Dan and Lu's Travels
The bikes were waiting for us at our hotel at 9am. I didn't even have time to get worried because I sat down and we were off down the alley and into the moring traffic madness (Sunday isn't quieter). I was hanging on to the driver's jacket at this point. We were weaving in and out of the traffic and beepong the horn and all I could think about and look at was the tiny spaces we were getting through and the hundreds of other bikes and cars and buses. I'd read an article in a Vietnam tourism magazine that 'explained' the rules of the road. These included: 'Red traffic lights seem only to be advisory', 'The man with the two full size fridges on the back of his bike is NOT going to stop at a red light'(htis happens!), 'ride with a finger pressed almost continuously on the horn as this is easier than obeying the rules' and ' Its quite reasonable to go the wrong way up a one way street'. So you can imagine why I was nervous. having said all that, after 15 mintues when we into the countryside I relaxed a bit and started to enjoy the scenery. We rode by miles and miles of rice paddies, with lots of people working in the fields, then turned down a muddy path that followed a river lined with little houses and people on boats. We stopped by a small village market where there was a gorgeous wooden covered bridge dating from 230 years ago. The on to Tu Niem pagoda where we watched the monks praying and singing. After the ceremoney had apparantly finished, our guide took us into a courtyard where a novice monk (boys, who have a shaved head apart from some hair at the very front) was chanting while holding up a cup of rice to the sky - thanks for food. It was mesmerising. Back on the bike to Ngu Bina hill, which has bunkers used by the French when they were fighting. From here there were amazing views over the Perfume River ( so called because of the flowers that grow on it's banks) and to the surrounding forested mountains, used in the American war for bunkers etc. The we rode to Tu Duc's tomb, passing through a cluster of houses which had hundreds of bouquets of different coloured incense sticks laid on the ground. Absolutley beautiful and the smell was intoxicating. This is one of the main things you notice on a bike; the smalls of the fields, the rivers, the flowers and herbs growing etc. Being on a bike, while it is the Vietnamese way to travel, also sums up the country in the variety of aromas you come acrosswhile riding. Vietnam sometimes feels like one big kitchen, especially with people cooking food on the streets and all the open markets. So many smells. We spent an hour at the tomb site of Tu Duc (Emporer of the Nguyen dynasty between 1848-83). He used it before, and obviously after, his death. The place is very serene, with lakes and trees and gorgeous buildings housing his and some wives' tombs. He had 104 wives and mnay concubines..... We hen stopped and took a quick picture of Minh Mang's tomb (had to have this, just for the name Helen!) Then to Thien Mu pagoda, which is where the first monk to set himself alight in protest to the Vietnam war was from. (1963). The car that he drove himself to Saigon in and is in the press photos is there too, which I thought was a bit tacky but a cool car. Brilliant tour, and now I'm not scared of bikes!