February 2, 2009

Vietnam: 16 Hour Adventure

Bangkok to HCMC was quite the adventure and one that I will never repeat.

I decided to head back to Vietnam on Thursday which was the best decision yet. Lonely Planet warns the fellow traveler about the trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap and it played out word for word.

The ticket office in Bangkok said that we would be in Siem Reap by 8pm which would give me enough time that night to book my bus ticket to HCMC the following day. We arrived at the Thailand/Cambodian boarder rest stop (conveniently located at a restaurant) where you sit for an hour as the bus driver gets your visa for Cambodia. You eventually become hungry out of boredom and buy food there. By the time we got through the boarder it was 4:30pm. We then waited in Cambodia at an abandoned building for an hour until the next bus came. We finally left for Siem Reap at 5:30pm. On our six hour drive to Siem Reap we got a flat tire (the boarder to Siem Reap is 90 miles, fyi). We were in the middle of nowhere with a roadside repair shop working on our bus. Luckily all went smoothly and we were off within an hour. We end up getting into Siem Reap at 11pm and they “conveniently” dropped us off at a hotel on the outskirts of the city. I didn't want to fall for this classic trick so I taxied into town and stayed Popular Boutique Hotel (a hostel with a fancy name). Because of our late arrival all the busses to HCMC the next day were booked. So I booked a ticket to Phnom Penh thinking that I would be able to get a ticket to HCMC the following day. I get to Phnom Penh on Friday with no problem (being in PP again I got to go to my favorite restaurant which of course has chicken strips and ranch- win!). Now in Phnom Penh I tried to book a bus ticket to HCMC and guess what... all the buses were full until Monday! I have to be back on Monday to teach. As I started to sweat the women at the ticket office said there is one opening left on a bus/boat ride to HCMC leaving Saturday. She said it takes 12 hours but that I will get there around 7pm. Booked!

As soon as we get on the boat down the Mekong I realized that getting into HCMC at 7pm was almost impossible (I met a great couple from Mississippi who I spent most of the 6 hour boat ride talking to so it went rather quickly). We didn't leave the Mekong Delta until 5pm with a six hour drive ahead of us and the minibus driver was out of his mind. I have never been so terrified that my life could end at any moment or that I could be seriously injured. I thought about getting out and taking a taxi but there didn't seem to be any on the roads. We almost killed two people and almost crashed about six times, slamming on the breaks so hard we'd hit the seats in front of us. We made it to HCMC at exactly 11pm (16 hours). It still gives me goose bumps thinking about the drive.

Through all the chaos of driving I was having a hilarious conversation with two French guys. All they wanted to talk about was if high schools and university in American are similar to the Hollywood movies. Asking all about jocks (as they call them), cliques, beer games, frats, froshing and girls. Which by the way, is one of the most common conversations that I've had with Australians and Englishman. Hollywood movies have really painted an interesting picture for people that are not from the US. When the minibus pulled into HCMC the French guys went off to fight the driver. It was that bad.

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