No, I haven't suddenly developed a nostalgia for old music hall songs. Today we've spent cycling through the Kingdom of Coconuts in the Mekong delta.
We have begun our cycling trip. Not without some trepidation as we've chosen the worst time of year to do it. It is the start of the wet season, which means not only that it is wet but also very hot, with temperatures of up to 35 deg. Yesterday we experienced the sort of downpour that characterises the wet season in the tropics. Whilst it only rained for about 15 minutes, it probably equated to a month's rain in Newcastle. Get caught in one of those and we are going to get very wet indeed. It's also very humid, although the rain does clear the air for a while, and just standing still brings on a sweat. What's it going to be like cycling? Our anxiety is not made any better by the fact we're both suffering from upset stomachs. Eating street food is all very well and good and shows what a well-travelled traveller one is, but even here, where much of it is quick fried and so should be pretty safe, it always takes some adjusting to and things can be quite uncomfortable during that process. However I'm comforted by the thought that, given what we've seen being carried on bikes here, it is quite conceivable that our guide will be transporting a fully equipped toilet.
Unfortunately, there is no sign of one when we get into our minibus at 7.30. Ours is a private tour so there will just be the two of us, our guide Tang and driver Vo. They will be with us until the Cambodian border which we reach in 5 days time. We are heading off into the Mekong Delta which means a two hour drive out of HCMC before we start cycling. The Mekong Delta is the rice basket and coconut mat and pineapple smoothie of Vietnam producing a significant proportion of the country's food. The Mekong River is over 4,000 km long - the 12th longest in the world. It starts life in Tibet, flows through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia before reaching Vietnam and the sea. In the Mekong Delta it splits into nine branches - each a major river in its own right. The land here is low-lying and subject to regular flooding which makes it very fertile. Every square inch of land is used to grow something and the water also contains fish, turtles, snakes and other foods too gruesome to mention.
We start cycling at a little village called My Tho. Soon we turn off the road and cycle along narrow concrete tracks that wind through the seemingly endless coconut plantations. Houses and shops, even a hairdressers, are scattered throughout the plantations and the tracks are busy with motorbikes and bicycles. We are the only Westerners we see all day. This is well off the tourist trail and we are sufficiently unusual to warrant the occasional stare and frequent 'hellos' from people we pass, especially the children. Some of the houses are large and new - there is obviously money to be made from coconuts.
We take several small ferries across some of the many rivers that criss-cross the delta. Everywhere you look there is water and the sound of boats on the river is never far away. The pace is relatively gentle and the cycling not too hard with the coconut palms giving welcome shade from the sun. It looks as if ours fears may have been misplaced.
We stop for lunch in a small town. Pork and noodles followed by some of the tastiest mango I've had. Our stomachs seem to be behaving themselves and we're soon off again continuing through more coconut trees. By now the earlier clouds have cleared and it is hotting up, but at least the clear skies mean there is no risk of rain. We have one more ferry crossing before we reach our destination but just before we get there, we come across this bizarre sight of this fairground ride in the middle of the jungle. Someone's private toy? Or the Mekong Delta's version of the Hoppings?
Unfortunately, there's no one around to ask if we can have a ride and before too long we have arrived at our destination, Tra Vihn. 46.5km cycled on day 1. Tomorrow we're due to do 80km but now we know that cycling here is OK that doesn't seem so much.