Saturday, 12 March 2011

Arrived in Vietnam

Saturday 12th March 2011

MP3 track of the day – The little lost hobo

Weather: Cambodia = Hot / Ho Chi Minh City = Warm but there's a very welcome breeze.

I was up a lot earlier than my alarm had been set for. As I couldn't get back to sleep I decided to get up and get ready. I had some 'Cambodian Riel' left so I had my final breakfast of 'pancakes with lime and sugar'. My pick-up arrived on time and off I went. I, and seven others from different guesthouses, were picked up by a mini-van and transferred to the cities bus station. I found my coach to Ho Chi Minh City and got on it. I was told that I had purchased a bus ticket for the 'local service' however, once aboard, there were more tourists than locals. Also the bus was pretty clean and finally there was someone in my seat. I spoke to the ticket inspector and there had been some confusion when I purchased my ticket. The up-shot was that I was to be moved to the front of the coach, the isle seat on the right-hand side.

Off we went … and on time too. An announcement came from the inspector asking if anyone didn't have a Vietnamese visa, as you couldn't purchase one at the boarder. The inspector then collected all of our passports which, he said, was to 'speed up' the border process. I didn't like surrendering my passport. The view from the coach was very disappointing; my Dutch companion had pulled the curtain to stop the sun glaring onto the TV. The people across the other side of the coach had done the same and both blinds on the drivers windscreen were half down. With no view I flicked between the film (blackball) and my guidebook. I read about Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. I want to head north as soon as possible (to get to cooler climates) however it seems that there's quite a lot to do around Ho Chi Minh City. First of all I read about the stuff within the city itself; the War Museum, the Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City Museum, History Museum and the Jade Pagoda. There's quite a lot of museums so I reckon the above will take is at least two days. Another day could be spent walking around the city and then there are the 'Vietnam War tunnels' and the Mekong Delta. All-in-all I could see myself being within Ho Chi Minh City between five days and a week.

After I read my guidebook I put it away and watched the final thirty minutes of 'blackball' (not a bad film) before talking to the Dutch guy next to me. It appears that he's a sort of diplomat who has worked for the European Union and many private companies across the world. He asked me about my travels and was surprised to hear that, after eight months, I was still motivated for traveling. He said that he had met travelers who, after three months, were a little jaded with it all, especially if they had spent most of their time within one region. The truth is I'm not fed up of traveling, but I am a little jaded of the region that I'm currently in. I am looking forward to leaving South East Asia.

The film 'blackball' finished and was replaced with 'Tomb Raider'. Now, apart from seeing Angelia Jolie in not much clothing, there usually isn't any other reason I would watch this film. However part of this film was filmed within the temples of Angkor. Both the Dutch diplomat and I were hooked on the screen watching out for bits of the film we would recgonised. We both agreed that most of the temple scenes had been filmed within 'Wat Phom', but there were other temples (and a fake floating village outside 'Angkor Wat') that we both recgonised.

We soon stopped for lunch. As the Dutch diplomat and I were chatting he asked me what souvenirs I had purchased from the countries I had visited. When I got to Malaysia I said that I hadn't really got anything good as all I could find were Manchester United clocks. Little did I know that this guy had just spent the last couple of months within Kuala Lumpur; he fished around in his bag and gave me a red envelope. This red envelope held a little bit of Malayan money and was used for Chinese new year (it's good luck to give money at Chinese New year). I declined the gift but he was very determined; I eventually accepted it gratefully.

Back on the coach it wasn't long until we arrived at Cambodian immigration. The coach inspector had traveled on ahead, on a motorbike, and had handed in all of our passports to get them stamped. Once we arrived at the boarder all we had to do was get off the coach, collect our passport from the inspector, and go through departures so that the boarder guard could check the person against the passport. We then got back on the coach and, another two minutes later, we arrived at Vietnamese immigration. This time I had to take all my luggage in with me to be scanned. Now this is the first time my luggage has actually been scanned within a South East Asian immigration check point. As far as I was concerned the Vietnamese immigration process was the most professional out of all the South East Asian countries I had visited. However, due to my luggage being scanned, I was probably more concerned than at any other South East Asian immigration check point. I put my bags on the x-ray conveyor belt and I stood ready to be called through the 'scanning door thing'. All clear. I picked up my bags and got back on the coach. For the rest of the journey I would be entertained by 'Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of life' … oh goodie.

As we went through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City I thought about the coach journey I had just taken. For the first time, within South East Asia, I had been given information about what was going to happen, before it happened. What's more, my coach had arrived, within Ho Chi Minh city, on time. The coach was clean and we were also handed free bottles of water … not bad for $10.00.

The coach pulled up to the side of the road and I got off. The problem was that we weren't at the bus station. I asked the inspector where we were, by showing him my map; it took a little while however, soon enough, the attendant pointed to the road we were situated on (just five minutes away from the bus station). I took out my compass to get my correct position and off I headed east …. before turning around and heading west. For the first time within South East Asia the coach had stopped within walking distance of my guesthouse. As I tried to find my guesthouse the sun was beating down through, due to a pleasant breeze, it wasn't as hot as I thought it was going to be. However I still got the usual 'taxi', 'motorbike' offers I have now become a custom to.

Down a narrow alleyway I found my guesthouse. A lady, with a huge smile, met me at the door and we went through all the usual paper work. She asked for my passport, which she would keep until I left. Now I knew that this 'guesthouse passport keeping' procedure occurred within Vietnam however that didn't mean that I liked it, and I certainly didn't like the fact that my passport was kept, with all the others, in a glass door cabinet in the main common room. I was then shown to my room which was on the top floor. Eight flights of steps … count them, eight! Still the room was clean, air conditioned and had a hot shower. What's more I was told that I would be sharing the dorm with just girls. I have to be honest, at that particular time I was more pleased about the hot shower, considering I hadn't had one for three weeks.

I dumped my stuff and headed out into the local area. The time; 3:45pm. I hate this time; it's too early to round the day up, or go for tea. However it's too late to start sightseeing or eat a meal. I therefore walked around a bit with only one job to do, withdraw some money. I hadn't got enough dollars left to pay for my accommodation and so I needed to with drawn some 'dong'. As I walked I tried to work out how much I needed to withdraw. This was quite a difficult task considering there are 33,800 dong to the pound. I worked out that I needed to withdraw six million dong as that would give me just under £200. However, for some bizarre reason, instead of entering the the amount I required I opted to press one of the 'fast cash' buttons situated on the ATM. I received two million dong which is around £60.

Slightly annoyed with myself (due to paying bank fees to withdraw only £60) I decided not to withdraw further. Before returning to my guesthouse I had a drink and decided to waste a little time within the local park. It was nice to see locals playing football and excising; I sat down , took a few photos, and took in the surroundings. It wasn't long before a pretty Asian woman sat down and started chatting to me. Looking at my watch I thought that 4:45pm was a little early for prostitutes. She seemed pretty nice and it took me a while to work out what she wanted. Eventually she asked if we could go to a coffee shop for a drink … and there it was. There is a scam within Vietnam, and China, where a local (though this woman was Cambodian) would try to befriend you, take you to a coffee shop for a drink and then do a runner. You would then be presented, usually by a rather large gentleman, with a huge bill … and your new friend would not be anywhere to be seen. She could have been genuine, but then again she might not have been. I made my excuses and left.

Once back at the guesthouse I walked up the eight flights of stairs, and then back down them again with my computer in my hand. It was make or break time, was my blog blocked? Well Facebook was blocked (so I can't read any Facebook messages at the moment), Hotmail was proving a problem however, as you can tell, my blog uploaded just fine. No one can stop the otter, not even communist governments.

After blogging, and surfing the web, I went for something to eat. I didn't want to venture too far and so I went to the local 'Subway' for a very nice sandwich. I returned to my guesthouse for a lovely shower and an early night. I wasn't going to set my alarm for tomorrow, I have been up very early every morning for three weeks. However an early start would be beneficial if I was to fit in the 'War Remnants Museum', the 'Reunification Palace' and the 'Ho Chi Minh City Museum' tomorrow. I settled for an early night as tomorrow is going to be busy!

Toodle Pip!

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