Trip Start Oct 23, 2011
22Trip End Nov 12, 2011
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Where I stayed
Motorbikes rule the roads here and, as I mentioned earlier, they are all referred to as Hondas even though the $1,500 Honda is in the minority. More affordable $300 bikes are the norm and they are everywhere, in the street, on the sidewalks, sometimes parked and sometimes whizzing by, you see them being driven out of buildings, they drive on either side of the road and on the sidewalk and weave in and out of traffic with ease. I never saw anyone getting a ticket nor did I see any traffic patrols at least not that I recognized.
The horn is in constant use and is not meant to be offensive here; it is a courtesy, warning another driver that you are nearby or passing. I found it confusing especially when attempting to cross a street, there are so many horns honking all the time that I have no idea how you figure out where or not it is meant for you. While we did not see any accidents they are common and one statistic I heard was 400 traffic deaths a month. Some wear helmets and some do not.
I learned that a 2-lane road can easily accommodate 6 Hondas abreast and if there is an open space you may drive in it.
I learned that at 18 years of age you need a license to drive anything with more than a 100 cc engine. Most bikes have a 99 cc engine.
From behind sometimes you cannot see the bike, just a rear tire and a merchandise of all sorts stacked high and wide doubling or tripling the width of the bike. I do not know how they negotiate corners with some of the loads. Some of the things I saw tied to a Honda or bicycle included a computer, television, refrigerator, metal pipes so long they bend and drag on the ground spraying out sparks, baskets of geese, a wire enclosure with 2 large pigs and my favorite a gentleman on a bicycle steering with one hand around an uphill corner while balancing a tray holding 3 bowls of pho, I didn't see any spill. The adaptations are amazing, it is the mode of transport and therefore there will be a way to fasten whatever you want to carry onto it.
The Honda is the family sedan and it is very common to see a family of 4 riding and I also saw a family of 5, mom and dad, one child between them and one child on the floor in front of driver (dad), one baby under mother’s arm.
Being a pedestrian in this environment is just frightening and you can never let down your guard. We did become a little more comfortable crossing streets as the days went by but just when you thought you had it figured out a Honda would come out of nowhere, honking and sometimes that was on the sidewalk which as I mentioned before is not just for pedestrians. It is just crazy and I think the safest crossings were mid block so you didn’t have to worry about someone flying around a corner. I went down one very dark and narrow alley where I was told I could get a manicure and indeed it was lined with stands offering manicures, pedicures and facials. It was wide enough for two to walk comfortably and it did dead end at the entrance to a building but there too we had to be on the lookout for Hondas, they are everywhere! And, in case you are wondering, I did get a fabulous $3 manicure and pedicure without being run over.
From the air all you see in the Mekong this time of year is water mile after mile of brown water, flooded rice paddies edged with narrow strips of land upon which sit houses and occasional larger settlements bordered by the paddies on one side and a river tributary on the other side. It is brown and it is wet! I tried to imagine it in the growing season with the bright green of rice, it would be a totally different landscape and a lovely sight.
Nearing Ho Chi Minh City the scenery shifts from brown fields to large factory complexes and neighborhoods that, from the air, are a sea of tin and thatch roofs. The river is busy with boat traffic and then the more modern and high-rise buildings of the city come into view intermingled with the old narrow 2 and 3 story homes, shops and hotels.
Obviously the delta is flat with high points being bridges that span the countless canals and tributaries of the Mekong River. On our drive from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho there were dwellings and businesses lining the highway almost the entire way with few open fields that were dotted with family graves and occasionally men working the fields with their water buffalo.
Along the way we saw many little "coffee shops" that were open sided buildings with thatched roofs, a few tables and hammocks strung at regular intervals through the entire structure. These are rest stops for local travelers. Buy a drink and you can rest in one of the hammocks. It is so hot here that midday you will find most folks in a hammock just relaxing or sleeping.
Entering Can Tho the streets were flooded, not from rains so much as extremely high tides pushing the river over its banks for a few hours on either side of the high tide. I should mention that Can Tho is about 50 miles inland from the sea.