On The Road Again

Trip Start Dec 10, 2010
Trip End Jan 09, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, December 17, 2010

After another great local type breakfast we caught a cab to the Mien Tay bus station to head toward Rach Gia (pronounced 'ran-jia). The bus station was mayhem. People selling tickets yelled and and waved us to their ticket window in an effort to fill their bus. Destinations and prices in VND were painted on the booth windows facing the street so it was easy to tell which one to approach. As for the prices, the express bus service are consistent with the rates cited in LPG, making it even easier to get a bus. "When leave here" I said at the first window quoting $80,000VND to Can Tho, showing my pack watch. A finger points to 0900 and it was 0810. "Okay, when get Can Tho". Finger points to 6:00 pm...many stop. Right. Next window, increased level of screaming and waving to different windows. The same routine lands us four tickets to Can Tho on a bus leaving at 0820, arriving at 11:50 at $77,000VND each. So the four of us follow a nice man to the bus.
We quickly remember several truths about local travel:
1. Buses never leave until full
2. No matter how many people are on a bus, there is always room for one more.
Fortunately, the four of us filled the bus. Quite naturally, the seats are scattered about the mini bus designed to hold about 12 pax. And for the first time in all of our travels, the nice man who escorted us to the bus quickly rearranged the passengers, leaving the four back-of-the-bus seats empty for us to pile into and we were on our way.
Our trip through the Mekong Delta was not what we were hoping for in terms of sights. The road side is mostly lined with vendor shacks, making difficult to view the adjacent rice patties and river country. Of what we did see of the country side was beautiful. In about three hours and several stops to pick up the occasional passenger, we arrived in Vinh Long for a 20 minute break at a road side bus station of sorts with vendors selling food. we bought three baggies of tropical fruit. It was delicious. I got out my handy pocket calculator and handed it to the woman for her to type in the amount I owed for the fruit, but she apparently never saw one before and just smiled awkwardly. So I dug into my pocket, presented a handful of money, and she removed what amounted to about $1.20USD. Jed, the towhead boy, was the typical hit with the local women, who politely tolerated their stares and head pets. After we consulted the LPG, we almost decided to grab our packs and check out the area but decided to stick to the plan and venture around Can Tho.
We were welcomed to Can Tho by a swarm of touts and a serious torrent of rain (we arrived at about 12:30). I have never seen it rain so hard. We quickly decided to abandon our plans of touring around the adjacent waterways via open boat and grab some lunch after scoping out a bus headed for Rach Gia. There were two - one leaving at 1:00 and another at 2:00. We opted for the 2:00 bus and headed across the street to a covered cafe next to a supermarket to dig out out pack rain flies and rain jackets. We ordered three Mirindas, which turned out to be more licorice sodas, not orange like expected. We promptly ordered 7ups as the waiter apparently never heard of 'coke'. Alta and I went into the store to scope out some food, only to find a vendor selling old looking stuff. So we passed and bought a bag of rice snacks, a dragon fruit, and a bunch of bananas.
The bus ride to Rach Gia was uneventful, except for stopping to take on about 50 gallons of paint which was stacked in the aisle. Along the way we picked up two angry women and their kids and a man with some live eel looking things in a clear jug.
Vietnam roads are going through a huge transformation with many new bridges and wider roads. However, no matter how wide the road motor cycles use the lanes and busses, trucks, and cars share the middle of the road. The driver's duty is to drive like an absolute maniac with the horn almost at a constant blare while the door man screams at motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians to get the hell out of the way or get run over. No one ever seems to acknowledge the warnings, however, and it's a wonder no one got nailed. If you're an adrenaline junky, forget cliff diving and just ride shotgun on a Vietnam bus! Bus drivers in Central America look tame in comparison.
We arrived in Rach Gia a bit frazzled and caught a taxi to the Phuong Hong hotel by pointing to those words in the guide book. Highly recommended and just a three minute walk to the high speed catamaran to Phu Quoc. We opted for the family suite consisting of three large beds in a spacious and cute French style for $25USD. True to LPG's promise, the owner speaks fluent English and sold us tickets on the Savanna, a new ferry not listed in LPG. He then got us a taxi to a very swanky restaurant with an ATM stop enroute.
Dinner was yet another adventure. Dorrie and the kids played it safe and ordered fried rice, while I opted for the four chicken wing stew. It arrived at the table in a cauldron with a sterno type heater. I fished about and discovered raw chicken wings. I later learned that it gets cooked to the patron's liking and following a good 30 minute boil it was wonderful, but caused the kids to get a bit cranky while waiting.
I discovered all of this from a very nice man at the table next to us who spoke fluent english who came over to help with my issues with the raw chicken. It turns out he was the owner of the ferry we had just bought tickets for and was delighted to help us out, in reciprocation I imagine. he was also entertaining some government officials and we suspect he was actively promoting tourism by helping out a nice western family. He ended up buying us a plate of fried chicken wings in fish sauce, which was very tasty, and arranged for someone to pick us up at the dock the next day and bus us to a swanky hotel where, apparently all of the Viet government officials stay while on Phu Quoc. It isn't on the beach but just across the street and for $19USD per night the price seemed right. I turned in with visions of partying Fidel Castro style on a lush plantation with high-ranking communist government officials, debutants, and who-knows what else...imagination runs wild. Yes - this trip is turning into quite the adventure!
Finger pecked on my iPhone...please excuse the typos!
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