We knew this day was going to be tricky because we needed a 2 hr briefing the night before to explain that although the roadbook was accurate, some of the roads we were to take are not on the map. So everyone gathered to mark up their maps with the intended route.
Although the day was to be only 360kms, we started at 06:30 because we had two challenges. We were to transit Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City and we also had two ferries to take across the mighty Mekong river. So an 8 hour day was to be in prospect, but that turned out to be optimistic: in the extreme for some.
The challenges of the day were mainly for the navigators although for drivers it was a day of “working the traffic”, ducking and diving, dodging and weaving in and out of trucks, buses and mainly motor cycles.
The first part of the drive was lovely, along the coast and through a nature reserve to a beach village where they still practice coracle fishing. Nearby, we stopped at a museum dedicated to military history of the Vietnam war.
The beach village was swarming with kids keen on collecting the ‘give away’ picture cards that we all carry; oh and climbing into the cars for a photoshoot.
Beyond that the day’s challenges were several.
Firstly, we had to transit Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) which at the best of times is to be avoided. But to enjoy the delights of the Mekong Delta, it is the only way to get there.
In Vietnam, people only get one week’s holiday per year and it occurs to coincide with the Vietnamese New Year. Today, Saturday, is the first day of that week and the whole nation is on the move. So the traffic was appalling.
Secondly, the air in this part of Vietnam is thick with pollution. Fires are lit along the road, sometimes to burn scrub and sometimes to burn rubbish that has been dumped outside as there is not rubbish collection. So the air in which we travelled was thick to breathe.
Thirdly, it was hot, dammed hot, (as Robin Williams said so eloquently in “Good Morning Vietnam”) and the combination of heat, dust, noise and hassle from the traffic made it difficult to make the right decisions at critical junctions.
Fourthly, the queue for the second ferry was over an hour as only about 8 cars could get on, along with 8 thousand motorcycles (I exaggerate).
So by the time that we got to the lovely hotel in Can Tho it was almost 5pm. Some made it earlier, but due to breakdown problems, two cars along with Paul our mechanic did not make it until late. At the time of writing, they are still not in.
Although it was a difficult day for many, the spirit of the group remained upbeat and positive in the evening. The Victoria Hotel where we are staying is right on the banks of the Mekong and has all the air of an old colonial Hotel; very comfortable and grand.
There is sad news and good news. The sad news is that Stuart’s daughter Becky, who has occupied his co-pilot seat from the start, has left us to return to South Africa. Thank you Becky for joining us, it was great fun.
The good news is that Stuart is joined by Chris, a familiar friend who has ‘global rallied’ before with us. Welcome Chris and enjoy the ride.
Late news. Everybody got in last night; one couple at 10:30 (long story) one couple at 12:30 and our back up at 3am (even longer story)
More tomorrow but we are relieved at last.
PS we have also made the local news in Vietnam: Click here to have a read