Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Running In Saigon

Frustrated that flooding prevented me from running on the streets of Siem Reap, I have been itching to get out on the streets of Saigon. I would have run yesterday if we hadn't booked a full day trip to the Mekong Delta...which required an early departure so we could stop for ca phe sua da before catching the bus from Saigon Tourist.

Concerned that daytime temperatures are significantly warmer (and traffic crazier) during the day here, I wake up at 5am to make sure I am outside by 5:30. It is raining lightly when I first step outside, but the sky is lightening. Perhaps the reason will stop. This is probably the last time I can run during our trip given how long it takes our clothes to air dry (and Valerie does not want to pack stinky running clothes for our long flights home). I take my chances and cross the traffic circle.

I warm up by orbiting the traffic circle's island. Actually, the one in front of the hotel is more of a hemi-circle. I then cross over to the river side of the main street here assuming that I would have fewer intersections to cross by following it south as far as I can. Note that I do not have a hotel provided running map. I will be making this route up as I go along. I have looked at Google Maps, so I know there will be a bridge roughly a half mile from here. I just don't know if I can safely run across it, turn before it, or if I will have to turn back the way I came.

The sidewalk on the riverside of Ton Duc Thang starts wide as there appears to be a park to my left (along with a couple of riverside restaurants). However, barriers prevent me from crossing into the I continue close to the street. This stretch soon ends and I see stairs up to the bridge...and I can see the sidewalk on the bridge has a railing dividing it from the traffic. I decide to cross the bridge. Unexpectedly, this may be the safest stretch of my entire run.

The steps descend to Nguyen Tat Thanh near a pink government building of some kind with a warship clearly beyond. As I continue along street level, I pass Saigon Port (where the ship is docked) and soon come to the first intersection. To the right, this street appears to be a major avenue, but to the left it seems a quiet side street. I do not expect much cross traffic, so I have no issue crossing it...but figure I should see if it brings me to a road that brings me closer to the water.

The neighborhood here is a bit more sketchy, but there are some cafes and food carts here...likely will get busy during lunch given their proximity to the port. I find it amusing how some Vietnamese just seem to stand in front of their homes doing hardly anything. I wonder what they must be thinking about me as I run by them...I can feel their stares. This street dead-ends at a gate, so I must turn back.

I continue south along Nguyen Tat Thanh, but the sidewalk area varies in width. I must watch every step for puddles, mud, potholes, planters, parked scooters, pedestrians. Ocassionaly a scooter pulls out or crosses to park on the sidewalk ahead of me. My pace suffers as obstacle avoidance becomes my primary concern. A pair of buses loading passengers and some rather large flower displays placed adjacent to them push me to the limit, but I manage to get through the crowd safely and without having to divert into oncoming lanes of traffic.

I cross another quiet side street no longer feeling compelled to explore it. The road continues alongside a wall with no ideal stretch of sidewalk to regain my pace. Some low hanging branches cause me to such from time to time and there are still puddles and muddy patches to avoid,but I am feeling much better now.

I come to a fork in the road. One road remains at street level to my left. The other two options lead to bridges. I figure this is as good as any point to turn back.

Traffic is increasing, but, as I have remained on the same side of the street, I am now going with the flow. Should I need to step in the street to avoid something on the sidewalk (or due to lack of sidewalk), I will have to look back first to make sure I don't step in front of a vehicle.

The buses have departed, so the return run seems less eventful even though more businesses have opened and placed stuff on (or have scooters parked upon) the sidewalks in front of them. I even pass a banh mi cart...surprised how early some of these start serving.

Before crossing the bridge back to the hotel, I decide to check under see if there is a nice walkway to run along the canal. It does not look all that nice, so I go back to the bridge.

I continue north past the hotel to see how far I can go without encountering a major intersection. I make it as far as a shipyard. So many vehicles, mostly scooters, flow in and out of or around the entrance...many using the sidewalk beyond it as an additional lane...that I decide to turn back. My run will total more than 5 miles, so this is sufficient distance given how infrequently I have run since arriving in Southeast Asia.

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