Good Afternoon Vietnam....part 1

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June 2nd 2013
Published: June 4th 2013
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Phnom PenhPhnom PenhPhnom Penh

Cambodia's capitals bus station
I could not resist using Robin Williams famous line as my title, but then it was 7:30pm before I crossed the Vietnamese border, so I could not use the "morning" element in order to stay factually correct...I know sometimes I can be so anal!

I am spliting this blog into 2 parts since I am sure there will be lots more to report back on...

Bus journey from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Mihn City

This journey was split into 2 parts since we changed bus at Phnom Penh. There was a 2.5hr wait in the Cambodian capitals bus station, which made me truly appreciate the fact that I decided to by pass it in the first place. Just a bigger version of Siem Reap and slightly hotter.

There were a few observations I made on the journey:-

school appears to start supper early, kids were on their bikes just after 6am, now that puts the whole commute to school into perspective

outwith the towns there is an even split of bikes and motorbikes, while in the towns the motorbikes have a more visible presence

the tractors used have a very peculiar shape, they almost look like a lawnmower with a long steering column, used to transport goods as well as carry out field duties

just before the Cambodian border there were several large was as if someone decided to create a mini Las Vegas in Cambodia!!!

The border crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam was another highlight....Cambodian customs once again checked finger prints and took photos but were not interested in our luggage. We had to wait over an 1 hour to get our passports stamped in the Vietnam border, they did not take photos or prints, however they did scan our baggage, then the police boarded our bus and checked our passports again...this resulted in us arriving 1.5hours later than anticipated in HCMC...a super long day travelling just to get me in the right mind set for what was yet to come...

On reflection I am really glad I visited Cambodia first and then Vietnam I am not sure I would have been as impressed if I had done this in reverse order.

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) or Saigon

I am loving this place, not sure has a feel of the US about it, sky scrapers, neon lights and massive advert boards next to delibitated buildings that are housing god knows how many people...

There are motorbikes everywhere you turn, on the roads & the pavements. So far I have seen whole families (any combination imaginable - 2 adults & 1 child, 1 adult and up to 3 children), animals (dogs love to either rest on the steering column or sit on the foot rest) & goods (at the bus station massive sacks of goods get wedged between the seat and the steering section, another sack can fit behind the driver and then a passenger also sits at the end) being transported on them. And to think we need 4 wheels...even when it rains they simply put on a poncho and they stay dry! Nice to see other brands of cars also on the roads, Bangkok and Cambodia seem to have a Toyota monopoly going on with the odd Range Rover.

It rained twice on my first day, which was brilliant since the temperature dropped even for just a short while...this just added to the sense of euphoria this city has evoked in me.

There are not as many Tuk Tuk's about, they are mainly of the push bike variety or motorbikes...their drivers have a good "ploy / tactic" going on, they ask where you are from and then go for the helps if you don't acknowledge them at all, since if you politely decline or even worse you smile at them and say no, they keep harrasing you for a few more moments until they eventually get the message...the things you learn from trial & error!

I spent the entire first day, just walking round taking in the sights mainly round District 1 and venturing briefly into District 3. Managed to acquire a number of new mosquito bites (have stopped keeping count since I am well into the 30+), that will teach me not to wear the DEET spray during the day!

Thought i got myself a real bargain paying 350,000VND (instead of the 450,000VND they were asking for) equivalent of just under $20 for a pair of OAKLEY sun glasses (these cost in the £90 plus region back home) to then realise that my brain was yet again not functioning properly and my lack of spelling had just cost me $20...yes I bought a pair of OKEY instead, then to put more salt into the wound a few streets away they were selling them for 60,000VND (i.e $3) a pair, i can still hear them laughing at the mug that i am and rightly so!!!

My apparent recurring stupidity on this trip so far, is starting to cause me abit of concern...i wonder if this is a sign of the FUN i have to look forward to as part of my pre-menapause journey...god help us all!

During my first night here I met a young Chinesse girl who was sharing my dorm room (not bad 2 in a 8 bed for the first night) and keen to go for a I should point out this was her suggestion and not mine and my very first drink of the holiday that is whopping 11 nights in! As i expected the heat would be a major deterrant for me and in light of my numerous mishaps so far propably the most sensible thing i am doing on this trip...staying away from alcohol! It was a great way to check out the backpacker streets with some company and she has even persuaded me to go to a Water Puppet Show on the 31st (not something i would have even considered, but worth giving a go for the experience at least and it certainly should not be as painful as my massages...the bruishes are now finally starting to show, which does not make for an attractive sight).

My accommodation choise is another excellent one, the hostel is located a few streets away from the backpacker area, which means it is nice and quiet. It is a new building with a quirky layout and the staff are fantastic! So I have decided to stay another night in Saigon before venturing further north on Saturday...

So much for me naively believing that nothing could put a damper on my high spirits, but it is amazing what lack of sleep can do, to a person. During my second night in Saigon / HCMC it appeared that i had the full dorm room to myself, since the Chinesse girl i met on night 1 was away on an overnight tour and due back on Friday....well what a rude awakening i had at 3am when a group of 6 young Chinesse ladies took over the room, no consideration for the time or the fact that there was already some one in the room, they proceeded to empty the contents of their suitcases making the most noise they could conceivably create. Then to make things worse they turned the air conditioning into HEATING, i had it a very nice cool temperature but they wanted the room to be at 31 degrees despite there being 7 of us in a windowless begars belief. I managed to keep my cool until just after 6am when the first one got up for her shower (yes only 2 and abit hours after they made all the initial racket) so then their alarm clocks started to go off one by one, by the second one i just lost it, asked them all to wake up and switch off their damn phones and then i switched the air conditioning back to 16 degrees to piss them off! Some how i managed to get abit of sleep once they left, when i headed for breakfast i asked to move room for my last night...and the staff were absolutely brilliant, they did not hesitate to make the switch, just wish they had thought of it before hand. After this experience i am NEVER AGAIN booking into a female only dorm...young girls so far have always been the noisiest and messiest...i will choose guys & their snoring any day!

Well during Thursday night's ordeal, i had plenty of time to consider my travel plans for Saturday. The travel times for the hop on / off buses, were not great, mainly sleeper options with only a 4 hour journey taking place in actual day light....the one town i was thinking of staying at was Hoi An and when I was checking for accommodation on hostelworld there were only 3 options and none of them looked that great, so on this basis i decided I wanted to just head up to Hanoi so my 3 options were to fly, train or bus. Flying was my least favourite option since it would mean I would not get to see any of the country. The bus was not a great alternative due to the times, so i checked out the train option once i was given directions from the hostel receptionist and the assurance that it would be aprox 3-4km. I only took 1 wrong turning and the de-tour gave me the pleasure of seeing a fair bit of District 3 and just when I was under the impression i had another 30 mins of walking in the heat, the station just appeared out of no-where! So after waiting for 1 hour and 15 mins I got my ticket, there were a couple of options on offer so i went for the longer of the 2 which means it stops in more places so hopefully i will get to see more of the towns i am passing through. I set off at 9am on Saturday 1st June and will arrive aprox 35 hours later aprox 7:30pm on Sunday 2nd June in Hanoi.

Vietnamese Water Puppet Show @ the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre (Friday 31st May)

It was an interesting show....they sang and talked in Vietnamese through out, so had no idea what was going on, but by the reaction from the audience the story must have been rather good! It just proves that male voices in Vietnam are just as high pitched as female voices...which is similar to speaking on helium gas, rather entertaining even if i don't understand anything.

The weather decided to stay extremely wet all evening which meant we got rather damp on the way there and then we got absolutely soaking wet while trying to find somewhere to eat....the poor Chinesse girl will never trust another Scottish person after my total lack of direction...if there was an award for getting lost using a map, I am sure I would win hands down, but then again, I always find my way eventually, due to sheer perseverance...but then again most people are not used to walking as much as I am prepared to...she was laughing about it which is always a good sign!

Unfortunately things did get a bit worse for me, since i got food positioning which meant i was up most of the night and then I managed to pass out in the hall way, most likely causing myself concussion in the process...however the good news is that i managed to make my train departure...and the next 35 hours were certainly an experience....i got to see Vietnamese life first hand up close and personal...

Train journey from Saigon to Hanoi - (9am 1st June - 7:30pm 2nd June)

The actual train journey was very bumpy, the air conditioning worked at the begining of the carriage but not so well in the mid least it was not as hot as outside! The seats did recline abit however they were supposed to be soft, that was probably the case maybe 20 years ago...I truly felt sorry for those on the hard seats and with no air conditioning! The good news was that for the majority of the journey I did have 2 seats to myself!

There was even "Rail TV" entertainment at intervals only (thankfully!), with some movies (dubbed ofcourse), TV shows and music certainly made me appreciate not having a TV in the hostel and also made me appreciate the Thai style elevator music (I am sorry to say but Vietnamesse signing sounds like cat fighting in the most polite sense!!!).

The one thing that became very apparent is that Vietnamese people are very loud speakers, and once you have more than 20 of them this can be extremely noisey. The children on the other hand just want to shout at the top of their lungs, to get attention from other kids or their parents, you can guess my feelings on this...

It amazes me how skinny everyone is considering the frequency and amount of eating they all appear to do, this of course creates a rather smelly environment....but as I reminded myself on numerous occassions during the trip i chooce this experience....the fact that i could not eat other than keep myself hydrated was probably a good thing.

The train certainly stopped in many towns however there was nothing to distinguish them from one another. The short time we travelled by the coast was rather beautiful and then again seeing real life take place with people working in the fields and looking after the various animals - cows, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens - was truly priceless!

So glad I got the train and got to experience a real slice of Vietnam life and all that goes with it!

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