Thursday, 28 July 2016

Week 15. 2 - Ho Chi Minh

It was another emotional goodbye when we left Good Morning guesthouse, especially when the guys provided us with a free breakfast to take with us on our journey. They have been the best hosts in Cambodia, and we have loved staying there each time. The mini bus took us to the Giant Ibis depot which was bedlam. When we arrived there were loads of other travellers outside the office and spilling out on to the street. Thankfully our bus to Ho Chi Minh was ready and waiting, so as soon as everyone had boarded we quickly departed and got on our way to Vietnam. 

For the most part the journey was uneventful, just long and tiring. Once we reached the Cambodian side of the border we were shipped off the bus, and quickly stamped out of the country. This part was easy compared to what came next. At the Vietnamese side of the border we had to once again disembark, only this time we had to take all of our bags and wait in line to be stamped into the country. Next our bags were checked by a scanner, as were we, though I don’t think anyone really gave a shit what was going on at this point as the one man that was supposed to be checking was watching a film on his phone. The final part was a check of our stamps and visas, Kyle and everybody else waltzed through, me I was told no and asked to wait at the side! The handy Giant Ibis guide took my passport back to the woman who stamped me in, turns out her writing wasn’t clear enough, she then squiggled again in my passport and I was allowed back onto the bus. 

Once in Vietnam I noticed how similar the small towns are to Cambodia. People selling all they can from the front of their homes turned huts, rice fields, skinny cows and lots of mopeds. The one strange thing that caught my attention though were the dogs in cages, not dissimilar to that which you see in pictures of China’s Yulin dog festival, there were 5 or 6 dogs cramped into the tiniest cages. A quick Google search told me that they eat dog meat in a select few restaurants, and the dogs are farmed like sheep or cows and sold on the black market. I actually learnt a lot more on Google about how the dogs are killed and what dishes are created using the meat, but I’ll spare you the grim details.

As we got closer to Ho Chi Minh the buildings started to get bigger, there was an increase in cars and peds, bright billboard signs were scattered along the roadside and there were lots of designer shops and Western restaurants (queue Mc.D’s and KFC). It took an hour to get through the city and to the Giant Ibis depot, and once we arrived we were greeted by a hoard of taxi drivers waiting to take us to our accommodation. We selected the driver who quoted the best price and made our way towards his taxi. This turned out to be a clean, air conditioned car…what a luxury! The last time we were in a car was over a month ago in Bangkok! The driver was polite and friendly, talking to Kyle about football and sharing his love of karaoke, he goes once a month with his friends and family but his singing is only at 50%.  After much driving around, listening to what he thought was popular English music - it was actually Clubland classics from the 1980’s, he dropped us at the end of an alley way, telling us we’d find our guesthouse at the top. Lucky for us we bumped into two other travellers who pointed us in the right direction.

Misu Home is a comfortable home stay, equipped with air conditioned rooms, warmish showers and a kitchen. We quickly checked in, booked a tour of the Mekong river, got a map and made our way to Bui Vien street, more commonly known as backpacker central. There’s 10 million people in Ho Chi Minh and 5 million peds, so crossing the road takes extreme caution and patience, these drivers wait for no lights to change and no pedestrians! The noise from the horns and the people on the streets, along with the flash shops reminds me a lot of China, there’s definitely a similar feel to the energy here in Vietnam. Walking down Bui Vien, bar touts tried to tempt us in with various happy hour specials, women offered massages, men tried to sell knock off sunglasses and hammocks and young girls waved various bracelets, charms and trinkets at you until they got bored of hearing no. The sales folk are a lot pushier here, following you down the streets and into bars, offering various items and prices.

We finally settled on a bar and ordered our first meal, Kyle went for Pho and I had some weird pork rice pancake. The food was good and the beer strong, so we ended up staying out and having a few extra, ducking in-between bars to hide from the rain. We experienced some of the heaviest downpours yet on our adventures, even crossing the road in them left you drenched! After a few too many we made our way back to the guesthouse, and had a very comfortable nights sleep. 

I was woken early to the sound of roosters and birds, Kyle however managed to sleep through all the noise and woke up around 9. After a breakfast of waffles and pancakes we had a walk around the tourist tat shops. Kyle was well chuffed when we found a skate shop selling caps, as was I when he decided to buy a new one…his stinks after 4 months of constant wear!! It’s become normal for me to get the shits on the first day in a new country, and Vietnam was no different…only this time it was bad! So we headed back to the guesthouse and spent the afternoon booking sleeper trains and a flight to Thailand.

As we didn’t want to waste a whole day, we took a walk towards the river front later in the evening. Along the way we watched over 40 women doing Zumba, and teenagers rollerblading in the park…Kyle wouldn’t let me have a go on the roller blades, apparently it would of been a disaster waiting to happen! Whilst walking around we noticed the Liberty Central hotel where our friends, Linford and Rebecca were staying so decided to call in for a visit. As soon as we walked into the lobby we immediately felt out of place. With high ceilings and golden walls, our worn jeans and faded t-shirts certainly stood out. However, the helpful lady on reception let us call Rebecca’s room to see if they were free. Unfortunately, they didn’t answer and we couldn’t find the code for the wifi anywhere to send them a message. Feeling brave we snuck into the lift and made our way to the rooftop pool and bar, and there they were enjoying a cocktail and a beer overlooking the city. 

It was so nice to see familiar faces after so long, and we were soon made to feel welcome by Linford, Rebecca and the family. Kyle was over the moon when Rebecca brought out 2 tins of olives from home, and demolished one tin within 5 minutes. The plan was to have a catch up and then head to the night market for food, but this being South East Asia in monsoon season, the weather was against us and soon the heavens opened for another fantastic tropical storm. This resulted in us having a huge buffet and LOTS of drink up on the rooftop over looking the city. The casual drinking soon turned into drinking games, and Kyle, Linford and Nathan ended up a bit worse for wear after 10 rounds of ‘Bing bong’. 

Bing Bong - downing your drink whenever ‘Bing Bong’ is called. Normally called when your glass has just been topped up.

We had a great time and a right laugh, and we’re really thankful for the delicious meal too! Even the pigs knuckles! As the staff called last orders, I half carried Kyle into a taxi and back to the hostel. The next morning came too quickly when our alarm went off at 6.15 am. Kyle had booked us a trip to the Mekong Delta for the day, something which I could tell he was regretting when his blood shot eyes could hardly open and he was struggling to walk straight. Once we were ready to go, the guy from the hostel squashed us on to his ped and took us to the bus stop, as I was sat in the middle of him and Kyle I didn’t get a helmet!! 

The bus took two hours to get to the Mekong Delta, and I could tell Kyle was struggling. The mini bus was tiny, even I couldn’t stretch out and I’m only a little over 5 foot! An hour in and he soon felt sick, I was glad when we pulled over at a rest stop to get him some food and water, though I was wondering how he’d cope on the boats! Once we arrived at the port we took a motor boat to the first island, here they make coconut candy. We got to watch the women and children at work, and even sample some of the delicious candy. Though they have upgraded the machines, it still looked difficult grinding down the coconuts and squeezing out the milk, not a job I fancy doing any time soon. From here we took a horse and carriage to the restaurant. Dinner was simple, pork, rice and vegetables, you did have the choice to order extra from the menu but none of us fancied snake, crocodile, frogs or snails.  

Once lunch was over we had half an hour to stroll around the small restaurant and surrounding area. Now I’m not sure if it was some sort of shit zoo, or if the animals were there for you to choose your food but there was quite a few to look at, and either way they did not look comfy. There were 30 crocodiles squashed in a concrete hole, snakes in small metal cages, and frogs in what looked like large bath tubs! I was glad when it was time to move on. 

Next was a small 6 person boat which took us down the Mekong, through the reeds, palm and bamboo trees. It was amazing, sailing down the narrower part of the river, a real pinch yourself moment! The boats took us to another island, here they had many beehives. We were able to watch the bees at work and sample fresh honey. Next we had honey tea, honied bananas and peanuts. Kyle and the other boys even sampled a banana liquor, normally consumed after 10pm to give the men extra stamina.

The final part of our adventure was a rowing boat towards the next island. Once on board we were given a hat, like you see the people wearing in the rice fields, to shade us from the sun, and we slowly sailed the 2km to the next stop. The river was busy, and we passed many other boats, bumping into one another and floating towards the bushes. It was brilliant, and once we got to the island we were able to try the freshest fruit and tea whilst appreciating a traditional performance by some Vietnamese musicians.

We slept most of the way back to the city, before heading out for a huge meal. Kyle’s starting to feel like more of a human again, but I hope Nathan and Linford are ready for payback when we next see them! Tonight we will repack our bags once more, and prepare for an early start. Tomorrow sees an 8 hour train journey to Nha Trang, and finally some much needed beach time! Fingers crossed for sunshine!!

Love Carrie xxx 

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