So, the fourth country I found myself in 2015 was Vietnam. Now, getting into Vietnam was quite interesting. Apparently, as a Canadian, you need to get a Vietnamese visa before entering Vietnam. Luckily, on my second day in Cambodia, some fellow travellers gave me the heads-up and I was able to apply for a last minute visa with a travel agency when I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It cost $60 and I got my passport back with a Vietnamese visa within 24 hours – not bad.
Now, from Siem Reap, there are different options to get to Vietnam, usually to fly in or take a bus. Since I decided to travel without an itinerary this time around and go with the flow, I didn’t book anything in advance. So last minute, here I was trying to catch a flight into Hanoi, Vietnam via one of the cheap airliners – but of course, they were all booked the day I had to travel, leaving me no other option but to travel overland to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam by coach. For a VIP ticket (meaning you get onto a sleeper bus with your own comfortable bed), it cost $24. While it was a sleeper bus, it wasn’t the bus I was sold. I arrive to the coach station at 12 am only to find out that I’ve been jipped by the travel agent. So, apparently, I’m supposed to share this 5-foot-nothing bed that’s 1 meter wide with this American guy from Miami (Nick) who I just met who’s like 6’3 for the next 8 hours. We’d literally be spooning – that’s how much space there was and there was no partition like the other one I was on. Thankfully though, I had a chit chat with the bus driver and was able to secure my own sleeper bed/unit on the bus, much to Nick’s appreciation too cause he got his own space too now. We ended up chatting the entire time and became travel buddies for the journey. But yeah, we need our own space!
Once we made it to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, they got us on another bus to continue our journey to cross into Vietnam. Of course, this one wasn’t a sleeper bus, but by now, all I wanted was just to get to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). I had an aisle seat next to Nick, which was cool, but then all of a sudden the bus stops yet again and they pick up this old man and put one of those plastic outdoor chairs in the aisle and had him sit next to me. Dude stank for one, and was watching porn on his phone the whole time. Who does that??? Nine hours of torture ensued – the things you come across in life. lol On a more positive note, in one of the many pit stops, while I was sitting with the few foreigners (Canadian, Brits and Americans), a lady came and gave me a bowl of tom yam soup. It ended up being from a Muslim family who was also on the bus with us. Some great Muslim hospitality there!
To make a long story short, what was supposed to be a 14 hour bus journey in a VIP sleeper bus ended up being a 19 hour journey on a normal bus which had no wifi, kept on stopping and picking up people from everywhere and didn’t even drop us off at the bus station like it was supposed to (which was near the guesthouse I booked), so we had to walk 3 miles to get to my guest house.
I was so relieved to get to the guest house, but now, my day was pretty much done since I lost 6 hours from the traveling delays. First things first, I booked my flight from Saigon to Hanoi for the following night. Then, I went out to go get something to eat (pho, of course) and explore the city a bit, before returning to the guest house, taking a shower, and crashing on my bed for the night.
When I awoke in the morning, I had to remember where I was. Once I caught my bearings, I got dressed, and headed downstairs for breakfast. Fortunately, I met this amazing Vietnamese girl while having breakfast who was visiting from Hanoi for her first time. I mentioned that I wanted to go on a vespa tour and explore the city, and she wanted to do the same, so we linked up. She offered to rent the vespa, but when she tried, they wouldn’t rent it out to a Vietnamese citizen (ridiculous) so I had to deposit my passport.
The great thing about going with my new found friend for the day – Vu Thi – was that I didn’t have to make any plans or read any pamphlets to find out what to do. More importantly, I didn’t have to de trying to ride one in the traffic there. I just sat on the back of the vespa and let her become my tour guide to Saigon. We hung out together the entire day, until it was time for me to catch my flight of course, and explored the city together. Renting that vespa and going with Vu Chi was the best decision ever – got to see and do so much in my brief visit! It also made up for my previous day which was consumed by traveling, misinformation and getting ripped off. 😛
In Saigon, Vu Chi and I went to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, the old presidential Palace, checked out Saigon Central Post Office (a post office built in typical French colonial style) in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, near Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the city’s cathedral, where we sat down to enjoy a cup of Vietnamese coffee. We later went and rode around downtown, visited the Ben Tenh Market (old central market) and the famous street which I can’t remember the name of for higher end designer shopping, and ended off our day eating dinner at a recommended restaurant (sorry, can’t remember the name.
Got to say, for a city that wasn’t on my original itinerary, I had an incredible time in Saigon!
Farewell Saigon, and Hello Hanoi!
So, I caught the last flight out of Saigon to Hanoi, reaching Hanoi just before 1 am. There weren’t any buses running now (of course), which was a bummer because it would only cost me 25 cents to get to the Old Quarters . Instead, we had to line up for non existent taxis. Since I was travelling on my own and was trying to think of safety as well as save a few bucks, I started to ask people in the line if they’d be willing to share a taxi with me. The first person I asked was traveling with three of her friends, so the taxi would be full. The couple in front of me heard and offered to share with me, which was great.
Once we reached the hotel they were staying at in the Old Quarter, I got off as well, since I hadn’t booked a place for the night. So here I was at 2am roaming the empty night streets alone, looking for last minute accommodations. Everywhere was closed. But thankfully, most of the hotels and hostels kept their doors unlocked but the receptionists were sound asleep. Finally found one after an hour and for a steal.
To be continued… sometime… hopefully in the near future.