Muddy Water Mekong / Motorbike city

Trip Start Aug 21, 2004
Trip End Mar 03, 2005

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

My second to last night in Phnom Phen, I was sitting with a group of friends, and we were discussing our travel plans. Evelyne, from Montreal, mentioned that she was crossing into Vietnam as well, and suggested that we go together. Sounded like a plan to me.

We took a 2 hour bus ride south to reach our boat. Apparently some sort of festival was going on in the region and we hit a traffic jam like you could not imagine. We hopped off the bus and walked the rest of the way to the dock. This boat journey was not much different than my journey to Battambang; Evelyne and I spent the majority of the time getting to know each other, and getting roasted by the sun. The border crossing went smoothly, with me trying hard not to cough in the presence of any government officials. Eventually we found ourselves at the dock in Chau Doc and proceeded to find the "bus station". This has always proved challenging, and once again we were mislead by several individuals who wanted to get a cut from our ticket. We finally boarded the (last) bus to Cantho, and instantly had 3 different people demanding lots of money from us. I tried to ask others on the bus, but they were influenced by those in charge to keep quite. We held out as long as possible; they repeatedly told us to get off the bus as we tried to negotiate what we thought was the fair price. Eventually we paid what they wanted (about $5 each) and watched half the money disappear into various hands. I had already read in the book that foreigners are charged 4-10 times as much as the Vietnamese, so I wasn't too surprised. In fact, I've been doing really well in the not-getting-ripped-off department. The bus was fullof smugglers. (mainly cigarettes from Cambodia) These women had hundreds of boxes fastened together like belts, and wore many "belts" under their dresses. They looked real fat, and there are no fat people in Vietnam. Towards the end of the 4-hour ride, they unpacked their goods, placed them in bags, and disappeared into the woods. It was a rather strange sight. We found the recommended guesthouse in the book owned by a local English teacher, but it was full. Mr. Triet brought us to a different hotel, where he taught us some basic Vietnamese phrases shortly after our dinner. We were interested in coming to school with him the next day, but that never panned out.

The following morning we were up at 5:00am to take our tour of the floating markets in the Mekong Delta. We watched the sun poke up through the clouds and then headed toward the Cai Rang markets. Dozens of boats with and without motors putter around here during the morning selling various fruits and veggies. We had a sweet ice coffee from a woman's boat, and this drink is becoming my daily staple. (Cafe' Su'Da) We prayed that Mekong water wasn't used in the brewing process. The Mekong is terribly filthy; it is used for bathing, washing dishes and clothes, as a garbage, as a toilet and God knows what else. I can't imagine that people use this water. (Perhaps it's a lack of education, poverty, or both). Phong Dien Floating market was just up the river, and this market was virtually unspoiled by tourism. It pretty much turned out to be a traffic jam of boats, and our driver got a bit playful with another woman and were pushing each other. (All in the name of fun) We turned down another canal for the next few hours and here there were hardly any other people or boats. As the day wore on, we eventually headed back to our launch point and returned to the room for a much needed nap. Later that evening, we were sampling some of the local French inspired pastries and struck up a conversation with an excellent English speaker. It turned out that Peter has lived in the U.S. for the last 20+ years, and that him and his wife return to visit the Mekong once a year. He helped us with some of our Vietnamese pronunciation and talked about life in the Delta. He mentioned this coffee shop where people from all walks of life come and suggested we go there the next morning. Evelyne and I both chuckled as we walked back to the Hotel. We were both here for the same reasons; to meet the locals.

I had a difficult time remembering Peter's directions, but my intuition pulled us in the right direction and we found the cafe. The people there, and in the Delta in general, liked to stare at us. I guess the Delta doesn't see many tourists. We ordered the needed fuel for a morning start, black coffee with sweet condensed milk. Around 11am we caught a van heading to Vihn Long where we hoped to arrange a home stay with a Vietnamese family. The guidebook suggested a cost of between $7-$10. We were horribly dismayed to learn that we couldn't pay any less then $25/each and the going rate was more. This was definitely out of our budget, so we walked 3km back to the bus station, were accosted by touts and found ourselves on a mini-van to Saigon (HCMC). We arrived here about 6:30pm and I was simply astounded by the volume of motorbike traffic. In a city of 5.5 million, there are apparently 5 million motorbikes and bicycles! Traffic isn't as bad as Bangkok, but the drivers are worse. Over the 3 weeks I travelled in Thailand and Cambodia, I never saw a single accident. In my first 4 hours in Vietnam, I saw two accidents. (OUR bus hit someone on a bicycle). The Vietnames are definitely shit drivers. Just pray and use the horn, I guess. My insomnia returned, and I spent yesterday in a haze sightseeing in the city. By the time I reached the War Remnants Museum I almost passed out, so I walked back to the hotel and did. After my 30 min. nap, I did some pull ups, sit ups and stretched. Then I "sat" for a bit, napped some more and started typing this Epilogue. Today we took a tour of the Chu Chi tunnels, which were used by guerillas during the war. We watched an extremely hilarious Vietnamese propaganda film made in the 60's. It this great psychedelic rock soundtrack, and the voiceover was hilarious. It's hard not to laugh when you hear "American Killer Hero" over and over again. (OK, you had to be there) We met an Irish girl on the tour, and adopted her for the night. Evelyne's plans aren't working out, so the now the 3 of us will head to Dalat in the morning. It's so beautiful to see how all are paths are interconnected. Eveylne and I had a great chat about life, love and wholeness. Over and over again am I reminded that my trip has very little to do about where I'm going, but more to do with who I meet along the way.
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