His name is Ricardo Hatton and he has been spending summers in East Hampton for 20 years. Hatton is an architect working in NYC who is a spry, healthy 61-years-old. He was seven or eight-years-old when he first started biking. His first bike was a white, 10 speed Peugeot. Like many boys that age, he used to race with other kids, sometimes with his hands off the handlebars.
This is a story of his bicycling over 700 miles in Vietnam.
Hatton arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on December 8, 2018. He had spent a few days in December of 2017 in Siem Reap, Cambodia so this was not his first time in Asia. Hatton said he, “always wanted to visit the temples of Angkor Wat.” He was really smitten by the culture and kindness of a people that had experienced the brutality inflicted by the Khmer Rouge. He just wanted to see more of Cambodia.
In his words: “I spent three days in Phnom Penh, no cycling, my bike was still in a box and ready to fly with me to Saigon, where I would start my cycling journey. I arrived in Saigon on December 12, 2018. I had a reservation in a small hotel in Saigon’s District 2, about a thirty-minute bike ride to the center of town. The hotel room was on the fourth floor, no elevator, the only way up was a spiral stair.”
When asked about the cost, Hatton answered, “The cost of the room about $20.00 USD. I kept the bike on the ground floor underneath the base of the spiral stair. “
Then it was on to Vietnam with an amazing eventful first few hours. Hatton recalls, “I arrived in Saigon around 4:00 p.m., I did not have a visa, but I knew that I could purchase one on arrival. I then went through customs without any issues, I picked up my bike, still in the box, from the oversize baggage area. I proceeded to exchange currency and purchase a SIM card for my mobile phone. The Internet in Vietnam is incredibly fast. Then I took a taxi from the airport and the traffic was insane. Cars, thousands of motor bikes, it all seemed very chaotic to me.”
This is where the story gets real!
Hatton said, “While on the way to the hotel, my mobile phone rang. I decided to answer and it was from the money currency exchange office. I had left a small bag with about $2,500.00 USD on the counter. I told the driver and we returned to the airport. I picked up the small bag from the currency exchange office and the young lady in the office asked me to please count the money in my bag. I told her it was not necessary, I’m sure is all there.”
I asked Hatton was he part of a biking group tour? He replied, “I was travelling by myself, I do not like the group thing because they are on a fixed schedule.”
I wondered about the cost of the on the go adventure. Hatton revealed, “The food and shelter, once out of the metropolitan areas, are fairly inexpensive. $10.00 to $20.00 USD for a very decent hotel room, meals are around $5.00 USD, beers in the bars for locals $1.00 USD.”
So I asked Hatton what was his plan and goal?
He said, “My goal was to ride from Saigon through the Mekong Delta to the Cambodian border. I realized while in Saigon that riding inside the Delta would be a challenge. The Delta is a maze of narrow paths for bikes and motorbikes. Cars and trucks on the main roads. I did some research online while in Saigon and found a man who organized bike tours, his company is, Vietnam Backroads, his nickname Van the man. I contacted him and he invited me to come to his bike shop and talk to him about what I wanted to do.”
When asked how that turned out, Hatton said, “I met Van and explained that I wanted to hire a guide cyclist to ride with me through the Delta for a couple of days, then I would continue on my own. He said he had no one at the moment but will try to help me. A few hours after our meeting, he called me and said he had a great guide for me, who was born in the Delta and knows it better than any other guide. We made arrangements to meet the day after at 7:00 a.m. and begin the journey. “
Then the journey began. Hatton recalled, “I met Loc at 7:00 a.m. the following day at Van’s bike shop. We had coffee and Jasmine tea (best coffee I ever had, cold). I asked for milk for my coffee, they were drinking black coffee. Afterwards, Loc told me that only women take milk with their coffee, not men. But because I was a foreigner it was OK, I said, thank you for the information.”
So, who was this Loc?
“Loc was a young guy,” Hatton said, “I would say around 30-33-years-old, a good rider, very fit. We left Saigon’s chaos and rode for a few hours out of the city.”
Then I asked Hatton what were the highlights?
Hatton said, “The most beautiful days of riding were through the Mekong Delta. The Delta is lush and peaceful, the people working the fields seem gentle and kind. We would stop for water and the farmers would offer me fruits and would not accept money for it. Loc explained that when a gift is offered no money can be exchanged (it’s bad luck). I was taken by the kindness of a people. The very same people the USA fought a brutal war with. Loc told me that he has taken a few US veterans to meet their former enemies and how they find it hard to understand how kind the Vietnamese warriors are. Loc said most Vietnamese are Buddhist, we move on, no hard feelings.” Hatton then said goodbye to Loc in Can Tho City.
When asked what was the most brutal part of the riding Hatton said, “The ride from Cau Ke to Can Tho was the toughest ride, we rode in the dark on a main road with trucks riding close to us. We rode 105 miles that day. My goal is to ride about 70 miles a day (100 kilometers).”
So after this 105-mile ride to Can Tho what did Hatton do?
He recalled, “I spent two nights in Can Tho, visited the local markets and the floating markets on the Vinh Long River. The countryside of Vietnam is poor, and there are many issues with pollution and food contamination. The population has increased tremendously since the war. I left Can Tho early morning heading to Chau Doc (about 130 kilometers north). I road 70 kilometers the first day and spent the night in a nondescript village, it was a very war day and I decided to do it in two days. The following day I arrived in Chau Doc. Chau Doc sees its fair share of tourists, as it is a destination for tourists to embark on a ferry to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, about a five-hour boat ride.”
On the fly like this, I asked Hatton how do you find a safe place to stay?
He explained, “While entering Chau Doc, a man approached while I was riding. He was on a motorbike, and asked if I need a place to stay? I stopped and chatted with him, he recommended a place to stay and sold me a ticket for the ferry ride to Cambodia. He said he would come early morning the following day to escort me to the ferry. He did!”
With so many tales of boat rides up rivers in Vietnam, I asked Hatton about his adventure. He replied, “The boat ride was interesting, up river, seeing the life of people along the Delta. So many people depend on the river for their livelihood. There are many issues with the river, pollution, plastic everywhere, and now the Chinese building damns up river.”
So, what happened after he finally arrived in Cambodia, again?
“I arrived in Phnom Penh,” Hatton said ” and returned to the same place where I had stayed before. I rode my bike everyday while there to the outskirts of the city, visiting temples and seeing how people go about their everyday life. I was really taken by the innocence of the children and how they would follow me on their bikes saying, ‘Hello, hello.'”
I asked Hatton to summarize his impression of Vietnam after 700 miles of bike riding through Vietnam.
He answered, “My impression of Vietnam is twofold. First, a beautiful country that has transformed itself after a brutal war that left it decimated. Second, a country that is growing too fast, people are struggling to make ends meet, battling the effects of progress, pollution, air contamination and a growing cancer rate due (from what I have read) to food contamination. There were 48 million people in Vietnam in 1975, there are 95 million today. Overpopulation is taking its toll.
I have developed an interest for South East Asia. I did my first bike ride in Asia in 2017. I rode from Bangkok to the Malaysian border, mostly along the gulf of Thailand. That was an incredible ride that is imprinted in my memory. I returned to Thailand two more times and rode the north of Thailand, from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle, border of Laos and China. Riding a bike has enabled me to see, feel, smell and interact with people in a way I never experienced before. It has become a passion for me. I’m currently planning a ride from the north of Thailand crossing Burma (Myanmar) East to West.”
After doing this story about Ricardo Hatton, who I have seen also sailing in Gardiner’s Bay over the last fifteen years and his 105 miles per biking days in Vietnam, I promised myself never to complain about a 40-50-mile Hamptons ride ever again.