Afternoon storms were picking up daily leading up to my random departure from the city I call home now, Sài Gòn (aka Ho Chi Minh City). The day before it had been raining sideways with strong gusts of wind that made it difficult to even close the windows. However, on this day we awoke to sunshine. My fiancée, Minh, had some business to take care of but I was feeling cabin fever coming on. So I decided to hell with it, "I'm just gonna drive somewhere today!" I searched around a little bit on Google and tried to look for some nearby destinations off the beaten path. I saw an island (cù lao Phố) in Đồng Nai Province and decided I'd go there. Minh did a little research of her own and was reminded of a famous pagoda along the way in Bình Dương Province. She showed me some pictures and told me that it's the oldest pagoda in Southeastern Việt Nam. It was still early and I could make it back by afternoon without having to rush. I gathered my US Army rain coat from the Chinese market in D6, my grandpa's fishing vest that he'd given me years before, and my $2 fishing pole and hopped on my bike, ready for the day ahead. Minh helped me secure the pole for driving so lovingly and said she'd miss me but to have fun. We kissed and I said, "See ya later!" An easy but sustainable breakfast was needed for such a day's travel. So loaded bánh mì and beer, it was! My old Yamaha Nouvo definitely needed an oil change as well. So I drove to a nearby mechanic shop and ate as they drained the black, sludgy oil and refilled it with a brand new bottle of yellow Castrol while rush hour containers, cars, cyclos, motorbikes, and bicycles whizzed by all around me. I paid my bill and the last stop was fishing bait, or so I thought. The man who sold me some live crickets told me my tire was low. So I hurried to pump it back up and I was finally on my way to the pagoda. Luckily, the drive was actually short despite heavy traffic. I was there within the hour. I was thrilled to see a serene pond just at the foot of the cliff that the pagoda sits on. It looked like good fishin'. As I continued up the mountain by bike, the breeze became slightly cooler and the scent of trees and foliage became stronger. The sunlight above and below the leaves as I looked up toward the highest statue in the whole province, Bodhisattva kuan-yin. When I looked out I could still see the city and after one more final wind along the path I had arrived. Just outside and to the right of the gates laid an old cemetery containing small, concrete vaults of the dead. On the ground, some beer cans and trash were strewn about. It seemed like people had parties there at night like other graveyards I'd seen in America and France. I drove inside underneath the Chinese-lettered archway and immediately saw my favorite animals, monkeys! At the parking an older fellow was holding blank bike tickets but waved me on through without the ticket. As the only tall, white, American man visiting I must have been pretty recognizable. I drooped my vest and pole over my bike and began to look around. The view over the ledge was amazing. Of course the first thing I saw was Landmark 81. I made my way around the grounds and took some pictures of the ancient statues, stupas, and intriguing architecture. People prayed with a dozen or two sticks of burning incense at a time. The smoke filled the air with a fine smell and spiritual warmth. Some girls were taking group selfies. A Buddhist monk was taking a break and checking his phone. Later, I headed inside one of the halls. As customary, I took my shoes off and walked through the doorway. To my left, a monk appeared to be giving advice to followers. I carried on and saw the kitchen where I suppose you can find a vegetarian meal prepared by people who volunteer at the site. Upon my exploration upstairs, I discovered a large bronze bell. The history of this place astounded me and I was so glad to have come. I can definitely see why it's a national relic. From there, I left back down the mountain just riding the brakes. I had still had time to go fishing before lunch! There was some shade and a makeshift dock with some barrels tied to a pole disallowing it from becoming a raft. I baited my line, cracked open a beer, and lit up a smoke. Ah, how relaxing it was. As it always goes, I never mind if I catch anything or not. It's just something enjoyable for me to do when I have the time. Just then, a man approached me and began speaking in a Vietnamese accent that wasn't completely familiar to me, even after hearing southern and northern quite often. At least I was able to make sense of the messages and ask about certain words. We made Vietnamese small talk like, "What are you doing here?" , "Where are you from?" , "How old are you?" etc. I offered him a cigarette and he accepted. He and his family had come to see the pagoda as well. His two young children kept coming to see what we were doing and he kept shoeing them away, maybe from fear of the water, maybe because he wanted time to speak to a foreigner, or maybe just because. After the kids went with their mother to eat lunch, we sat on the dock and began talking again. The Vietnamese small talk continued on to topics about how much foreigners are paid to work here, differences of America and Việt Nam, my fiancée including her age and work, each other's kids, and prices of things in Sài Gòn. His family approached again and he talked to his wife briefly about me. His children and wife joined us on the dock and the adults talked a bit more. His little boy peed right in the pond and we started to pack our things to go. At the end of it all, we exchanged phone numbers and he said he'd invite my family over whenever we're free. I was bound for the little island, just 5 or 10 minutes away. In fact, I had so much fun just cruising around that I didn't even eat lunch while I was there despite the countless street food stalls, vendors, and rice n' noodle restaurants. There were plenty of small and old Chinese-style pagodas on the island, Phố. As usual, nice people were everywhere as well. I checked out a few potential fishing spots as well and found some keepers for next time then I headed back for Ho Chi Minh City. My only stop was to eat some hủ tiếu off on the side of the highway. I was almost home and then my back tire blew. It was just so fortunate that I was only about 100 meters away from the mechanic shop that sold me the bike I was driving. I turned back and knocked on the gate. The mechanic was taking his afternoon nap but still accepted and fixed up my tire quickly. I was on my way back home again. When I got home, I knew I'd definitely have a sunburn and my eyes, nose, and ears, were filled with dust. I was also ready for my afternoon nap. But hey, I had a great time and wouldn't trade any of it for anything. What a fantastic day in a fantastic country. Việt Nam is awesome!