There are no shared taxis from Kampot to the Vietnamese boarder crossing because Cambodian citizens can use a closer boarder crossing foreigners cannot. We had to rent the whole taxi to ourselves for $25.00, but we were glad to have some much needed space for the 3 hour drive--or so we though. There is no wasting in Cambodia and the thought of this empty car making the journey was too much for the driver. He received a phone call and with hand signals and broken English he asked us if he could take two people in the front seat. At first I thought no way buddy! We paid for the whole car to ourselves. Really though, it wouldn’t make one lick of a difference if two people sat in the front and we were in the back. Why not. He turned the car back to town and found a guy on the street to translate for him. We thought he wanted to be sure we were okay with the two extra passengers who the translator said were his wife and kid. We said sure, sure…we had already told him it was fine. The car picked up 2 young girls, defiantly not his wife and kid. Okay, whatever. We traveled for an hour and stopped at his house. It was a little shack. His wife and daughter proceed to get into the car and they place the cylindrical pig carrier in the trunk (on our bags!) The driver thinks his translator has cleared this with us when really we don’t have a clue what is going on. Regardless, we saw where this guy and his family live and if he can make a few extra bucks and get his wife a free ride to the market, good for him. His wife sat in the front seat with him despite the fact that we insisted she sit in the back with their daughter and us, but no way. The car proceeded down the road with four passengers in the front and two and a small child in the back. His 8 year old daughter was adorable. We made small talk in English--ABC, 123’s and then she taught us to count in Khmer. I also needed a bathroom break really badly and one of the front seat passengers let me come into her house to use the facilities. I am so glad we didn’t refuse the extra passengers.
The Chau Doc boarder crossing is pretty remote. We were the only foreigners at the site and I thought that might be a problem for our wallets, but we got stamped out with no problems. The Vietnamese boarder guards loved Brandon’s height and were really easy to deal with. They did make us open our bags and open containers and move clothing around so they could inspect all of our belongings. We bought some pepper in Kampot that was wrapped up in a little baggie. When one of the guards saw this he immediately called over another guard. They motioned for Brandon to hand it over and the guard carefully examined the bag. He was very serious. When he opened the bag and took a sniff both of the guards started to laugh. I knew we had not done anything wrong, but it was still a pretty intense situation. Next was a 45min motorbike trip to Chau Doc with our bags balancing between the driver’s legs. We had an hour march in the blazing sun though Chau Doc to find the bus station. This was one of those miserable my pack is heavy, I am hot, hungry, tired and anything you say to me is annoying travel movements. The lesson of the story is always to negotiate with your drive to be dropped off at the bus station not just anywhere in town!
Our bus ride to Can Tho was crazy. We didn’t have any dong (Vietnam's currency), or a phrase book. People at the bus stations were barking at us, pulling us one way and another. We had no idea how much a bus ticket should really cost or when the buses were really leaving. There were people walking around wearing over sized pants stuffed full of cartons of cigarettes. It was a very foreign experience. The bus got stopped by the police on the way out of town and we had no idea why. The driver took out his wallet and got off the bus. We were on our way 5 minutes later. It was a very different introduction to a county.
We spent one night in Can Tho and headed off to Saigon/HCMC the next day. The name of Saigon/HCMC seems to be interchangeable in most cases. We bought tickets to Ho Chi Min City, but the bus we boarded was labeled "Saigon". The only class available was a 3rd class mini bus. It was packed full, but really not that bad of a trip. Saigon, or at least District 1 in Saigon is a nice place. We rode from the bus station to the place we stayed on the back of motor bikes with the 1000’s of other bikes on the road. It was sensory overload coming from sparsely populated Southern Cambodia.
The hotel we were looking for was full and an older woman asked us if we would like to see the room she has for $6.00. That is a pretty decent price for Saigon, so we followed her. We were expecting here to go to another hotel, but she slipped into a narrow ally. Perhaps there is a hotel in the alley? Nope, it was a room in her home. It was a very small room, but it was clean and cheap. It was a nice place to stay except for the fact that Brandon had to lie diagonally across the bed in order to fit. Poor Kelly!
The back alleys are a neat place. The front streets are busy with people, bikes, cars, vendors and other everyday chaos. As soon as you step into the alley it becomes silent and is like another world that is perhaps best described as a stereotypical image of Vietnam. You can see into the small front rooms that have beds, a T.V. (that is always on), perhaps some small furniture, and at any time 1-5 people. The place we were staying appeared to be the largest home by far. Some front rooms appeared to serve as bedrooms, kitchens and family rooms. You best be loving you family because it is close quarters here.
At night when walking home from dinner we would walk through the scattered green areas in the city and at 9PM they would be full of young families. Kids were walking around with balloons and ice cream cones. Parents sat side by side on more bikes watching their kids play. At any park space there would be hundreds of families. It was really a cool site. We spoke with a man who told us it was a very special time of the day because the whole family could be together.
Vietnam also brings a return to street vendor food. We eat so much Pho. Pho Bo is beef soup with rice noodles, bean sprouts, and beef with basil, lime juice, hot peppers, and hosin sauce on the side. It is very yummy and dirt cheap. It is also fun traveling with Brandon because he eats everything. When the plain beef got boring he ordered cow tongue pho. The medallions of tongue really looked much more appealing than my grade "C" beef in my soup. The taste is fine, but the texture is a little fibrous for my liking.
He will also eat any of the little mystery snacks off of street vendors. There is never enough common language to understand what you are eating, but I have a nibble and pass it on and without fail he eats it all. He ate a spider in Cambodia. I had a taste of a leg. I could feel it will around inside like it was trying to climb out so I had to wash it back down with some water. Just Kidding. It was very dead and didn't put up a fight.
There was a festival set up in the park across the street for New Years celebrations. Food stands, carnival games and a singer with back up dancers busting it like it was 1990. We had purchased some ice creams cones and as we ate, a crowd formed. We had a group of 20 or so kids and adults measuring their height on Brandon, comparing foot size, jumping to see if they could touch his extended arm. I was laughing so hard I missed most of what happened. If we run out of money, Brandon is going to start to charge for his services. He is also considering a move to Saigon where he will become a guru, and people can follow the way of "The Brandon".
We had a great New Years at a bar that created beer gardens out of a street. Just after midnight a green patty wagon rolls up with some very not friendly looking gentlemen in the front. Oh no. The wagon pulled into a vacant lot to park and the 20 officers in the back were dancing and yelling "Happy New Year!". Perhaps not a problem after all. I also met my neighbour New Years Eve. I have never met him before but he is my age and lives right across the street. Imagine that.