asia · vietnam

Buses, Boats and Bikes in Saigon

Our first night bus of the trip wasn’t the best. The actual bus was better than expected, with three rows of “bunk seats” with an aisle between each, and we settled in to our reclining seats. Suddenly, the girl checking tickets started asking people to move – including Ash.

“I’m with someone. She’s sitting just there.”
“No. You move to the back.”

Eventually he was ushered out of his seat as he called out “oh well, see you tomorrow” to me, and everyone else on the bus laughed in that not-sure-whether-to amazement. It was about to get worse.

I decided to move to the back too as there was a spare seat next to Ash – and more leg room! The girl continued to move other people, and asked (sorry, told) one girl to move to a top seat. She explained that she couldn’t because it makes her feel sick. An full blown argument ensued, which culminated in her being told if she didn’t move, we wouldn’t be going to Nha Trang tonight and the bus would be cancelled!!! This is the most shocking customer service I’ve ever seen in my life. Someone was bullied into being sick, when they could have just asked someone else.

I wish I had offered, but after the ruckus we’d already caused, I didn’t feel like I could move again. And why were they moving people anyway?!?

Eventually, an hour late, we were on our way – and now that we were sat at the back, we discovered our air conditioning didn’t work. It worked fine in the seats we’d moved from, of course. Throughout the night, I woke up in such a sweaty mess that I feared I had melted.

We made it though, and on the whole it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable. We arrived in Nha Trang at 6am and headed off to our hostel to dump our bags until we could check in. In the lobby, we heard a familiar voice – it was our room mate from Hoi An who was also on our bus! Then we heard another one. A room mate from Hanoi!!

We all went for breakfast together and got our first real feel for how Russian the town is. I think even the place we ate had their signs in Russian. This was all we had heard from people about Nha Trang – but we didn’t experience it negatively. But it was strange, being in one foreign country and feeling like we were in another!

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And then we had a lazy day. We spent the entire afternoon on the beach, ate some delicious ice cream, went for a pretty average meal, and then a little later on the drinks started flowing. For a town that is notorious for being unsafe at night, I felt surprisingly unthreatened. Although I didn’t take my bag out, I walked back alone around 1am and didn’t feel on guard. Our friend stayed out later WITH a bag, and felt the same.

However, while I wouldn’t necessarily go back to Nha Trang, the hostel we stayed in (Mojzo Inn) was AMAZING and I’ll miss the staff there! I would have happily stayed there for a week. Instead, we were leaving the very next morning, to our final destination in Vietnam: back to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)!

It was nice to return to vaguely familiar surroundings, and on our first day we met a cool guy from Wolverhampton (I know, it happens) who joined us on our sightseeing spree.

We walked through Ben Thanh market to the Reunification Palace (we didn’t go in) and on to the stunning building that houses the Post Office. A strange attraction perhaps, but really worth a visit! After stopping for coffee, we went on to our main attraction of the day: The War Remnants Museum.

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This is one of the most difficult museums in the world to visit; its Agent Orange room is notorious with pictures of deformed children and diseased fighters shadows by the blood orange light. However, I actually found the American war crimes room harder to contemplate. Pictures of children seconds before they were mercilessly shot. An American soldier carrying half a Viet Cong corpse in one hand, like he’s nothing. Bombs, quotes, horrific pictures of landscapes torn apart to be filled with bodies.

It’s an important lesson to learn, and we left with heavy hearts and a bigger understanding of the tragedy this country has seen.

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We got back to the hostel (after some traffic spotting and a KFC, I’m afraid to say… though my sides were rice and soup!) for free beers and met two of our room mates in the bar, an Italian guy and a Norwegian. We ended up going to the night market to haggle down some shirts, stopped at a street restaurant to find it was ridiculously expensive, and walked back to another little street restaurant we had passed on the way.

Much cheaper and we got chatting to a Vietnamese lady at the table next to us, who asked where we’re all from. Turns out she speaks Norwegian, of all the languages, and the rest of us watched in amazement as the two of them chattered away!

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On our walk back, in the middle of a hugely busy road, we bumped into one of our Hanoi roomies, as well as seeing another one at our hostel! Small world when you’re travelling!

The next two days would be spent south of Saigon, in the Mekong Delta. It was our only real bus tour, so we were surrounded by people of all ages, but it was a fab couple of days. I sat next to an older Polish Canadian on the bus who was a good laugh, we met a propa London’a who was also called Ash, and our tour guide, The, was great.

Our first stop included some music performed by a local group, some unidentifiable fruit (and tiny bananas) and a snake in a bag. :( [edit: sorry, the music was NOT performed by the fruit or the snake) Soon we were on the little row boats doing the picture perfect floating down the Mekong. And it was wonderful.

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I think the journey lasted less than 10 minutes, which really surprised me. This is the famous image of a Mekong Delta tour, after all!

We arrived at our lunch destination, a pretty little place with uninspiring food – but it was included, so can’t complain! Our afternoon stop was almost as random as the first – a coconut candy factory. We watched candies being made, learned about the process and then got to try it for free. It was actually pretty delicious!

Then it was on to the “real” Mekong river on a bigger boat for our final stop of the day: a beautiful temple with three huge statues. And then it was home for the night… which turned out, ironically, to be the worst accommodation we’ve stayed in, and it was a hotel!! Not that it was terrible… just not as clean or facilitated as ANY of our hostels had been.

The town though? We loved Can Tho. We took a wander along the river until we reached the night market, passing several touristy restaurants and overpriced stalls on the way. The night market was ridiculously cheap, we were the only foreigners there, and at the end of the road we found a cute little café called Mekong Sun, again full of locals.

I had the most DELICIOUS smoothie for around 20,000d (70p), Ash had a good meal for just over £1. It was so good that the following day we had a little break before our bus and came back for lunch with some of the guys on our tour. They all declared it the best place they’d been in Vietnam, and I had an even better smoothie with jackfruit, which I’d never even heard of!

However, the following day started (at 6am) with a trip to the floating markets. I didn’t buy anything, but it was a fascinating experience with boats meandering over to sell you fruit, coconut drinks and other wares. We also passed a boat with a guy from our Halong Bay tour on it, which was really random!!

After the market closed at 8, we went off to another factory, this time a rice noodle one. Again it was surprisingly interesting, if a little off-beat. And then we went to a really nice family-run… place. It was a restaurant that didn’t feel like a restaurant, or a café, or anything else. It was just a place. And it was nice. We crossed rickety bridges, played with puppies… and ate barbecued rat. And it was TASTY. Something I never thought I’d say!

That brought us to the end of our tour, and a 4 hour drive back to the city left us pretty exhausted after the early start!

The next day was Ash’s birthday, which we’d planned to do something special for but actually didn’t do a whole lot. Oh dear, exciting us! We did go out in the evening to an awesome bar in the shape of a VW camper and got chatting to a few people there until the early hours.

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And then it was our final full day in Vietnam, which was my last chance to visit the Cu Chi tunnels; a must on my list. I visited without Ash as he‘s a wimp doesn’t do tunnels. And they were as morbidly fascinating as the War Remnants Museum.

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We were shown lots of the brutal traps set by the Vietnamese, and the guide happily showed us exactly how they all worked. It was pretty horrible, and the famous part where you come up out of the tunnel is really just a hole in the ground that you get into (there is a tunnel but it’s not very accessible and is full of bats! Someone tried lol). Would I recommend visiting? YES! I did the half day afternoon tour and it was really interesting. The picture of me in the hole is my profile picture and the tunnels you CAN explore are awesome. I was also hanging out with an Australian guy who really wanted to shoot one of the guns, so I got to shoot one of his bullets!

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Sadly not an AK-47, but a carbine was still a pretty cool gun to shoot.

And then the dreaded day came. We were leaving Vietnam! :( We also couldn’t get seats on the morning bus to Cambodia, which meant we would be arriving in the evening in a city we’d heard a lot of unsavoury tales about…

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