When in Vietnam
I signed up for a 7-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. I was given a sheet at my hostel to choose which company I wanted to go through, the cheapest being $12 and for the double-decker, grand luxury bus it was $18. I dabbled with the idea, pictured myself in amazingly comfy and oversized chairs just cruising in total bliss to Vietnam. Then reality kicked in. You are traveling for a year Roxanne, that six dollars is equivalent to a warm meal or even a night stay in a very cheap hostel. So $12 bus ride I went. I left in the early hours of the morning and to no surprise were one of only three travelers on the bus with the remaining individuals being Cambodian or Vietnamese.
Long ride without a soul to talk to (the other two were reserved French travelers). I took up a spot in the very back so that I can sprawl out and rest and hopefully sleep for part of the ride there. I spent those seven hours first attempting to sleep, then tediously sifting through photos on both iPhone and camera to delete unwanted ones. (I can get picture happy at times). I finished all of this and look at the time.
5 hours left. Shit.
I pull out my GoPro and finally started to upload photos and videos onto my laptop for the first time. The pictures, to my amazement, came out amazing. So many people told me they weren’t great quality and having taken so many photos on my iPhone and Dslr,, I wasn’t particularly forced to look at the ones from my GoPro. Now I know which device will be taken on many of my Vietnamese excursions that, and I definitely need to practice having a steady hand. Every video was so shaky, I definitely would have received an award for most awful videographer.
After a few more hours we finally get to the border, the part I had been dreading. Being an American coming to a country in which the country I belong to destroyed so much of their land and killed so many of their people, surely I would have a tough time getting through or at least interrogated in some way. The added fear also came from past tourists from America I have run into during my travels saying they had felt least welcome in Vietnam out of any country they have visited.
I get off the bus and walk into this large building. The man driving the bus had taken my passport and we all stood in front of him waiting for what was next.
“Roxanne”, he called.
Of course they call the American first. I step forward and walk through security, which was one man standing at the place where the x-ray your bags. Okay that was simple. Then I see a man in a uniform looking at me, the person checking everyone’s passport. I walk up to him with a backpack strapped to my front and my large backpack strapped to my back which was literally the size of me.
So here comes this little girl engulfed in more luggage than anyone else and has the biggest smile on her face trotting towards this Vietnamese soldier.
“Hi!”, I say.
He stares at me almost wanting to laugh, smiles brightly and says “hello”.
Checks my passport and I am on my way. Wow .
I was so relieved and humbled at that interaction, and that interaction set my expectations for all further encounters with Vietnamese people. I finish the bus ride blasting music and not caring whether I blurted out lyrics at times, dancing ridiculously to keep myself sane for being stuck on a bus for so long.
We finally arrive at the bus stop after 7 long hours! I get off the bus and pick up my backpacks that were stored below then ask the driver what the going rate to my hostel would be. He told me $2 and so I was prepared when facing the herd of taxi drivers huddled around the bus. One man came and the bargaining began. He started off at $4. I said $2. He said “okay $3”. I tell him “$2 or nothing. I don’t have another cent to give.” Him and his friend take turns telling me how great $3 is and after a few minutes, he folds and goes along with $2. It starts to pour down rain and he runs to grab what I thought had been a tuktuk or car. He rolls up on a MOTORBIKE! I look astonished and was like “dude, I’ll die, I have a huge back strapped to my front and back and it’s pouring. No way.” He says yes and taps the seat. I consider it then say no once more, all my electronics would get ruined. With that, he takes off his raincoat and begins to place it over me. I quickly glance in every direction of another option. I had no other option. There were only motorbikes, I had no phone with service or Wifi. So I then had a “When in Rome” moment and agreed, half laughing, half completely freaked with a whole audience of Vietnamese people laughing at how animated I was being.
I struggle to get on the back, with my front backpack giving me an early glimpse into what pregnancy would feel like. We zoom off.
Let me tell you, this guy was insane! He zipped between cars, went into intersections and sped through it with cars and motorbikes coming at us in every direction. The whole ride to my hostel, my thoughts switched between: “This is how Roxanne dies, on the back of a motor bike in Vietnam” and “This would be my life”. At one point, it poured so hard we pulled over to stand under a covering, staring side-by-side of the chaotic rainy scene of Ho Chi Minh.
Shortly we began to cruise again and we pulled up like a hot, backpacker mess with everyone staring like ‘holy shit, how did she fit on the back of that bike in the pouring rain with that much luggage’. I couldnt believe it either and was relieved the drive was over.
And that was my entry into Vietnam. The night is young, so let the adventure continue!
Welcome to Vietnam =).