Goodbye Cambodia, hello Vietnam!

In the morning I said my goodbyes to Margaret and set off to find a taxi back to Phnom Penh with Tony, Emma, and Paul. We didn’t get further than the bottom of the road before the same moto driver who dropped me at Blissful Guesthouse a couple of days ago stopped us and asked us if we needed a taxi. He wanted $25 but by walking away (it always works!) we got him down to $20 with drop offs right to the door of our guesthouses. It was such a pleasant journey by Cambodian standards : we all had bags of space and we were able to wind the windows right down. Due to the speed our driver was travelling at, we made the journey in a little over 2 hours, nearly running several motorists and the odd cow off the road.

I was met at The Lakeside Guesthouse by the little grinning ‘always stoned’ member of staff and the words, “ah, you come back!”, follwed by a series of incomprehensible mutterings about how good the smoke is! i collected my backpack, checked into our new room, left a note for Kotoe and disappeared into town to collect a few things. When i returned to the guesthouse, Kotoe had arrived from Sihanoukville and was sharing beers and conversation with Scott and Sophie, a newly married couple on their honeymoon. Scott, an Australian originally from Brisbane, met French Canadian Sophie when she was travelling in Australia a few years ago. They were a really nice couple and I especially warmed to Scott. We clicked immediately : he was down to earth, open, intelligent, amusing, and a little bit cheeky, and talking to him felt like talking to one of my best friends back home.

Kotoe and I returned to La Dolce Vita for our last meal in Cambodia. The cheerful chef remembered us, as we’d complimented him on the food last time we visited. I ordered the same eggplant dish and Kotoe joined me. I wish I’d taken down the name of the dish, as all I can remember was that it was number 25 on the Khmer menu! Kotoe was feeling pretty tired before the meal and having a full stomach afterwards made her even more lethargic, so I left her sleeping in the room whilst I joined Scott and Sophie out on the veranda. The three of us had such a good giggle, swapped travel tips and stories, and played some of our favourite tunes on the very irritatingly faulty guesthouse C.D player. When we finally retired to our beds, the stoned guy was asleep just behind us, wrapped in a foetal position around a large plant pot.

The next morning, after two early starts in Kampot, dragging myself out of bed in time to catch the 6:30am bus to Ho Chi Minh City was not a concept I welcomed with open arms. The 8 hour journey (cost $4, booked through The Lakeside Guesthouse) was comfortable and surprisingly easy. As I entered Vietnam at Moc Bai, it felt almost like I was at an airport : the complex there is on a massive scale in comparison to anything I’ve seen in Thailand, Laos or Cambodia, you are required to produce your passport on four separate occasions, and your bags are passed through a security check before you are permitted to enter the country.
Once we’d all obtained our official entry stamp, we were separated into two smaller groups and continued our journey in an oversized minibus with a crazy Vietnamese guy who called himself Peace and fancied himself as the next Michael Jackson. We were dropped off right in the middle of the backpackers ghetto along Phan Ngu Lao Street and right outside his travel agency, Hanh Cafe, where we were allowed to leave our backpacks whilst we trawled around the streets in search of accommodation. It seems that, unless you’re prepared to share a dorm room, $6 is the cheapest going rate even for a single room in Vietnam. We managed to get a room at Bich Thuy Guesthouse discounted to $5 by turning down the complimentary breakfast they offer each morning. I’m not sure how long I’m staying in Ho Chi Minh City and I figured that a breakfast of noodle soup (which is all that was on offer at Bich Thuy) may get a little boring after the first few days.
Whilst we were hunting for accommodation, a fat shirtless Vietnamese man ran at Kotoe with the crazed expression of a Maori warrior and proceeded to play fight in the style of a sumo wrestler. He had us both in stitches but after our experiences with Michael ‘Peace’ Jackson on the bus journey over, it did leave me with the impression that the Vietnamese people are all a little crazy in the head!
Once we’d settled in at Bich Thuy, the night was drawing in. We ate Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) for dinner at a little local street stall around the corner from our guesthouse, sat on mini plastic chairs which wouldn’t seem out of place at a nursery school. The meal cost us 7000DONG each, which is just under $0.50. Afterwards we decided to try one of the local beers (there are many), Bia Hoi, at another of the local’s dining establishments where they had a strange combination of pet dogs : a chiwawa, a large dog with short stumpy legs that didn’t fit his body, and a little white puppy with a sad face and a bottom that she wiggled seductively as she walked. We ordered 2 Bia Hoi (at a cost of 3500DONG each), thinking that what we’d actually ordered was 2 pints, but when it arrived it was actually 2 litres! 3500DONG for a litre of beer goes some way towards compensating for the expensive accommodation costs.
We spent the remainder of the evening wandering around the neon lit streets and perusing the shops, which stayed open well into the night. Kotoe found a couple of book shops which stocked Japanese literature, one of which also contained three of the cutest fluffy white puppies, who were playfully biting each other in the middle of the shop floor.
Photo is of the mother to the adorable fluffy white puppies (who wouldn’t stay still for a photo!) in a bookshop in Ho Chi Minh City.

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