Chau Doc, Vietnam

Trip Start Jan 16, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Hello all, we have made Vietnam. After relaxing in Kampot for our last day there we got a cab to the border with Vietnam. We had met up with a girl who went on our Bokor hill station trip and split the cab with her. Saves everyone some cash. Crossed the border at Tinh Binh in a really remote area in the south of the country. The guidebook said that this was a remote area with bad roads so we should give it a miss for now. That sounded like an endorsement to me, so off we went. After crossing the border we were besieged by moto drivers, we are getting used to this by now. They wanted to charge $7 dollars each to get us to the next town. Not a chance! I told them that I had done this crossing last year (lie), and was only charged $2 dollars then. So we kept walking. They, of course, followed and lo and behold the price kept dropping. Down, down, down it went. I kept saying 2,2,2 indicating that I was willing to pay $2 for each of us. They wanted more and eventually we were surrounded by about 40 - 50 drivers all jostling for position to bargain with us. The price settled on eventually was $3 a head. From a total of 21 down to 9, pretty good. So off we go to Chau Doc, a 25 mile ride with backpack on the moto. After reaching town we enjoyed a well deserved cold beer and a bowl of Pho, the staple noolde soup of 'Nam. Went to the bank and changed $100 and instantly became a millionaire, 1,590,000 dong is what I recieved back. We then booked into the most luxurious place we have had so far. Hot water, balcony overlooking the marketplace, and A/C! All for $12, which is a fortune here. Ejnoyed a full day and 2 nights in Chau Doc before heading off to Soc Trang. We went to Sam mountain, outside of the city limits of Chau Doc for a day trip and as usual it was an adventure. We got a cyclo driver (peddle bike with a cart in back for riding), and as he was furiously peddaling along a moto pulled up. We were beckoned out and indicated to pay the cyclo driver. We dont know what is going on, same as usual, but follow along. We are motioned on to 2 motos and off we go. I keep saying Sam, Sam, for the mountain we want to go to, and the driver says $2 tour, $2 tour. I think we have made a deal. We stop and one of the drivers sends the other away, now we are all 3 on one bike. Two minutes later we stop again and our driver summons another bike. Well maybe I should say bikes. The usual gaggle of motos shows up all jostling for position and similing at us. Our driver chooses one and off againg we go. So in a matter of 10 minutes we have gone from walking to cyclo to 2 motos to 1 moto and then back to 2 motos. Smile and nod, smile and nod. Sam mountain was cool, there were views of Cambodia off one side and Vietnam off the other. Green rice paddies as far as the eye can see on either side of the border. Back to the hotel and off to dinner. Found a place downtown that serves che, which is described as a cool dessert soup. I ordered and was plesantly surprised. After recieving a glass of corn and beans with some strands of green gelatin in it topped with ice I was very skeptical. It was wonderful. Very sweet and tasty. Booked our ticket to Soc Trang and boarded the bus at 8 am for our journey. The bus filled up with people and things quickly. People would jump on and off as the bus made rolling stops that lasted a full 4 seconds. Eventually the bus, which holds about 40 was holding 60 plus gear. People were sitting in the aisles and on top of one another. Our bags had to go on top of the bus which I personally strapped in place. We were the main attraction because we were the only foreigners on the bus. Everyone stares and points with the occasional wave. Smile and nod, smile and nod. The most interesting part of the trip was to see all of the stuff people brought on board, most notably cigarettes. Almost everyone had a bunch, which in and of itself, wasn't wierd it was how they carried them. They had cartons upon cartons rubber banded to themselves. Five cartons on their calves, five around the thighs a whole vest of them across their chests. It was as if they had bombs made of cigarettes strapped across their whole bodies. We watched in amazement as new people got on and they were handed these rubber band encrusted cigarette pack logs and began to strap them to any part of their body that would hold them. We couldn't figure it out for the life of us. Would have asked what they were doing but no one spoke English, that much was for sure. So we arrive in Soc Trang after a 6 hour and maybe 200 mile ride. The usual, swarming motos and off to a hotel. I knew we had found our place when went into check the room and I opened the door and a flock of geckos went scurrying for cover. Sold. I went outside and said, "Honey, we are home". Was really hungry so we went out for a bite. I let Amy pick. She said that place over there with a sign that says cafe and people in it looks good. In we go. It becomes immediatly apparent that this place only serves drinks, but we are here so decide to have one. I point to what the guy next to me is having and put up 2 fingers. It seems to be tea. I think we are the only people in town, let alone this cafe, that are westerners. Amy is certainly the only woman in there. A little kid comes up and begins talking to us. I dont know what he is saying so we hold a conversation about two probably very different thing. He about ? and me about radioactive decay rates. I wound up serenading him and the rest of the cafe with the Canadian national anthem and that got a great round of laughs. He seemed to be most interested in the hair on my legs, so I pulled some out and gave it to him. He really seemed to relish that. But alas, we need food. So I said goodbye to everyone there and we were off. After lunch and a short nap we are off to the Bat Pagoda, the reason we are in Soc Trang. This pagoda grounds is filled with fruit bats which are actually HUGE. They weigh about 2.5 pounds and have a wing span of over 4 feet. There are tons of them in the compound. We watch them fly around, stretch out, and crawl across the branches. They are truly fascinating creatures. Then off to dinner. We try a place that is in the guidebook that says best place in town. So off to Hungs. We have a very nice dinner of crab for Amy and I have beef stir fry. Stares all around again, we are getting used to this. Another man comes up to me for another nonsensical conversation, but we seem to agree on how to cheers and chug our beers with one another. After a couple of beers he leaves. Lucky for me I thought I was going to have to get wasted and "talk" with this guy all night. Dinner was good and at the end someone else approached us and I thought here we go again. But, he opened his mouth and English came out! Turns out he is a Vietnamese living in the US for the last 30 years who is now back home to see his ailing mother here in Soc Trang. They invite us to eat with their family at the next table over, and despite having just eaten, we accept. We are now just in the middle of this adventure, which is really quite good and very interesting. Just wait until you hear about this. The connection here is no good so we will upload pics very soon. For this story and the following one with the Nguyen clan. Thinking of you all.

Love D n A
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