The Ride Home from Phan Thiet

by Tara Russell, Apr 29, 2004 | Destinations: Vietnam / Phan Thiet

Watch out for the motor scooters. Everyone uses their horns. A herd of brown cows slowly crosses the road followed by three small women swatting them from behind. A mother and child bicycle home from work and school. A barefoot toddler walks alone from shop to shop along the street. An elderly woman sells dragon fruit from aside the road. Next to her sits oranges, papayas, watermelons, squash, cucumbers, cabbage, green onions, and carrots.

We veer to miss a stranded cow staring us down from the middle of the road. The local mart is stocked with everything from cigarettes to bottled water to oil for your motor scooter to local fish sauce. More scooters. And bicycles. Some traveling solo, and others in packs moving in unison like ducks flying south for the winter. Most travelers wear the triangular shaped rice hat, covering everything but the tips of their noses.

There is an accident; a bus, car, and passenger van failed to avoid collision. People come from all directions. So do the cows. More people honk. Both lanes are two-way lanes, everywhere. Pho and com (noodles and rice) to eat on both sides of the road.

The river is lined with tin shacks and weathered docks on their last legs. Each boat on the river is painted royal blue, bright red, and schoolbus yellow. The clouds hug the foothills and shade the palms. The ocean surf is in view. The rain washes the car, sometimes violently and at other times, soothingly. Three hundred and sixty degrees of green. Water stands aside the road. Yellow, fuscia, and white flowers sprout from every bush.

Another village. There is a light on inside each roadside stall--each has something to sell. The rain stops no form of transportation. The chickens play together inside a makeshift wire fence. The one room cement house is abandoned. A man cycles his pigs to market using the front basket on his bike. Where do all these people live? Some of the men on the scooters wear ponchos, with flip-flops. Everyone wears flip-flops.

One-hundred kilometers and not an English word in sight. The first two helmets of the day--on two children traveling home with mom on the scooter. Two plus one equals three on one scooter; a light load. Cargo trucks, tour buses, very few VIP cars. More honking. Television sets are the focus of every tin shack and concrete one-room home. The front of every shop, restaurant, and home is wide-open. Don't the mosquitoes bother them? Someone has up Christmas lights. It's September. Watch out for the motor scooters, and the cows. The music plays. Watch closely, and you too will hear it.

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