8th May 2012
(Apologies for no pictures, It was buried in my main pack without me realising it!)
I opened my eyes. I survived. But I’ve just got to the middle of the road and all I can see is swarms and swarms of motorbikes weaving around me. It’s true. To survive the Saigon Traffic, you just need to walk very slowly and let the motorbikes do the work. Some of them may have entire families on board or perhaps holding up a sheet of glass. I walk again. This time, eyes wide shut.
Leaving the pure relaxation of Sihankoville, I was still nursing a little hangover from Leonie’s birthday…with good reason. It’s 6.30am, and I was still rubbing my arm where Alannah hit me to wake me up. The minibus arrived to pick us up in the rain and we slouched to head to the Vietnamese border all in good time. Except we weren’t crossing any old border, oh no. Normally people go back to Phnom Penh and then take the well trodden route into Vietnam at that border crossing there, but we decided to take the road less travelled over the Mekong Delta as we didn’t want to go back to Phnom Penh. As informative as it was about the brutal killings during the Khmer Rouge regime, we didn’t fancy going back to this very large and dirty city.
It was certainly an experience to undertake this route as we were duly bundled out and into another minibus as it seemed like Cambodian buses aren’t allowed in Vietnam. Our Vietnamese guide stood waiting for us with his umbrella and sneered. Wasn’t exactly the reception I was waiting for!
Walking into customs which was a very large warehouse depot building, we filled out our statements where we would be staying and duly charged $1 for not having an international vaccine certificate. I don’t know whether this was a scam or not but honestly, I couldn’t care. It was $1 measly dollar and I didn’t want to kick up a fuss. But I did feel annoyed for not being warned this beforehand.
WARNING! Right, For those guys thinking of going to SE Asia for the first time and thinking of going into Vietnam. Don’t be a cock, do your research. Your research would tell ou that you need to obtain a VISA before you get to the border. Many places in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand will happily do this for you. But you must remember to enter Vietnam within 1 month from the date of issue. I got mine done in Siam Reap and only had 22 days to use up the visa.
After being processed through, we were loaded onto another minibus to the border town and this was no easy road. Put it this way, we were being thrown from our seats to hit the ceiling on a regularly basis and as my iPod shuffled itself to ‘LMAFO – Party Rock Anthem’ and the famous line ‘everyday I’m shuffling’ the force of the bumpiness actually caused the iPod to shuffle itself!
Finally, we pulled up outside the travel agent office only to be told that we needed to board a van to take us to the local bus station. So why didn’t the original bus take us to the bus station? The driver looked at me thinking I was retarded for asking such a question and walked off. Okay.
They loaded our bags into a minibus to take us to the bus station and suddenly there was a shortage of seats. They said I would have to board a different minibus. Er no, I’m not going anyway with my bag in a different bus so I kicked up a fuss until I got my bag back to put on the minibus I would be in. I was proved to be correct as the original minibus went AWOL until minutes before the bus to Saigon was due to leave. Imagine arriving at a bus station, your bus was due to leave and you didn’t get your bag back?
As I was asked a seat number, a concept I found puzzling for a while until I realised I was never assigned this in all my travels and this was organisation again! How I missed you! It certainly had its rewards because I was seated next to a lovely Italian woman who pouted lovingly. I must have been in love.
Anyways, it did have it drawbacks as we were sat behind the driver and we could see all the Vietnamese traffic in action. Oh. My. God. Or Buddha. Cars inches apart driving at 100kmph, and so much honking! No respect afforded to motorbikes whatsoever. I saw the bus about to run over a bike until the woman driver simply shrugged her shoulder away for the bus to pass her by sheer millimetres. Both the Italian and I were dumbfounded! Our driver loved to accelerate and brake so any attempt to sleep was washed away when we kept waking to see the cause of braking only to find a looming lorry in the windscreen coming towards us!
But I truly loved the many bridges and ferry crossings that we undertook too cross the Mekong Delta. It was a pleasure to see many paddies that we saw and the people working on them particularly as sunset came over them.
So my first impressions of Vietnam….crazy! But there was something I couldn’t put my finger on it as I was warming to the country already.
Arriving in Saigon, or unless you are a communist and prefer to call it Ho Chi Minh City, in the dark of the night, we were suddenly harrassed by the taxi drivers lying in wait. Seeing as we didn’t know where we are as the bus terminated in the place rather than the place we were told, Alannah, Matt and I climbed into a taxi with the Italian woman and a frenchie to the place I booked for the 3 of us. It was certainly miles away where we were. But looking out at the twinkling lights of Saigon skyscrapers, I realised this must have been truly the first western style city I have been to since Bangkok. I felt I was…..home.
And I certainly was to made feel at home when we found our guesthouse. Ngoc Thao Guesthouse. You literally have to stay here. The owners are so friendly and always ask if you are okay, do you need to book anything, where are you going. They advised us not to go out at night with valuables on us, only the money we would need as we heard they are stories of bag snatching and muggings.
Dragging our bags to the 5th floor via staircase…hard work….no actually, I got a porter to carry mine…Alannah and Matt had to carry theirs bwahahahahahahaha!
Refreshed, we walked out and came face to face with the traffic of Saigon. It was truly mental. Constantly hearing the horns, I thought What was the advice? Close your eyes, step out a foot and walk slowly…
I opened one eye as my foot hit the kerb. I looked round to find there still reams and reams of motorbikes still behind me. I looked to either side of me. All three of us breathed a sigh of relief, we made it. Now we had just a few more roads to go for that well deserved drink.
Would we survive Saigon? Well we survived the journey there….