7 Feb 2008
Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam
10°45'32.23"N 106°39'45.09"E
33°

 

 

Our journey from Sihanoukville to Saigon (sorry, I know it's not politically correct, but I can't get used to calling it Ho Chi Mihn and anyway, it takes up too much room) was fairly uneventful after the last disastrous journey. I 'd been studying maps and figured we could go by the coastal road through southern Cambodia to a little used border crossing at the Mekong Delta (the real reason I wanted to go to Vietnam was to see the delta), but it was too hard. We could get a taxi to the border which wouldn't have broken the bank, but on the other side we'd be at the mercy of the taxi drivers and touts to get anywhere with human habitation, so we decided to take a coach. Although the road hit a T junction about half way to Phnom Penh, we had to go all the way there - I suppose the coach was dropping people off there and picking up people travelling from Phnom Penh to Saigon. When we booked the tickets we broke the habits of a lifetime and let the travel agent arrange the visa. We knew it was easy - you go into the Vietnamese consulate in Sihanoukville, pay US$35 and 15 minutes later, your visa is in your passport - apparently it takes 5 days in Phnom Penh. We were staying at the beach by this time, and it was only an extra US$2 for the agent to do all the paperwork and running around into town and back, so we just gave her our passports, two photo's and and an extra US$2. She said about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, but we said no hurry and waited until we were passing again later in the day. Highly recommended - her name is Na at Ana 2 Travel Agency near the Serendipity Beach. She was good, straight up, spoke perfect English, had a wicked sense of humor and was totally honest about everything we asked. She even told us we could save the US$2 by doing the visa bit ourselves. A bit of honesty goes a long way in my book. If you're in the area, look her up.

We had about an hour stopover in Phnom Penh. I left Peter in a cafe and went looking for a pharmacy - hit about 15 of the buggers before I finally found some Betnovate for my psoriasis. They tried to sell me everything, including perfumed and coloured Nivea and Olay,which I'm sure would have done a lot of good. Not to mention the dodgy made in China stuff with no list of ingredients. Didn't get time for a coffee myself - the hour was up before I got back to the cafe.

Border formalities were very, very easy. Our passports were collected en-masse and through we went on the Cambodian side. A bit stricter on the Vietnamese side, but still no hardship and very quick and efficient. And no "extra" charges.

It was a fairly long journey though - we set off at 9am and didn't arrive into Saigon until 9.30pm, although they coach was very comfortable and we had plenty of stops to stretch our legs.

We were dropped off at the bus station, which is smack bang in the middle backpackerville. There were heaps of hotels and guesthouses. It was late, so we took the first acceptable one we came across. We even stayed an extra night, although we knew we could do much better for the price, but we knew we would be there for a few days and didn't want to jump too quickly into something we would later regret. We had a really good look around the next day before finding an absolute gem of a place, of which you can read the review.

I'd been feeling proud of myself for not having a bad fall for quite a while (a couple of weeks is quite a while for me) when I took the biggest one for a long time. I was really mad at myself because it wasn't really a fall due to the dodgy back/no feeling in the syatic nerves down my legs and feet- it was a bar about a foot off the ground that I didn't see and tripped over. Hurt my hands quite badly, and of course I was carrying the camera. Killed the LCD screen and had a grapefruit sized knee within an hour. It took a long time to get an elasticated bandage. Although I'd insisted on keeping the full first aid kit, the elastic bandage and elastic sock had been offloaded as being unnecessary. Trying to explain to people who don't speak english what you want is hard sometimes. One pharmacist was very sympathetic but she didn't have what I wanted She suggested ice. As I got up from the chair to leave, she produced a 6 inch wide elasticated bandage and said I don't think this any good for you. YEAH! It was exactly what I wanted. I didn't even ask the price.

As for the LCD screen on the camera, bad, bad news. Before leaving Australia I'd purposefully bought the cheapest half decent digital camera I could find (surprisingly, it happened to be a good quality 8.1MP Pentax) for not much more than A$100. I say purposefully, because I knew it would be knocked about, thrown about and generally mistreated, if not lost or stolen. The camera still worked - you just couldn't see what you were taking a photo of. For 2 days, every photo I took had 5 or 6 versions at various increments in height/angle in the hope that at least one of them would come out. And it worked. The SD card produced some really really good photo's. But it was no good - I need to see what's in the scene. It was Tet (Chinese New Year) and most of shops were closed. We went to the few that were open and were quoted between US$50 and US$75 to fix it. And nobody had the stock anyway. Not that we'd have bothered. It wasn't worth fixing at that price - we really didn't pay that much for it. We looked at buying a second hand camera until we could get it fixed up, but they all wanted more than we paid in Australia for the Pentax for older and much lesser quality models. We ended up buying a really cheap 6MP Casio, which is so thin and light it's scary - I'm actually keeping it in a case as it's much smaller and lighter than the mobile phone and could get lost really easily. Hate to say it, but I actually think it's a better cameral than the Pentax.

Once we get to somewhere a bit more reasonable we'll see if we can get the LCD screen fixed up cheaply and give it to someone who doesn't have one when we get back to England. Even got a good discount deal - we didn't need the charger, cables, CD's, box, and even the 64mb SD card (hardly necessary when you have a perfectly good 4GB one), so it ended up being a lot cheaper than the Pentax. Only thing is it's bright red.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been getting aggro. Not just aggro, but really aggro. I've had more fights with people in the last couple of weeks than have in the last year. The slightest thing has been setting me off. Overcharging is something I usually deal with by shaking my head and walking away. Outrageous overcharging is dealt with by giving the look before walking away - I've no idea how "the look" works. I have no idea how I do it, but several people have told me about it being really, really scary. Usually, I don't even know I'm doing it, but I can remember my nan freaking out and telling me not to look at her like that when I was just a tot. Anyway, for the last couple of weeks, I've been standing and arguing with people. And giving them the look that changes their attitude to me very quickly and has them backing down. Over just a few cents sometimes. Absolutely crazy, and no apparent reason.

When we were in Saigon, I took some money out of an ATM. Got the money, got the receipt - where's the card? There were two security guards there, and did they cop it, although they have no one to blame but themselves, because my initial approach was polite, if a bit panic-stricken - I'm not completely stupid. When I need help, I don't go in with all guns blazing. It was a public holiday and the bank was closed. We were moving on to Nha Trang later that night, so it wasn't as if I could do what you normally do and go into the bank the next morning to get my card back. I wanted my card back. I was going to get my card back, no matter what. The security guards spoke a little English, enough to know that my card was stuck and that we were leaving for another city in just a few hours so couldn't come back the next day. They were totally unsympathetic to my plight to the point of sneering - which made me aggro. The more the sneering and talking amongst themselves that went on, the more the aggro I got. I took a business card out of my bag, folded it in 3 and started poking it into the hole where the card goes. No No they said. No. Can't do. Break machine. Yes, yes I said. Eff your machine. I want my card back. It must be stuck. I'm trying to see if it's wedged and I can get if free. I'm getting my card back. No, no they said. OK, I said, looking around. I'll find a brick and smash your sodding machine open. I want my card back. I'm going to get my card back. Then I looked in my purse. The card had been released before the money and the receipt and was tucked away nice and safely.

D'oh!

I made a very hasty excuse about coming back later and left. Quickly. What a total pratt.

Peter hadn't done his usual walk away from me trick because he could see how wound up I was, and he knew I was perfectly capable of putting a brick through the ATM or going for the security guards if they didn't start to be a bit more helpful or less sneering - I'd already noted (and Peter had probably figured out that I'd noted) that they didn't have guns or batons. That's how ready I was to do it.

It may sound a bit mean, but I didn't apologise to them. Initially, I approached them quite calmly and politely and said machine took card. They might very well be working 12 hour shifts for a couple of dollars a day, but that's not my fault. I didn't apologise because they hadn't been in the slightest way helpful, sympathetic or understanding , and they couldn't be bothered trying to do anything to help. The worst thing is that I really meant it. I would have done it if I'd found a brick before I found the card.

You'd think that would be enough drama for one day, wouldn't you? Oh, no. Not in my life when I'm going through an aggro stage. We had booked an overnight sleeper bus to Nha Trang through a travel agent. 7.30pm here she said, bus here 7.30. Leave your bags if you want. We preferred leaving them at the hotel, because we could trust them with the laptop which meant we didn't have to lug it around with us all day after we'd checked out. We got there at 7.15 because Peter still gets funny about that kind of thing. Travel agency closed. OK, we though. 7.30. Nothing. 7.45 Nothing. 8 o'clock. Panic. Still no sign of the travel agency opening. Peter went into an agency next door (who we hadn't booked through and were under no obligation to help us). They very kindly made several phone calls, including one to the bus company who were on their way to pick us up, but were expecting to pick us up about 500 meters down the road not outside the travel agency as had been arranged (and was written on our ticket). Have to admit I was very impressed with the bus - perfect for 10 hour overnight journeys. No seats, all bunk beds. Comfortable, with a pillow and a blanket.

About 10 minutes later the woman who ran/owned the agency and who had also been phoned turned up. I have no idea what her problem was, but she was in one hell of a strop and shouting and barking at everyone and everything, including me. Bad move. I was aggro, but I was aggro with good reason. She got what she deserved, and I've uploaded posts to all of the travel guide sites advising them not to deal with these people. They are called TM Brothers Travel, based all over Vietnam and should be avoided like the plague. When I get around to writing up the Nha Trang entry, I'll tell you how I got my revenge. It was very sweet. Thankfully we hadn't taken her up on her offer to look after our bags, as she may not have turned up at all. I gave the woman who helped the equivalent of about AU$7 or just over 3 pounds, which really embarrassed her as it it would be close to her weekly wage, but without her we'd have been totally stuffed. I asked her to buy chocolate or something really nice for everyone in the office who had been frantically making phone calls on our behalf to all sorts of people. When we get back to Saigon, I'm going to take a bunch of flowers in for her. She really didn't have to help us - we'd given our business to her competitor. It's things like this that really restore your faith in human nature.

That wasn't quite my last outburst of the night though. At 2.30am the driver of the bus put a karaoke video on. At full blast. We both woke up straight away, and could see other heads raising from their bunks. But doing nothing. When I'm in an aggro state, I'm really aggro, but I don't have to be aggro to be the grumpiest bear in the world when I wake up. If we wake at the same time, Peter usually stays in bed leaves me for 5 or 10 minutes to become human and speakable to. So, there I am. A grumpy bear that's been woken up by REALLY loud music, in an aggro state and thinking why are all of these people awake, complaining and doing nothing? We were on the back seat. Surely someone else closer to the driver could do something. But no. Off I went, getting more aggro with every step I took and even more aggro with every comment I heard of "What does he think he's doing?"

I asked him, surprisingly calmly and even quite politely (to say I'd just woken up), to turn the music down. I didn't demand it. I even said please. "I'm listening to it" he said. It crossed my mind that it might be keeping him awake, but the way he told me, as if it was his right, that he was listening to it removed the calmness and politeness. It's 2.30 in the morning. This is a sleeping bus. Every single person on the bus is awake because you're listening to it. But I'm listening to it. Fine, I said. Listen to it. Quieter. I don't want to listen to it. Nobody else on the bus wants to listen to it. You're the only one who wants to listen to it. Listen to it quietly. I'm not sure he was going to - I really got the feeling he was going to stand up to me, but he got the tone of my voice and the look in my eye and turned it right down. I got a lot of well done's on the way back to my bunk, and, still in grumpy bear just woke up mode, to this day I don't know how I stopped myself from saying several times over, why the eff didn't you do it if it was bothering you so much?

Peter had a pretty uneventful week, mostly just walking away from me when I started fighting with people, picking me up every time I fell down and testing the local brews (which aren't very good apparently). And nagging because I wasn't eating - I had no appetite at all. And trying to keep out of my way because he couldn't do anything right and I was being really, really aggro. Must be something in the water here.