Don’t be afraid to refer to Ho Chi Minh City as Saigon – most of the local people still do. And it’s from Saigon that one of Indochina’s great cycling expeditions begins, taking the adventurous pedal-pusher from the former capital of South Vietnam through the Mekong Delta and on to the drier country and contrasting sights of Cambodia, ending at the ancient city of Angkor Wat. This fabulous testament to the Khmer civilization was built between the 9th and 12th centuries and is now a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With proper planning this can be a solo journey, though it does involve travelling light, buying provisions and finding accommodation as you go. It is also possible to find organized groups who are undertaking this marathon ride, where kit can be sent on ahead to pre-booked overnight stops – these are often sponsored trips arranged by charities. There are endless choices of route to follow, but one well tried and proven journey is from Saigon via My Tho, Tra Vinh, Can Tho, Long Xuyen, Chau Doc, Nha Bang (on the Cambodian border), Takeo,Phnom Penh, Tang Krasang and Phumi Loveay to Siem Riep (from whence to Angkor Wat).
This scenic route is not physically demanding, as the countryside is fairly flat. It weaves through rubber plantations, crosses rivers and passes through the paddy fields and lush countryside of the Mekong Delta before crossing into Cambodia – a land of traditional villages, busy markets, ancient temples and colourful pagodas. The locals do not see many foreigners, and those who venture into remote country areas on uncrowded back roads are invariably the subjects of great curiosity, especially to children. But the interesting passers-by from another world are invariably received with warmth and hospitality in these rural backwaters.
WHEN TO GO:
November to February
TIME IT TAKES:
Allow at least 10 days, with a day each in Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat.
A visit to the extraordinary Caodai Great Temple at Tay Ninh, headquarters of Caodaism, one of Vietnam’s most interesting religions.
The temples of , abandoned for centuries, rediscovered in the 1800s and justifiably regarded as one of the wonders of the world.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
If cycling isn’t your thing, the Saigon- Angkor Wat journey can be done on water, cruising up the mighty Mekong and along the Tonlé Sap Rive