On 26th we had to go back to Ho Chi Minh city and say good bye to Phu Quoc. It was great experience but it’s time to move on. I have relatively lot of experience with Couchsurfing but I have never stayed on anyone’s couch yet. So I sent a few requests and got a positive response. We met Khang in a house in District 10, but there was a problem. Because he was partying too much, his landlord told him he won’t open door for him when come after 11 pm and before 5 am. He was faced with the ultimate decision every night – do I party on until 5 am or go home? Well I decided to party on, and around 3 am I was ready to go sleep. The party area in District 1 is very close to the backpackers area so I figured it won’t be problem to find a hostel. After waking up 10th hostel receptionist just to receive answer “Fully booked” I realised I might have made a mistake. Finally, I found a place at Pizza Rex which had 24 hour dormitory check-in. I end up drinking with the owners for the next hour. Quite a local experience.
Now on the other note. Everyone in Vietnam will try to cheat you. Even their money are designed for that purpose. Look at the 10 000 (0,5 $) and 100 000 (5$) note. I wonder if there was some meeting for boosting their economy and this was their solution. It’s so easy to make a mistake with the too many zeros on the notes.
The money scams happen all the time. I heard so many stories of this kind. For example girls took a cyclo (bicycle with a passenger seat) and agreed on the price. When they arrived the price was 10 times higher and the driver was getting aggressive. In a way, Ho Chi Minh is like Prague but worse. There are fake taxi companies which are disguising as the trustworthy ones (Vinasun and Mailinh). Of course they will try to rip you off.
One girl was robbed on the broad daylight when motorcyclist took her purse and rode away. Another night Michael was trying to get to the hostel but the scooterist took him way off the route. He wanted him to stop and but he didn’t listen and when breaking with the flip flops didn’t work he jumped off the moving motorcycle. After that prostitute approached him and touched him in quite aggressive manner and in unguided moment took his phone (the same thing happen also to me, but she didn’t take anything). We were actually discussing if it is case of robbing or pick pocketing. I would like to coin the term “dick pocketing”. Let’s see if it catches on.
Don’t take it the wrong way, Vietnam is still a great country, the people are usually also great and always smiling. There is just something in their mentality that tells them it is normal to cheat on foreigners because in their mind they have so much more money then vietnamese. You just have take care of your things and be careful with money.
One more thing I have to talk about is the traffic. The vietnamese seem to be born with scooter between their legs. They manoeuvre their scooters in the traffic like it is nothing. Now, imagine traffic in your city in a rush hour. Now double it. That’s the normal traffic in Saigon. Then imagine you need to cross the street, but there is no crossing, no traffic lights, nothing. The way you cross it is that you just step in, let the traffic flow around you like you are a stone in a river. It’s terrifying at first but you will get used to it eventually. The biggest problem for me was that I had to put the trust in the driver, there is no other way. You just walk slowly straight, not doing any sudden movements, let the drivers figure it out.
At this point we split with Michael who went to Indonesia and I went to Can Tho, the capital of Mekong delta. It’s about 3-4 hour drive from Ho Chi Minh city. Now, as it goes with the long distance buses they usually stop so you can go to a toilet and have something to eat. We stopped at huge bus stop with other 20+ buses. When I came back from WC I realised the bus is gone. They probably took it in the back to refuel, or to make space for other buses to arrive. It was apparent they will come back with it after some time. The main problem was they all looked the same and I didn’t remember the bus number (which is something I supposed to do). My backpack and passport was in there so it wasn’t really pleasant situation. I finally found the right bus, but only on expense of near heart attack.
When I finally got to the Can Tho it was already night. The biggest surprise was the hotel. I haven’t find any hostels so I booked normal hotel room just for $7. The room has its own bathroom and the hostel servant actually took my dirty old backpack inside the hotel from a taxi like it was some luxurious luggage or something.
The next day I rented a motorcycle and went for a ride to Vinh Long, smaller town in Mekong delta. From there you can take a ferry to one of the islands dotting the river. As usually I was the only foreigner here so I got a lot of attention, but the ferry ride was very nice. I was riding on the island for an hour or so when I realised I won’t make it back in a daylight. And that was a problem because on the way back to Can Tho there was a big ass highway. I enjoyed the sunset on the ferry back, but the night ride was inevitable.
The other thing is the taiwanese helmet doesn’t really have protective glass in front. That was ok because I usually used my sunglasses to cover my eyes. Not so useful in the night though. So there I was, riding on the motorcycle through night full of trucks and other scooterists. I could see only little which was further reduced by the insects flying into my eyes. It was still manageable because the highway was almost fully lighted, but there were few kilometres long strip without any lights at all. At that point I was just honking every five seconds whether there is something behind the reach of my dim head lights. You can’t drive really slow either because than you can be overtaken by scooterist behind you. And that’s something you don’t wanna do. Some of them gets even more creative and overtake you from the wrong side, probably just for the fun of it. In conclusion, night driving in Vietnam – don’t try it.
Next day, I went to check out the main tourist attraction in Can Tho – the floating market. Basically people wake up around 5 am and take a boat to the market in the middle of the river near Can Tho. They sell mainly fruit like water melons, pineapples or bananas. The trick is in getting to the market before the main tourist flow. That means wake up around 5 am, head to the city port and find a boat that takes you to the market. I managed to arrive early and for my satisfaction there were no tourists except few vietnamese tourists from the north. The market looks impressive, though I have to question it’s practicality. If you limit your customers only to the ones with the boats, doesn’t it cut down you earnings significantly?
So that was the Mekong delta. Nice change of pace from the constant 8 days hangover. Well that days is over because I head back to Saigon for the New Years Eve. I went back to my favorite hostel – Saigon backpackers hostel. If you are in the city definitely stay there, they have nice staff and friendly atmosphere. I spent the first night driving around on scooter with another couchsurfer who showed me the city. It was great introduction to the real Saigon, not the one where people get robbed and scammed. The one where you can actually live in. I think it has to be same for Prague tourists. Prague is an awesome city but now I see how it might sometimes seem to them.
Anyway, next day is finally the 31st. I met some other backpackers in the hostel, took some beers and head to the park to celebrate and see the fireworks. The traffic was in a complete jam and we were following the crowds towards the park. I felt like we were in the Jurassic park movie because we were constantly loosing people in the back of the group. When we arrived at the place we were about half in numbers.
Never mind, we finally got there. There was a stage in prepared for the NYE after party. So we climbed up there to have a better view. There was whole lot of vietnamese who followed us, so the security guys gave up after a while and let us enjoy the New Years firework.
When I say the traffic was in complete jam I mean that even scooters could not get through. Even for us was very hard to get through as people started to party in the middle of the street. We finally climbed the crowd and got to the second floor of one bar to watch the crowds flow and party through the street.
That was Vietnam for me, awesome country, amazing locals and awesome travellers I met on the road. It has its flaws, but I am definitely going to explore more in April. Let’s end with the theme song of this trip (or as Michael call it “The theme of my life”):