HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Saigon to Ho Tram

Yesterday I took part in a charity bicycle ride from Saigon to Ho Tram, a small beach town two hours southeast of the city by car. The ride was in support of Ho Tram Watersafety, an organization that is building an international-quality pool where local children will be taught how to swim. 10-20 children drown in Vietnam every day, so this is important work.

The only problem with the ride was that it was set to start at 6am, with a departure from the Cat Lai ferry at the bottom of District 2. This isn't easily accessible from District 5, so it would take me at least 30 minutes to get there. I set my alarm for 4am and tried to get to bed early, but I wasn't able to fall asleep until 1. I knew that would come back to haunt me later in the day.

So I woke up when it was still pitch-black outside, had a quick breakfast and headed out on my bike. By the time I entered D2 the sky was turning from black to purple, and the pink of early dawn had appeared when I reached the ferry entrance. I was the first cyclist to arrive so I waited around for others to show up. By 6 there was a decent crowd so we boarded the ferry and were on our way. The ride was expected to be 120km (75 miles) from the ferry to the beach, but I had already put in 18k from my apartment to the boat.




Cat Lai is also the city's main container port
early morning river crossing
I had immediately noticed that many of the riders had very expensive bikes and were obviously quite fit (I'm in good shape, but not ridiculously so), so I wasn't sure how well I was going to be able to keep up. Once we got off the ferry we stuck to small, quiet back roads and were able to cruise along pretty quickly in a tight pack. I matched the pace well, which made me happy, and after a while we hit a highway. We had to go 17km on the highway, which wasn't as bad as expected because traffic was light, before turning onto another small country road.

By this point we had gone 40 or 50km, and I was starting to hit a wall. The lack of sleep and fact that I had already burned through most of my breakfast were seriously slowing me down. Most of the fastest riders had plowed ahead and I was about to stop for a break when the guy in front of me clipped the rear wheel of the bike in front of him and went down in a horrifying crash, flipping over the handlebars and rolling off the road. I stopped and ran over to check on him, and he was convulsing and screaming, which freaked me out. Other riders ran over as well and we calmed him down - he had landed on his back and gotten the wind knocked out of him, in addition to badly cutting up his right leg and arm. A group of rubbernecking locals soon formed, and one guy actually tried to help out, but the rest were just blatantly staring. We shooed them away and got the rider who crashed into one of the trailing support cars.

Just then the drink truck pulled up, which couldn't have been better timing. I pounded a couple of Revives and hit the road again, glad to have something other than water back in my stomach. I was still dragging ass though, and stopped for another drink a few kilometers on. After that I finally started feeling better again, and the distance started falling away, though I was completely alone, faster than the slower riders but unable to catch up to the fastest group.

It was a simply gorgeous day, completely clear with a fairly steady breeze. This stretch brought back fond memories of H2H, with the small road cutting through rice paddies and small towns, while dozens of children ran to the roadside to scream 'HELLO!' and give exuberant high-fives. I was ecstatic.

At one point two young local guys pulled up next to me on a motorbike and started talking to me. We both wanted to practice each other's native language, so I responded to their questions in Vietnamese while they responded in English. They told me I spoke very well, which made me even happier. After riding side-by-side for almost 10 minutes they said they had to turn off, so we bid each other farewell and I carried on. There were a few unexpected hills that made things more difficult than expected, but I was riding well.

Unfortunately I had no idea where I was going, as I hadn't looked at a map before leaving. We had people on motorbikes supporting us and I expected them to be at intersections directing us, but they weren't. I hit a T-junction and the sign saying what was right and what was left said nothing about Ho Tram, so I asked a local which way to go (in Vietnamese) and kept going. After that I used the amount of kids standing on the side of the road as a judge of whether I was going the right way or not - if there were big crowds that meant foreign cyclists had already been through, if not then no one had come that way.

With about 30km to go I caught up to another rider and we stayed together. I was running out of steam again, and after putting in around 120k since leaving home I was starving and burning fat reserves. We finally found our way to the beach road, where a sign indicated that The Sanctuary, the resort we were finishing at, was 6km away. Unfortunately this was straight into a headwind along the coast, so this short distance felt far longer. It had been exactly 120km from the ferry, and as soon as I got to the resort I collapsed in a chair. It had been a sunny 5 hours on the road.
the grounds of The Sanctuary
After relaxing for a bit and eating I was having trouble staying awake. There was a van set to take some riders back to Saigon, but not until 6pm, and it was only 1:30. I didn't want to wait that long, and fortunately I had struck up conversation with the CFO of the MGM Grand, a mutli-billion dollar integrated resort being built in Ho Tram that will completely transform the area, which is currently largely undeveloped. He was about to head back to the city in his private company car and offered me a ride, and I immediately said yes. Two hours later we were in District 2, and I had the driver drop me off at the start of the East-West Highway, got back on my bike, and rode the rest of the way home. After sitting in a car for that long my legs did not want to pedal anymore, and I was completely spent by the time I got home. In total I had put in 150km (92 miles), by far the longest I've ever cycled in a day. This was a fantastic experience though, and after sleeping for 12 hours and eating a ton of food today I'm feeling almost back to normal.

Here are a few shots of me from the ride photographer:



4 comments:

  1. Great riding Mike! Glad you 'enjoyed' the day. We ate an Australian charity watersafetyvietnam.com and have been teaching children to swim and training swim teachers in Ho Tram for 12 mths. The pool will make a huge difference to that little community.
    Thanks for your support and hope you're up for the next ride Carl organises! I believe Phan Thiet to Ho Tram with tailwind. Pam O'Reilly, project Manager WSV.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I was glad to take part, it sounds like WSV is doing great work. I look forward to the next ride!

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  2. Any recommendations for a good bike shop?

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    1. Yup, there are a few.

      Le Hoang Probike at 283/62-64 Cach Mang Thang 8 in District 10 is great. The owner speaks English and the staff is really helpful. Another really good one is Saigon Cycles, the manager is American and knows his shit. Website here: http://xedapcaocap.com/. You'll pay close to Western prices at both shops, since most of the stuff is imported from the U.S. or Europe.

      A cheaper alternative is CAT, at 160 Vo Thi Sau, close to Hai Ba Trung. Most of the employees don't really speak English but they have a wide range of bikes and gear. Quality isn't the best but it's affordable. I got my bike there.

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