Published: November 23rd 2009November 21st 2009
For our final day in Vietnam, we chose to join a day tour of the Mekong River Delta - namely, a small town called "My Tho," and two islands, Phoenix and Unicorn Islands. Our trip commenced with a two-hour bus ride south of Saigon, along the way stopping at what has to be the world's loveliest "rest stop," complete with botanical gardens and tiki huts! Jeremy got what he thought was a grape Fanta, but it turned out to be licorice! Ugh!! I could smell it on the other side of the country! But I lucked out and finally found candied ginger - not only delicious but great for the motion sickness I'm so prone to! We arrived at the river and boarded a small narrow boat to Phoenix Island, which looked like a cross between an Everglades airboat ride and the Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom. Honestly, it looked like Florida. Exactly. We found ourselves wondering if somehow we'd transported back home and failed to notice.
It was a pleasant enough day, though, even if we could have been traveling in Belle Glade - ha! We hobnobbed with a couple from Finland while we sampled some local honey and
delicious exotic fruits we'd never seen before (including one grown only in the region called "Shap-po," which was somewhere between pear and sweet potato in flavor and was mind-blowingly good!), had pythons wrapped around our necks for the obligatory touristy shots, got on tiny canoes and were rowed down narrow canals lined with coconut palms while we all wore "rice paddie" hats...then onto Unicorn Island, where we took "horse-drawn carts" (more like tiny ponies) around town and to a "coconut candy factory" (consisting of three little machines inside a thatched hut), before finally sitting down to a lunch of pork, rice, and veggies. They had quite an exotic menu, however - for $20-$30 you could sample turtle, squirrel, pigeon, iguana, or (you gotta cringe at this), King Cobra which you kill yourself, rip the heart out, and eat WHILE IT STILL BEATING - that may be even worse than the wriggling scorpions in Beijing!! I saw someone do it on the Travel Channel but I think I'll pass on the beating cobra hearts...(and luckily everyone in our tour group did too!)!
Yesterday we awoke at 5am, gathered our bags, and headed outside to wait for our bus pick-up to
Cambodia. The day was long and went fairly smoothly - something like this: 6am, get into mini-bus to take to large bus. Large bus about 300 feet down the road (not even kidding, we were in the mini-bus for about 10 seconds - was that really necessary?). Boarded big bus, miraculously seated behind a large partition which afforded us an extra foot of leg room (thank you!). Reached Cambodian border (which smelled exactly like bacon) around 9am. Get off bus, clear Vietnamese customs, get back on bus. Drive in that really weird "no-man's land" again between countries for about 20 seconds. Get off bus again, clear Cambodian customs and receive Cambodian visas ($25 dollars later - thank you very much!). Get back on bus, drive for two minutes to tiny road-side cafe. Break for late breakfast/early lunch and exchange our Dong for Riel (the local currency, although only in small denominations - the US Dollar is actually the money of choice here). About noon, drive large bus directly onto ferry, travel across river. 1pm, arrive in the capital city, Phnom Penh. Are all forced off the bus to change to new bus to Siem Reap (although it was supposedly a
"direct bus" - nothing is as it seems in Asia, we're learning). Board mini-bus to other bus station (many, many different buses in one day)!
Phnom Penh has amazing architecture but is arguably the dirtiest, seediest, can't-wait-to-get-out-of-here city I've ever seen. Sit at new bus station for almost an hour waiting for new bus. Befriend two Americans (gasp!) from Jersey and two French girls whose English was poor and seemed a little confused. Boarded new double-decker bus at 2pm. Bottom of bus is reserved for luggage, motorbikes (seriously), and ducks. Yes, we had boxes of quacking DUCKS on our bus for 6+ hours to Siem Reap. We're all sandwiched on the upper deck in the tiniest seats I've ever seen - I had to take the aisle seat and sit sideways with my legs in the aisle the entire time - talk about a crick in your back! Watched horrendous music videos the entire time (even worse than Chinese and Vietnamese ones!), read a book, listened to some music to drown out aforementioned videos. While getting my purse down from overhead rack, accidentally dropped a jumbo can of Pringles on the head of the Vietnamese woman sitting in front
of me (she was not happy, but neither was I that she'd reclined her chair and I could not sit in my seat without turning 90 degrees into the aisle, SO THERE! We're even!). Hours and hours roll by, with only one short bathroom/snack break, when at last we arrived at 8:30pm (an hour and a half late) into the tiny dark bus station at Siem Reap.
Figuring it would be miraculous if our hotel's driver was actually
there, we were super-happy when we stepped off the bus and there he was, holding up his little paper that said "Rogers, 2 people!" I could've hugged the man. The Frenchies we'd befriended (I mean that in a nice way) didn't have a hotel yet and seemed very anxious in the dark bus station (and I didn't blame them), so we offered to share our tuk-tuk and have them come to our hotel with us. There wasn't enough room, but they got another tuk-tuk and followed us and were able to get a room, so we did our good deed for the day!
The tuk-tuk was so much fun!
It's almost like a covered carriage attached to the back of
a motorcycle, and can hold up to four people (or two people and their luggage). You zip along down the roads, the wind in your hair, somewhat like an open Jeep but much more fun. And it's the way royalty used to travel back in the day (although they would have been man-powered instead of motorbikes ha!), and it was so cool, whizzing through the town of Siem Reap in the dark, past hotels, gas stations, big billboards that said "Welcome to Cambodia, Kingdom of Wonder," and incredible new architecture unlike any we've seen so far in Asia. Our hotel is just lovely, we were give delicious fruit milkshakes upon arrival and shown to our spacious room (hope so, since we're staying here for a full week!!)...oh! You'll love the last photo in this blog. We have a list of hotel regulations posted on our wall, and one of them reads: "Please keep explosives with the owners."
So it's okay to carry bombs or other explosives, you can even keep them in your room or in your tuk-tuk, JUST SO LONG AS YOU ARE WITH THEM. Well, I feel so
much better now!
Welcome to Cambodia.
There are more photos below