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Sunday, December 18, 2011

VIETNAM - FIRST IMPRESSIONS

OFF TO HO CHI MIHN CITY?

I got the bus from Phnom Phen to HCMC ($10, 6-7 hours including the border crossing) today. It was a decent bus in that the seats were pretty comfortable and the AC worked. Unfortunately, it had the speakers that they so love to crank up to a high volume. Unfortunately, these speakers were pretty much shot. I'm kind of surprised that nobody else seemed to mind or notice. When I say 'shot' I mean that distortion was so high I couldn't understand when the guy was speaking in simple English.

They were still cranked up. Not as bad as some of the bus trips I've had in SE Asia though.

So we did the border crossing at Vietnam. In order to try to keep the buses together since people in SE Asia don't really seem to grasp the concept of 'standing in lines', the folks in the bus took everyone's passports and gave them in a bundle to the border guards. The border guards would then call the names of the people after doing something mysterious to your passport. They also got my fingerprints. They had a nifty electronic fingerprint reading pad. I wasn't too alarmed about that as I was forewarned by the internet. I suspect that it's just more of the good ole fashioned paranoia. This was odd because the security at the border struck me as 'lax'. Some guy dressed in workman clothing took through a big tube thing without pausing and talking to any of the guards. It is true that he could have known them and such but when I saw that my first thought was 'I could easily get a nice sniper rifle into that tube'. As with most of the other borders I've been to, it was understaffed, slow and laden with cumbersome procedures.

My initial thoughts when I got to HCMC (formerly Saigon - a much better name) was that it was a rather nifty looking modern city. Big. Much cleaner than PP in Cambodia as well. I really didn't want to sit around another really big city though so I figured I might see what kind of cheap accommodations they have and maybe stay for a day or two. I checked out a place. For $10 I could get a room I would describe as 'grim and depressing'. Or, for just $13, I could ride a hydrofoil (which I'd never done before) to a place (Vung Tau) where the price range of rooms is from $6 to $10 and that has been called 'the cheapest place to stay in Vietnam'. Since my money situation is still what I'd term 'alarming', I said 'screw it' and got the hydrofoil ticket. It was a strange setup with how it worked. Rather than getting the ticket there, two ladies came with. One rode in the taxi with me, the other took her scooter. Her job was to get her cohort back to the office. The taxi ride and such were included in the price of the ticket - I checked before purchasing the ticket. So, we rode out there after I'd paid my money and 'oh look, there is a problem'. I think the price of the ticket had jumped up a little bit and the lady was going to pass along the increased price to me. I gave her the 'it's not my problem' look and tone of voice and said "I have a receipt. I need my boat ticket please." Without any further conversation, she got my boat ticket. Once I boarded the hydrofoil, I believe I have figured out what happened. They didn't have any of the 'in the back' tickets left for the time I had been promised I would leave. Instead, I got to be seated one row back from the big front window. Considering the ticket cost about $12.50 and they paid for the taxi ride over, I think they didn't make any money (or took a small loss) on this one. As I learned in the military, 'proper planning prevents piss poor performance'. Apparently, their procedures need updating.

The ride itself was smooth and fast. You really don't feel going up on the hydrofoils but you know for sure when you go down. It's a big hit and a lot of extra sudden drag. It doesn't knock you out of your seat or anything but you notice it. The seating on this was much better than on the 'long tail boat'. They didn't take my bag so I wedged it between my feet and the seat in front of me. I didn't mind - it was only an extra hour and a half and I'd rather have my bag to keep track of it than risk it getting lost or stolen. I sat near a nice old lady who gave me something to eat. I have no idea what it was but it had 3-4 big seeds in it, sugar on the outside yet was spicy. A very strange but not unpleasant taste. I don't know if I've had anything that combined sweet and spicy before.

So, we got dropped off at the boat docks. I ignored all of the high pressure taxi cabs and motorbikes out of habit and decided to walk. I went the wrong way. Twice. After a couple hours hauling around the big pack I decided to get a guy to peddle me around on the rickshaw. He asked for a dollar. I thought, hey sure. Peddle my fat ass and my 20KG pack around for a dollar? Why not. Because he didn't speak English worth a shit is why not. I told him 'cheap cheap guest house'. After he'd taken me to not one but two five star hotels, I gave up on him. I paid him. Gave him an extra dollar even. This turned out to be a mistake because he then figured I was loaded, we were friends and maybe he could start selling me extra useless shit. I managed to ditch him eventually. I went and asked locals for directions. I'm not sure what the deal is with natives of SE Asia but none of the ones I've talked to seem to have the slightest idea how to read a map, know about compass directions or can give directions unless they can point to it. The 5-8 guys I asked sent me on a wild goose chase that eventually brought me to a large Russian secure dwelling apartment complex. I couldn't remember the word in Russian for guest house but through my very limited Russian and a lot of sign language I did manage to communicate with the young lady what I wanted. Unfortunately, it seems that she's lived here too long and continued my wild goose chase. Sad.

In the other countries of SE Asia I've been to, the word 'guesthouse' is pretty common. Even if someone doesn't speak English they know that word. It doesn't seem to be the case here. They don't get it.

I haven't eaten much today but I figure I will make up for it eventually as is my nature. I had two pieces of chicken, three small 'I hope these don't make me shit my pants' rolls and a waffle I bought off a guy with a stall hooked to a motorcycle. That's it. I'm looking forward to getting a decent meal tomorrow.

Eventually, I found a guesthouse/hotel (not sure which) that is pretty nice. If it was labeled as a hotel it was only in Vietnamese. I managed to ask someone who could literally point to it. That's the only reason I could find it. The rooms here are $9 (groovy) but the location is absolutely shit. There is nothing around. I'm not sure why anyone would stay here really. Unless they had their own transport that is. It seems I'm about 3KM (yeah, I wandered a lot further with the pack on and I'm absolutely wrecked) away from anything interesting. There are two ambient noise producers. There is some sort of loud music playing club which I hope will eventually stop. The other is some sort of yappy dog on the other side. I'm pretty sure that if I was to slowly and painfully strangle it to death, I'd guarantee myself a place in heaven. Getting into Heaven with the capital H would require the same treatment to the owners of said pooch.

Having said that though, the room I'm in has all of the things I like in a hotel. Good wifi, hot showers, private bathroom, a balcony to smoke off, decent bedding. If I can't find better in the 'front beach' or 'back beach' area, I will probably come back here. If I can find a restaurant within walking distance.

I'm not sure if the food here will make me as sick as the food in Cambodia did. It seemed like every 2-3 days I was sick (with all the shit that entails) from their food there. I really hope Vietnam is better. I would say that Lao and Cambodia are pretty similar in food. Thailand is on the top both in terms of taste and least amount of sickness.

So, anyway, I am currently in the town of Vung Tau.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

When confronted with a language they don't know, some people want to be helpful and use the 'phone a friend' option. You can let them if you wish but you should know in advance that you are just wasting both your time and theirs. In my experience, I've never had them call anyone who actually speaks English well. Even if someone spoke poor English if they are face to face you can get a lot more communication done than you ever will over the phone. The people I've usually had called seem to speak English at the same level or worse than the person telephoning them. They then try to pool their collective ignorance and come up with...nothing useful. My advice when they want to phone a friend? Thank them and walk away. Find someone else to have a face to face with.


Verify whether your coffee will be served hot or cold. If you don't the waitress will show their instinctive ability to choose the right one. I've had Baileys and coffee before. I've had Irish coffee before. They are always served hot. Make the coffee, pour in a shot of alcohol and it's done. In many places they want to serve it cold. With ice in it. The ice is not made from bottled water. Unless you are acclimatized to the tap water (or once filtered water which is still a few steps below 'bottled') drinking this may cause you to spend the next few days with your new friend Mr. Toilet.


I know I've said it before but recent experiences make me want to stress it again. If you think about getting into any sort of taxi, rickshaw, etc., ask the guy a question that the answer is not a yes/no. My favorite is 'what color is the sky?' This will show you their true level of English. If you are dumb enough to ask them 'do you know of a hotel' or 'do you speak English', you deserve what happens to you. Taxi drivers usually only know a few key words and won't take you to where you want to go unless you like five star hotels that charge you more in order to pay the taxi driver their 'tout fee'.



TRANSPORT MODES

Got a new edition to my list (last one) by chance so I thought I'd publish the updated list. Since I don't accumulate these too rapidly, I don't think the list will become a frequent thing - just when I find something new I can travel on.

Marshrutka
Ocean freight carrier
Motorcycle
Scooter
Bus
Minibus
Jeep
Truck
Jet
Dolmush
Baht bus
Tuk-Tuk
Hydrofoil

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan | Portugal: Faro

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