March 2008 Archive

Hanging Out in Saigon

March 24th, 2008

With all of the riding finished up two days ago, in Nha Trang, I had some time to kill in Sagion. We got here Thursday night, had a great last dinner together with the entire group, but I leave on Sunday. That left all of Friday and Saturday to explore the city. Ho Chi Minh City is 8 million people, and much more western-feeling than Hanoi. It’s broken up into districts (technically “Saigon” is districts 1, 3, and 5—think Manhattan vs. New York for semantics).

Touristy Things

With so much time, I could easily accommodate both individual exploration and group tourist activities. Many of the tour riders were sticking around through the weekend, so 11 of us got together and rented a bus to head out to the tunnels. The Viet Cong built a gigantic series of tunnels, initially to fight the French, and then expanded them in the war against America. They’re pretty wild.

The tunnels they take you through have been expanded, thanks to fatty tourists, although one section is supposedly original size. Some of us went through short sections of the tunnels. It’s definitely not the place for anyone with claustrophobia. They have them lit, of course, but it still gets awfully dark, hot, and cramped in parts. We emerged sweaty and grimy. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like scampering through those tunnels in the midst of summer with the chaos and death of war around you.

Saigon, Daytime

I also went around the city’s various sights by myself, spending a few hours each day just walking. I saw the Reunification Palace (bombed by a VC spy in the war, who reportedly works for Vietnam Airlines today), the War Remnants museum, went to the big markets, and generally experienced much of the city. Everything is much more expensive than the rest of Vietnam, but you can still have noodles from a street vendor for 10,000 dong a bowl, or about $0.66. One night we went to a nice Indian place with a group of ten, which was 2,000,000 VND, including plenty of beer. It’s much more than a dinner elsewhere in the country, but of course still less than the states.

Saigon, Nighttime!

I had a new roommate for the last two nights—Geoff, from Australia—and we were both getting tired of the tourist routine. Of course, we still had time to kill, so what better way than to set off into the city for a random night of drinking and shenanigans? I think we left the hotel at 5pm and returned at 3am. Our night included:

  • Steak dinner, only marginally delicious
  • Drinks at the top of each big hotel
  • Congratulating a just-married bride and groom (including a kiss on the cheek, hah)
  • 232,000 VND glasses of cognac
  • Dancing at a jam-packed club named Apocalypse Now
  • Zipping around town on motorbike taxis
  • Spurring our last two bikes into a race (“no, no more money—losers don’t get extra money”)

It definitely accomplished our goal of killing time until we had to leave, especially because the next morning was shot. Without much sleep, and strained livers, it was all we could do to pack, wash our unicycles, and get some food. I left the city at 2pm; I’m actually writing this in an airplane, some 32 hours later, but that’s a sob story for the final Vietnam post…

Vietnam Panorama

March 19th, 2008

I didn’t bother taking series of photographs of panoramas.  Maybe I should have, as they’re awfully sweet, but mostly I was just busy pedaling.  I wanted to take a “candid” one, though, to give people an idea of what an average situation might be.  I stepped off the road yesterday to relieve myself, maybe 10 paces, and this is what it looked like:

Made with the amazing Autostitch.

The Long Day: Complete!

March 19th, 2008

Today had two distinct characteristics. It was long. And it was hot. In fact, it was the longest day of the tour (100km), and it was definitely the hottest (we’re moving south, so things are getting warmer).

Ride, Ride, Ride

I spent 6 hours and 15 minutes pedaling today. Total time, including the short breaks and lunch, was 10 hours. The riding was nice, with some great scenery and mild traffic for much of the day. I took some more photos to give you an idea of how the terrain is changing. By the way, nearly all of the photos are actually taken while riding. It’s gorgeous out here!

Saddle soreness was a big issue for me today, especially before lunch. I stood up and pedaled, played music, and shifted my weight as best I could, but old man gravity just wouldn’t let up. This probably comes as no surprise, but unicycling vast distances is very, very uncomfortable. You may think you can imagine it, but believe me: You can’t. It’s something you need to experience firsthand.

The Heat

It seems like the heat was the major problem for many of the other riders. I made out alright, thanks to my acclimation to Phoenix, but it was still a lot of time in the sun. I’m developing a delightful tan line of my riding shorts/shirt. Most of the time we had a breeze of some kind—even a headwind was welcome—but there were stretches without wind that were just brutal. All told, I think I drank 6L of water today. Everyone has salt cravings come lunch time.

One More Day!

The beach is right across the street from our hotel, so everyone jumped in for a swim to cool down. Next we’re off to our group dinner, before cashing in for an early night. Tomorrow is the last day of riding! Our daily distances have changed from the initial plan, but I think tomorrow is still a measly 60km. It’s not a hard distance, and combined with the light at the end of the tunnel it should be a fantastic day.

We spend the night in Nah Trong tomorrow, and then head to Saigon the following day. Initially we were supposed to take a fancy 12-hour train to get there, but unfortunately the train schedule changed to overnight. There’s not much point in staring at blackness for hours on end, so now we’re flying instead. There’s a night in Saigon included on the tour, and then it’s officially over on Friday morning. I’m hanging around two extra nights to wander the city, and then I return! It’s been a wonderful trip, but I’m definitely looking forward to getting ack to my life too…

Best Day Yet!

March 16th, 2008

Today’s riding was utterly fantastic. Saddle soreness wasn’t much of a problem, the weather was fine (if a little hot), and the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. One stretch of the trip in particular was amazing. I took video for parts of it, which should convey the immersion a little more clearly, but I’ve also uploaded a new batch of photos to the Flickr set.

Stronger, Faster

The pace today was definitely faster. I’m also adapting to the riding–it seems like my body is used to the notion of a stressful workout for several hours in a row. It’s a great feeling to zoom through an off-road section, pedaling quickly and dodging potholes and rough terrain. I did a have a bit of a crash myself, though, although it wasn’t much. I ended up going over a drop on a downhill section with my brake engaged. I didn’t notice it until I was too close to disengage the brake, so my only hope was to hold it perfectly steady on landing to avoid being thrown. No luck!

Nich’s Crash

The youngest rider on the tour, Nich (13), had a pretty wicked crash today. It was on a downhill section and he rides without a brake. I wasn’t near enough to see him fall, but I was the second person to quickly come across him. He was in a lot of pain and didn’t have t move his arm–at first the group was worried it may have been a broken collarbone, but the final diagnosis was a nasty cash a road rash and a possible sprain. The tour organizer, Ken, is actually a practicing doctor and was there on the scene within a few minutes. Tomorrow is a rest day, so hopefully he’ll be back riding after that!

Rest Time!

We’re here for another day–the beach is right across the street–so it’ll be nice to hang out and go for a swim. There are only two riding days left in the tour. I feel great and am looking forward to tackling them head on!