see a sign only in Chinese for a restaurant - I figure that might be handy to be next to. The room doesn't work out.

At the place I end up staying, the manager says 'siusiu' to describe the noise being less at night. This is straight out of Cantonese. I babble some Chinese at her. She blinks back at me.

I go for dinner, where they (drumroll) have rice. Unlike most places in China, meals are precooked here, not done to order. You have to know what you like, identify it fast, and point clearly. I got pork chops and kongxin cai (sorry, don't know the English) on top of a pile of steamed rice. A small dish of fish sauce provides seasoning. I'm liberal with it. Jugs of dilute iced jasmine tea are on hand to wash everything down.

The movie on TV is originally in Cantonese, but crudely dubbed into Vietnamese. One yappy female voice covers all the characters, lagging shortly behind the Canto. Everyone's glued to it.

Before heading back to my room, I have a look to see what the next few shops along the road are selling. Up there in Chinese, the sign says this one's a café specialising in 'pearl tea' (tea with added 'pearls' of sago jelly).

Why the sudden reappearance of Chinese? Will this still be apparent in Saigon? Will I be able to communicate again?

104km, 23.1km/h, 4hr30min, 3884km

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