When I last left you I had wrapped up my first day in Saigon. More than a week has passed since then, and now I am on a bus riding through Cambodia, and on it’s way back to Saigon. That’s right, I am going back. The past few days have been somewhat chaotic which has led me to this moment, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind.
Củ Chi Tunnels and Realizing What a Small World It Really Is
Wednesday morning, Mike (New Yorker) and I were informed last minute by Vivian (Singaporean) that she would be joining a tour to visit the Củ Chi Tunnels, and if we’d like to tag along we would have less than an hour to get ready, leave our hostels, and arrive at her hotel. No pressure, it’s cool haha. Mike shares the same “why not?” attitude that I have while traveling, so we went for it and made it to Vivian’s hotel, with extra time to spare to grab coffees and some snacks.
*I’d like to take a moment here and advise those recovering from food poisoning that going on a two hour, bumpy bus ride is not the wisest choice you might make, but you won’t know if it’s worth it unless you try it. 😀 *
As we were picking up different passengers for the tour, I noticed that one of the faces was quite familiar. Enter Mike, from Wisconsin, not to be confused with New York Mike. For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to him as Mike 2, while the other one will be Mike 1. Are you keeping up with me, or have I lost you? :p Moving on. Mike 2 and I were on the same flight from Seoul and ran into each other again at the immigration office in the Saigon airport because neither of us had cash for our visas, so we wandered around searching for an ATM. Once we found one, and collected our passports, we wished each other luck and parted ways. And now here he was, on the same tour! A small world indeed. You might be able to imagine how my “everything is a coincidence” attitude faltered for a moment, especially with Vivian next to me the whole time whispering about how it was fate haha. My romantic friend.
The tour itself was not only educational, but it was also fun, and we had a great tour guide who had an incredibly dry sense of humor, which kept us on our toes, always second guessing whether he was joking with us or not.
But the most interesting part to me of the tour was a video that they had us watch at the beginning. I’ve never seen something so boldly propagandic before. I’m not sure if it was just a reenactment, or real footage, but it seemed sort of surreal. I would later see this same theme appear in the War Museum, but either way I appreciated getting to experience another perspective about the Vietnam War, especially since American textbooks don’t really like to go into detail about the facts of the event.
After the video we got to see how people in the village lived during wartime, with a whole network of tunnels created to hide underground, away from the enemy. We also saw the different booby traps that were created by the Vietnamese to trap their enemies, and then we had the opportunity to crawl through a tunnel that was about 100 meters. Nobody wanted to volunteer to go first, so I went ahead, (with an ice cream cone in my hand, I might add) and led the rest of the group in. I surprisingly didn’t experience any claustrophobia, but I didn’t find the fit to be too tight, and for once I found my compactness to be a blessing. Once out of the tunnel, we were greeted with what would be our dinner. Some potato-like vegetable. I guess the point was to experience what the villagers had to eat. Needless to say, we were still hungry and after the tour, Mike 1 and 2, Vivian, and myself went in search of a famous vegetarian restaurant Vivian had heard about (I love you Vivian!!!!). The restaurant was just my style, with a very open and simple decor. Everyone agreed the food was delicious, although I think Mike 1 didn’t feel quite satisfied without meat in his dish. After dinner, we said our goodbyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike 2 and I run into one another again in the future as we will both be in Seoul, and I know that Vivian and I will meet again in the New Year when she stops over in Seoul for work.
Changing Districts and More City Exploring
The next day Mike and I met again as he had talked me into staying at the hostel where he was, because my reservation was finished and I really didn’t like staying in the party district. His hostel was a welcome surprise and was located in a local neighborhood, with very few foreigners to be seen. We spent the day walking around the city again and visited the War Museum shortly before it was scheduled to close. I was disappointed at first that we arrived so late, but after being in the rooms that showed the cruel acts American soldiers had commited against Vietnamese people, I don’t know if I could have taken much more. But I do believe that it is important for us to learn about and face past events, no matter how uncomfortable they might make us feel.
While at the museum, we had met up with another Couchsurfer, Kai, a very cool Vietnamese university student. The three of us walked around and talked, while Kai showed us some local spots, including a noodle soup restaurant and a very cheap, bubble tea vendor that he visits regularly. At the end of the night Mike and I were ready to book massages, and Kai was nice enough to patiently walk around with us as I kept finding reasons not to go inside the different spas. Finally, Mike had enough and googled one with good reviews, and that’s how we came across the best massage I experienced during my trip. We had to go back to the party district and walk down a super seedy alleyway to reach the spa. But once we were inside, the atmosphere felt relaxing and professional, unlike previous spas we had visited. It was here that I experienced my first Thai massage, and it was amazing. Thai massages are a bit more tough than your typical relaxing sort, and include a lot of twisting, stretching, and pressing on pressure points. I don’t think I can ever go back to a regular massage again! And I even made friends with the owner, who has family in West Virginia and has asked to meet up with me in the States the next time she visits. Friends can be found anywhere and everywhere is what I am learning!
Lame Pub Crawlers and the Mekong Delta Tour
After saying goodbye to Kai, and finishing our massages, Mike and I, for some reason, agreed to go on a pub crawl with a very cool, and tough young woman that Mike had met before. I think we might possibly be the world’s worst pub crawlers since Mike didn’t drink at all, and I only bought one beer. After arriving at the second bar, we both decided that we were far too relaxed from our massages to participate in such a wild activity and headed back to the hostel. We got back quite late and our host reminded us that we were signed up for a tour for 7 in the morning. Uh oh.
The next day was rough to say the least. After only a couple of hours of sleep, we got on a bus for two hours that took us out of the city and to a village on the Mekong Delta River, where we spent the whole day getting on and off of various boats of all shapes and sizes. Neither of us were particularly impressed with the tour, perhaps because it was too touristy, or maybe we were just cranky. It was fun, however, to ride on a local boat and get to participate in an activity that involved us sticking our finger into a honey comb that was surrounded by bees. Sadly though, the one reason I joined the tour was not included, and that was the floating market. I might return to the area just to see it, because I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a child, when I saw a postcard my grandmother had from Saigon of the floating market she visited when she was younger.
Goodbye Saigon, Hello Again Phnom Penh
The next morning I said my goodbyes to Mike, as he would be flying to Thailand and I would take a bus to Cambodia. I spent four days in Phnom Penh, half of which were spent with Kirsty, a traveler from New Zealand.We spent most of our time in one of my favorite cafes, Artillery, and swapped travel stories and talked about how to stop having so many expectations in life, and live with more mindfully. Spending time with Kirsty was refreshing, and in a very short time, I knew that she was someone I would travel quite a distance to see again. Here’s hoping we meet again in Fiji and New Zealand, Kirsty! ❤
The last bit of my time was spent with my good Cambodian friend, Sinorng. We had originally planned to visit his province by the sea, but we attended a birthday party that lasted a lot longer than we had expected. The party was a lot of fun, with so much food and kind people. And a few days after that party, I was invited to another one, this time a wedding anniversary. I had fun there as well, joking with one older man who could speak a little English. I think he was trying to get me drunk as he kept egging me on to “one shot”, and then the others started joining in on the cheer, but I had to decline since I was still recovering from the other event. Cambodians sure know how to party, and even more so how to drink. It’s not something I will even attempt to keep up with and I’ll leave it to the real pros.
All in all it was a nice time, and the only real stress I was facing was to head back to Vietnam, or to go on to Thailand. Oh the horror haha. But then, just as I was about to get a Khmer script tattoo (it’s not as random as you might think!), I checked my bank account to make sure it was an expense that I could afford, and that’s when I saw a suspicious charge for about half of what was in my account. I spent most of the day and night going back and forth between my bank and the company the charge was coming from only to be told that my card would need to be closed out and I would be allowed a short amount of time to find an ATM and take out everything that was left. I’m not really sure if the charge can be disputed, or how long it will take, or even when I’ll have access to a check card again, but I guess there could be worse things.
So now that brings us to the current moment. I’m about half way to Vietnam, waiting at a rest stop while the passengers grab snacks from the convienent store. Part of me wishes I hadn’t paid for another Vietnamese visa and just bunkered down in Phnom Penh until I get this mess situated, but as I’ve already got the visa and bus ticket, and prices in Vietnam are quite similar to Cambodia, I say why not. Worse case scenario, I find a teaching job in SEAsia again. I could imagine more terrible situations 😉
Let’s take a poll. Will I make my way back to Seoul, or will I start a new life in Vietnam?
P.s. OR That Time I Had to
Bribe Thank Immigration Officers
Upon arriving at the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, I was informed by the immigration officer that I would not be allowed to exit Cambodia in order to enter Vietnam because I didn’t have enough room in my passport for a stamp, although this hadn’t been a problem when the travel agency took my passport to issue the Vietnamese visa only two days before. In the midst of all of this, my bus left. I can’t say it was my finest moment, and I admittedly started to cry in front of all of the immigration officers, as they just looked at me, probably wondering how to get the crazy foreigner away from their booth.
After pulling myself together and trying to think of what to do next, one of the officers approached me and said he would let me try my luck with the Vietnamese immigration. So I walked over to the Vietnamese side and asked if they could possibly stamp my passport. They said it was no problem and there was no reason for Cambodia to not let me pass, so they sent me back, but this time with an escort, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would be paying at least this person for their “kindness” at helping me walk back to where I started.
Back on the other side, the Cambodian immigration officers kept shaking their head in disbelief saying that it can’t be right that Vietnam said it was okay, but eventually my escort convinced them that I was telling the truth, and the Cambodian officer looked at me, smiled, and said “you’re very lucky”. Oh yes, I felt incredibly lucky.
Once I paid all of the appropriate people on the Vietnamese side, and bought another bus ticket, I was finally able to make it back to Saigon, and I felt so much relief as I arrived at my hostel. This has been the first, and hopefully the only, issue I have ever had while traveling between borders, and although I had heard stories, I kept thinking “oh, I am glad I am lucky when it comes to traveling”. Nobody is safe is what I take from this experience haha. 😛