Thursday, December 27, 2012

Day 3 - We're not in Ho Chi Minh City anymore, Toto

A couple days back, I bought my ticket to Can Tho, the bustling metropolis in the Mekong River Delta and today was the day I would finally get my $9 bus ride worth. Of course, I found out only later that I was meant to haggle with the travel agent and was grossly overcharged. But whatever.

I began my morning leisurely, enjoying having my own space free from the attacks of an invading ant army. Once I set out, settled up at the hotel with all of my luggage (really, REALLY regretting having to lug that winter coat around everywhere), I headed straight for the Mexican food place I saw last night. I ordered up some chimichangas and savored the salsa and and guacamole. What a treasure! So strange how Vietnam has so much more variety!

After my own private family reunion, I headed toward the War Remnants Museum, which supposedly has a bunch of Vietnam War-era relics and a truly disturbing display on Agent Orange. I wouldn't know, however, because the stupid thing was closed! I arrived just after noon, it's closing time (for the staff to nap, I suppose), and not meant to open again until 2:00, the time I needed to head back to catch my bus.

Not wanting the walk to be a total waste, I went to a promising-looking Japanese restaurant. This really turned out to be an utter fail. Note to yourself: if you're ever in Vietnam, don't go to the Angel Garden restaurant... They were out of the ramen, something I'm about six seconds from murdering someone to get AND they were out if tuna. How is it possible to run out of tuna at a Japanese restaurant?? Ok, maybe I'm being too harsh. Especially when the next experience doesn't even rival it.


I arrived at the agency I used to book the trip well in advance, and was immediately whisked away via the most terrifying moto ride of my life, this far (but then again, I've only been in Vietnam for two real days, so there's plenty of time to out-do that).

I got dropped off at a nondescript-looking storefront, crowded with people, with little idea what to do next and no English-speaking people in sight. Luckily, my cluelessness lasted only twenty minutes when I was waved at (Korean style! Gangnam style?) by the for-hire guard and was "ushered" onto a bus with a bunch of other people. The girl siting next to me struck up a conversation, wanting to meet up later in HCMC, but with her limited English and my pure inability to even begin understanding Vietnamese, it took the better part of the trip to figure this out.

Oh, but it isn't so simple. Twenty minutes later, I get dropped off at a giant bus depot, literally the only foreign person in the vicinity. It's quite a sight to behold, I suppose. The Vietnamese have a bit more class when it comes to dealing with the unknown than the Koreans I've encountered thus far - no mass head turns. But so much whispering behind their hands, as though I would be able to read their lips anyways. I got the most action from the baby in front of me, who desperately wanted to read my book.

Of course, being at this giant bus depot was quite the nerve-grating experience. It was hot and muggy inside, women were hawking iced drinks with some yellow liquid (that I later saw these same women picking out of the trash to sell again), it was loud and the only announcements for buses were in Vietnamese. I asked a couple of the on-duty guards, but I might as well have been a mosquito to them.

So I'm on my own, in a Vietnamese bus station, with little idea of how to get anywhere else. Luckily, the buses have their final location written on the side as the drive up into the station, but there are literally hundreds of buses coming through. I see one marked Can Tho, my destination, and attempt to board. I'm turned away. I see another, same thing. This happens four times and without rhyme or reason, the fifth bus is the key, and I'm allowed to board. I'm still at a loss for how or why.

Some observations from the road:

All of the roadside cafes have rows upon rows of plastic chairs and tables, each with a hammock set up next to them, for sacking out pre or post-meal.

There was that lovely moment when the bus came screeching to a halt, granting two lucky moto riders the opportunity to drive insanely for another day. And the several times I witnessed men unabashedly peeing near the main road. Or the persistent honking by my bus driver, as of driving the largest vehicle on the road weren't announcement enough.

These areas along the route are predictably dirty, with garbage making up more of a riverbank than dirt. But then, on the horizon, a Vegas-esque glitterati appears. I have arrived in Can Tho.

I won't go into the ridiculous details of finding a hotel, arguing with a moto driver, or wandering the streets for several miles an hours after dark.


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