Order Tara's Bicycle Touring Cookbook Today!

Armpits & Brothels

by Tara

Visa extensions in hand, we're finally ready to leave Ho Chi Minh City. After nine days of waiting, we're feeling fresh and ready to explore once more. Unfortunately, very little about this day turns out to be enjoyable, as Vietnam boasts the most obnoxious traffic we've ever encountered.

It isn't the volume of vehicles, or even that we feel unsafe; it is the blasted noise!

We're becoming connoisseurs of Vietnamese horns: the strange undulating bibbles, the high-pitched ear-piercing screams, the deep, bone-shaking tuba honks, the ear-penetrating brassy trumpet blasts, and the goofy loud warbles. There's a wide variety, and they're all awful.

Equal in diversity to the honks, are the types of unlikely cargo being hauled by the scooters that flood the highways. The most notable today is this one full of geese (there is plenty of honking going on there too, heehee):

Geese in Baskets on a Motorbike Geese on a Motorbike

…and another carrying exotic fish for sale!

Motorbike w/ Fish For Sale Goldfish on a Motorbike Fish for Sale Fish for Sale Motorbike w/ Fish For Sale

Once we're out of Ho Chi Minh City, the insanity calms slightly. Ready for a break, Tyler and I pull off the road to take a breather in a dusty parking lot. Sitting on the steps of a restaurant that isn't open, we remove a bag of snacks from our panniers: oranges from a roadside stand, and pastries from the bakery by our old hotel.

We're just about to dig in, hungrily eying the sugar-glazed apple-filled delights we bought this morning, when a man on a bicycle spies us from afar. He comes pedaling straight for us, and when he arrives, he promptly sits down a few inches away without so much as a sin jow. *Sigh* Though the only thing we want right now is to eat our snacks in peace, we smile and welcome the man, offer him a fruit, and do our best to communicate.

Of course, this doesn't work at all. Eventually we give up on attempts at friendly banter, and settle into a silence that wouldn't be so awkward except that the man is keen on staring at us like we're aliens or zoo animals. And even that wouldn't be so weird (we're used to it by now), but then the man starts motioning something strange. He lifts his elbows like a chicken's wings, and points repeatedly at his armpit, and then at mine.

We're confused, but the pointing becomes more and more demanding, and by all accounts it seems that this man really wants to see my armpits. What the hell? A little creeped out, I firmly give myself a bear hug and shake my head no, no you cannot see my armpits. He still points, and now Tyler joins in the head-shaking and naysaying.

Signaling each other with a knowing look, we pack up, shoving our snacks back into our panniers, untouched save for the man's orange. Saying goodbye, we cycle off, pedaling hard in case the guy decides he'd like to follow us. He doesn't, thankfully, but I am left feeling like there is nowhere in this country where I can be freaking left alone for a single moment of peace and quiet.


Our ride continues in the usual Vietnamese fashion. There's traffic and noise and heat, but today, we're able to keep cool thanks to the spraying sprinklers which ensure the grass on the median stays green. When we've ridden our rough minimum of sixty kilometers, we start looking for a place to sleep, all the while eying a dark front rolling in, threatening rain.

Thus far, we've been spoiled with really clean, fairly cheap accommodation. Today, our luck seems to have run out. Unable to find a guest-house that inspires confidence, onwards we go, until we're faced with our turn-off to Da Lat, headed straight into the mountains.

And thus an ever-familiar question arises: Do we continue on, searching for somewhere comfortable, even though towns and villages are thinning out, risking a really long, drawn-out exhausting evening of accommodation searching? Or, do we quit now, and settle on one of the dirty, dingy places we've seen so far?

After nearly two years on the road, we're willing to run the risk of a drawn-out, exhausting search for accommodation. Having a good night's sleep in a comfortable home away from home is essential to our happiness right now.

To The Bungalow

The more fatigued we get, the more difficult it is to make this decision, or any decision at all. If it weren't for the seething dark clouds overhead, we'd string up our hammocks and sleep in the woods just off the road. Yet again we are kicking ourselves for sending our tent home. In the end, we double back, winding up at place we missed on our fast pass through town.

It seemed better than the last six hotels we'd looked at. But once the door is shut and the musty odor contained, the flickering fluorescent lights illuminate the reality of our home for the night. There's a two-foot tall mirror on the wall, running horizontally along the length of the bed, and a bonafide red light above it. Hmmm.

While Tyler unpacks, I take a shower in the smallest bathroom known to humankind, in which the shower head sprays directly over the toilet; I have to stand in front of it and sort of bend over to catch the spray. Once clean, it's time to inspect the bed.

I know that the blanket is sure to have been used by numerous folk, but I can only hope the bottom sheet has actually been washed. We've heard so many horror stories about bedbugs by now, that I sit on the safe, cool tile floor and watch the mattress like a hawk for any signs of minuscule movement. Thankfully, we seem to be in the clear.

But just to be on the safe side, Tyler (who couldn't care less about this sort of thing) kindly unfurls our sleeping mats and makes a raft of safety for me on the questionable sheet. This barrier, mostly a mental one, is enough to separate me from The Cooties.

As we get comfortable, those grey skies we saw earlier unleash their bounty. I'm thankful for the tin roof over our heads; the pitter patter is soothing. When the rain subsides, we plug our headphones in and turn on the laptop, eager for some escapism. Time for a Harry Potter marathon!