Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Ben Tre, My Tho, Can Tho: The wrong Mission...

From Saigon, the plan would be to get to Can Tho, a city in the Mekong Delta, the access to some of the most interesting Floating Markets in Vietnam. But I wanted to cross the Delta stopping at 1 or 2 villages on the way, before i get to Can Tho.

Miguelito read the guide book and thought of stopping in My Tho first and then Ben Tre which are situated one river apart. Bought a permit to My Tho on a ticket office in Saigon and jumped on the back of a Xe Om throught the city traffic to this intermediate building where they provided the real ticket and from there I got on on a local bus to the bus station.

So far the journey had been uneventful but on the bus, chatting with a local man he pointed out that my ticket was to Ben Tre and not My Tho! Ooops! Wrong ticket... Ben Tre is a less touristy town then My Tho. I was thinking of getting the ferry from My Tho to Ben Tre on the same day anyway, so by mistake I actually got the right ticket that would take me to the right town.

I also thought I was holding the ticket for a tourist bus as I bought it through an agency in the city centre. But when I arrived to the bus station, quite rough, I realised that it was the station from where all the local buses and vans depart, and there was no one of my colour around... Not too worried, as I'd been through it before... Got on the minibus with the locals. Not one word of english or any other language.

On our way I consulted the guide book again including the route I had planned for Cambodja just to realise I was now running short of time (my Visa allows me to get into Thailand before the 18th of May and its already the 2nd and still have a few days in Vietnam, but don't wanna rush in Cambodja either).

Weighting things up, I realised that maybe I shouldn't have came to Ben Tre, but was waiting to see how it'd go. 2 hours journey and we made there. Stopped at this very little station with no tourist orientation around. Only one girl could speak very broken english. It didn't really seemed the place I wanted to be, specially when running against the clock.

Asked her what was interesting to see around there and she could not understand. As far as the guide tells, Ben Tre is a point to get a bike for a day and cycle around in the orchards of palm trees. Which would probabily be something interesting to explore if done with someone else or with enough time instead of rushing on my own and with everybody else speaking nothing but vietnamese.

Pressure was on, I was out of my comfort zone and had to make a quick decision. I didn't really wanted to be there and had to make the journey back to My Tho, from where then I could get the Bus to Can Tho, the final destination, still a few hundred Kms away. So I used my guide dictionary to ask for a bus stop. The girl explained me where to get the local bus back to My Tho, which was not far away. The driver of the minivan I came with soon invited me to sit down for a bit and have a cold tea. Noticing I was completely out of place, they where being very friendly but I was boiling inside, so anxious to get back on the road as it was getting late and I was very far away of where I wanted to be.

They joined around me curious to know where I was from and curious about the tripod and camera. We got a few pictures for everybodies entertainment. The driver offered me a cigarrette and even before i finished my cold vietnamese tea he was already pooring a cold energetic drink into another glass. Of course you can't refuse it if you are invited. The girl who spoke little english brought me 4 little bananas. The smallest bananas I have ever seen, the size of my thumb. I finished the tea, drunk the energetic drink, smoked the fag and swallowed the 4 bananas. When I tried to pay for the drinks they didn't let me to. I insisted and they refused to accept my money.

Perhaps realising I was out of my environment they tried to help me which I much apreciated. I was very thankful, said goodbye and left for the bus stop. Struggled to find it, moved backs and forths carrying now 2 heavy rucksacks, asked a few people who couldnt understand well and pointed me in different directions. Eventually I found it and waited uncertain if the bus would ever arrive.

People would drive past staring at me. 25minutes and there it was. Relief... for now...

Got on the bus and was funny to see people’s reactions. I was now feeling a little better and was reasured the bus was gonna stop at the bus station in My Tho (from where I would get the next bus to Can Tho).

Travelling with the locals, yet again...

So sat back and enjoied the views over the Mekong Delta.

We got to the next bus station at 3pm. A dusty old area cramped with local old rusty buses and local people jumping in and out of them... Not quite like what I expected. According to the guide My Tho is a little more turisty so expected something a bit more... say... modern, 'fancy'... I was completely wrong. As i got out of the bus I was mobbed by Xe Om drivers who seemed to be on a competition to get the attention of the only foreingner in sight, to take me god knows where. They couldn't make it clear!

(no time for pics as I was getting desperate)

Right... I now needed to buy the ticket to Can Tho. Not quite desperate, but almost...

People were still not speaking english, not even at the ticket office. 'I need ticket to Can Tho please'. 'NOW??' the woman replied. 'Yes, what time leave?' i asked, trying to speak basic english. 'Not now... 5am.. tomorrow..'

My heart sunk...

Looked around to see if anyone could speak any english to find a solution. This old man, Xe Om driver, skinny, wrinckled, brown teeth, approached me with the most arcaic english: 'I-moto-highway... bus-Can Tho'...

I looked around again.. Nothing... No one would come out with better english...

I was now miles away out of my comfort zone...and my destination. That moment when all you want is a good mate around so you don't feel sinking in the shit on your own.

'Ok... say again?? So i go on moto to the highway is that it... and then?' ... 'I-moto-you-highway-and-bus-CanTho...' I guessed he was tring to tell me to go with him on his moto to the highway where we can flag down a passing bus to Can Tho... but I was not sure... and I didn't really have much of an option. It would be either that or find a place in dusty old My Tho for the night and waste a day and wake up with the chickens to get the 5am bus the next day. Didn't really fancied that option so f**k it!! 'Ok, take me!'

Got on the rusty moto with the 2 backpacks loaded on the front and back and speeded up. 10minutes later we where stopping somewhere out on the highway (which looked more like a country road) where a minivan (not a bus) was waiting. The driver jumped on me talking in vietnamese... I guessed that was the van to Can Tho.

He insisted for me to seat down and have a coffee and so I did. A bloody cold coffee at 3pm. Breakfast was at 9am and ahead of us a 3hours journey. In the mean time the driver got all excited with my camera and tripod exploring it like a little curious monkey... (with all due respect). Him and this girl that was serving drinks too. I took him a couple of pics and passed the camera over to his hand so he could get a few shots for his entertainment...

We agreed the price of the ride, quite expensive but they were well aware it was my only option so didn't have much negotation manouvre. I tried to reasure with the aid of my guide book we where going to Can Tho. We left 15 minutes later. I was the last one to get on a van jammed with people, most of them teenagers who greeted me entusiastically. But they looked a bit dodgy... The kind of teenagers who dress fashion and think they are too clever, like most teens do, although you dont expect that so much around here, specially in the country.

Dark shades, spiky hair, rotten teeth with exposed decay and mobile phones. A few of them I was not even sure if they were male or female and I could tell they where staring me on a weird way... Kind'a sexual way... I felt intimidated but tried not to show it. So had a laugh with them for a bit but was not feeling very comfortable with the 2 that kept staring at me... They couldn't speak english at all either... but I could understand they were saying naughty things about me. But there where other older and wiser people on board. I put my camera on video recording mode and passed it on to the kids hands so they could just film each others... Got a funny video of that.

I was no comfortable with the idea of travelling a few more hours with this kids on board, but

fortunatelly they where dropped off in a village 20 minutes later. As they got out of the van one by one, the 2 that kept staring and chatting weird stuff, got a good grab of my testicals, one afer the other and laughed.. I staied cool. They f**kn grabbed my balls!! I have noticed there are a lot of teens around these parts who overdress and behave different. The ones that where undoubtedly male and hetero got a couple of pics with their mobiles and high fived me. But I was relieved they left.

The rest of the journey was watching the locals falling asleep on the minibus to the long sound of mellow vietnamese music. I was writting stuff on the laptop and as soon as we stopped for a wee brake this one guy on the bus asked me if he could read what I was writting. Cheeky! But I was glad he could speak a little english so I smiled back at him and of course I passed the netbook to his hands so he could read my stuff and watched some pics.

Left him entertained and went for a wee. It was during the act of urination that came across my mind: don’t know where I am, left the van with all my stuff inside, camera, bags and money, this guy is using my netbook and i am in the toillet. Tried to hurry up, i’d had a hard day and didn’t want things to get worst. So forced the wee out so I could get back on the van quicker. But my doubts where probabily unjustified: Perhaps if we were in south-america or africa, I wouldn’t have left my belongins off guard. But since I got to asia everybody’s been nothing but nice to me; yes they want your money and all, but I haven’t heard any stories of theft or crime. Asian people, as far as I’ve experienced are respectful. And there he was entertained with the pictures of Rio de Janeiro when I got back.

And more, he typed the following:

we contact together, ok LE HOANG HUY , 27 old, i am living in my tho city , and you?

And I replied:

miguel, 31, i am portuguese, bo dao nha, and live in england. oh can you give me your mail , ok

Back on the road, everybody fell asleep, we were heading on the right way.

Just about 2 km before getting to Can Tho, traffic jam!!! Stopped!! Cars driving on the oposite lane, motos everywhere, moto drivers trying to persuade people out of the vans to take them to the centre. for a few Dongs. I didn’t really know what was going on and no one could explain me: The only person that could speak little english had left on one of these motos.

Magic overtakings...

But it was getting dark and I still had to find a hotel in a city I’ve never been and few people spoke english. So waited a little longer. When I made the decision of getting a Xe Om to the centre this group of backpackers just walk passed the minibus. They were on foot, i guessed, to overcome the traffic. So there was my chance. They walked confident as if they knew where they were going... And there’s only one reason why they could be here: the Floating Markets and Can Tho as its starting point. They had to be their way to the hotel. I jumped off the bus and rushed to reached them. When I arrived to the tail of the group I asked this girl where they were heading towards and she explained me they were following their guide to the ferryboat to cross the river to Can Tho. Oh! Here's why! The reason of the traffic jam, there was a ferry ahead...

I joined them and we all walked together

The group was staying at this hotel and the day after going to the floating markets... That's it, perfect! The pressure was easing off. I stuck to them for a bit, we got on the ferry, i did not pay a thing, who knows maybe because i was ‘part’ of the group, but no one asked me for ticket.

The guide suggested me these 2 budget hotels, I got on the back of another Xe Om and eventually made to it in the dark.

As I get in the hotel, this lady aproached me. Her brother has a small boat and does costumised tours to the floating markets. Actually, this was gonna be my next mission after check in: to find a small boat, no Tours, just something local to take me to the market at 6am. And there it was... being thrown at me. We negociated the price and the starting time. To be ready at 5.30am!! Ouch!!!! The market is bubbling from 6 to 8am so an early start is crucial.

As we were closing the deal, curiously the group I met on the ferry arrived in block to the same hotel, eheh! They were gobsmacked I was already there and negociating the boat trip. Was funny.

Miguelito couldn't wait any longer, time for a refreshing shower first and a gigantic dinner! After 3 motos, 2 minibuses , 2 local buses and 1 ferry, Miguelito was 'home'...

But the day was not over yet...

Found this vietnamese restaurant and did not hesitate. I was starving!! Yet again... To order food was gonna be a challenge as the menu was written in Vietnamese only. Eventually I managed to order Pho, the vietnamese soup I like so much. That I knew. When it come to order more food I pointed out to the this table where 4 men where sitting with a huge plate of meat. ‘I want that’.

The men noticed I was struggling and promptly invited me to their table... I turned it down but they insisted to join them on their duck big feast. They pulled an extra chair and start pooring beer in my glass. I only had ordered orange juice and now I was cheereing in vietnamese with this 4 men who did NOT speak english, for a change...

One of them would eventually come up with one or other word in english I could only understand after repeated 3 or 4 times. I was now feasting on their duck and fish and they kept filling up my glass with beer. Bo Dao Nhaaaaaa!!! Portugal... The way they pronounce it sounds hilarious... Somehow we managed to comunicate. One of them phoned his wife and put me on the phone with her. She could speak rather good english so we chatted for a bit. ‘Hope next time we speak in person and you can come around our place’ she said.

Found out that 2 of them where drivers and the 2 that invited me over were... Policemen!! Off duty Policemen... He showed me his official police ID and a picture of his gorgeous(!!!) wife I had just been talking to. They where on holiday and kept filling up my glass.

After one hour of broken conversation more people arrrived: 2 women and a man! More off duty police officers. I was surrounded by the Can Tho authorities. We had a laugh and at the end they paied for my dinner. Sweat! I dont think they see many travellers in this restaurant. The policemen hand-signed me that after dinner I would have to join them for a few drinks at the bar at the same time they kept pooring beer and making me drink it all in one go. Great! At least I wont have to pay parking tickets in vietnam in the future, just in case... I thanked but refused the invitation because the next day I had a very early start... They understood. Uof!!!

Went home thinking of the day I had just been through... absolutely exausted but feeling weirdly good. Got to bed and passed out..


HCMC, the capital city

5 days in Mui Ne and Miguelito HAD to move on. Against his will he force dhimself out of Mui Ne on a morning Bus to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).

4 more hours of hot journey at the back of a bus where I came across Benfica news on the cover of a Vietnamese newspaper... remember..?
Was a painful journey, not physically but mentally. I didn't really want to go. But I had to!
My next desired stop was not even Ho Chi Minh City, but the Floating Markets on the Mekong Delta, way south of Vietnam. But a stop in Ho Chi Minh City seemed reasonable, also because of its historical meaning.

After 2 weeks away from the cities, the last thing I wanted to face was the grey concrete again, high buildings, motorcycles noise and rushing people people and more people... And having talked to travellers on the way down I kind of new what was expecting me. So the plan was not an exaustive exploration of the city but instead to stay only for a full day in order to check a couple of things and then live to the Mekong Delta.
There are far more beautiful and interesting things to see out there then a city and I was now counting the days down to get into Thailand. My Thai visa would only alow me to enter the country by the 18th May and still had to pass through Cambodja... so no time to waste on big cities.

VIP seat for the driver's assistant

At a first glance this seems a random inocent picture, but lets look closer:
we have a huge truck right ahead of our bus. Ok, no problem.
But this truck is already on the oncoming lane overtaking another truck... With our bus tailgatting it. But the worst is, our bus driver was trying to overtake this truck at the same time!!!
Not to mention the oncoming motos pulling over to the hard shoulder...
I am so gonna miss Vietnam... Pure Adrenaline, mate!

Out of the bus, this little man offered his Hostel services. Through narrow halleys we went till we get to the Hostel. Staied on the 4th and very last floor. The tinniest room I have been so far, but with a terrace all for myself...

Roof toops in Ho Chi Minh City

Dropped my stuff and went for a walk to collect information. And who do I bump onto??
The Ozzies, Stevie and [can't remember his name, sorry] and their crew!! On the way to the airport and home.

Saigon Online

Forest of cables and wires, street after street after street

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. It was once known as Prey Nokor, an important Khmer seaport prior to annexation by the Vietnamese in the 17th century.

Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and later of the independent state of Sout Vietnam from 1954 to 1975. In 1976, follow its fall after the American War, Saigon merged with the surrounding province of Gia Định and was officially renamed Hồ Chí Minh City (although the name Sài Gòn—formally known as District 1—is still commonly used).

The city center is situated on the banks of theSaigon River , 60 kilometers from the South China Sea and 1,760 kilometers south of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

The metropolitan area is populated by more than 9 million people, making it the most populous metropolitan area in Vietnam and the countries of the former French Indochina.

And 9 million people need transportation... And most of them do it in motorcycles. The old Xe Om!
The noise is back!

Spent some time standing still on this corner with the video recorder on... Speachless!

One of the things to do in Saigon is to pay a visit to the War Remnants Museum, so Miguelito jumped on a bike and experienced the city's mad traffic.
If one goes to Paris, one's got to see the Eiffel Tower 'innit? If one goes to Argentina, one's got to see the pyramids right? Same same...

You can judge the americans the way you like, but one thing has no dispute: they are bloody good in militar engineering!!

The War Remnants Museum


But what impressed me the most: The mighty BULDOZER!!!

Now... This museum is pure anti-american! It exposes all the horrendous atrocities suffered by the Vietnamese to the hands of the Americans.
The exhibits and photographs displayed in the museum are horrific. Taking pictures inside is allowed but the content of the exposed photographs is too perturbing to take home... so I didn't.
From tortures being applied, to lacerated bodies by machine guns and bombs, to human mutants born during and after war, victims of chemical weapons.
Some exhibits include graphic photographs, accompanied by short copy in English, Vietnamese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and atrocities such as the My Lai massacre.
To see a few examples scroll down on the following link:

The Classic M-16 on the right and M-18s on the left.

"Remember you bunch of ladies!!!! Doesn't matter what happens when you're out there, there's one only thing you have to keep shiny dry! Your gun is your best friend!!" "Sir! Yes, sir!!!"

Legendary words from a US Commander

"Xiiiiiiii!!! Essa merda é muita longe!!! Fica lá na Cochichina!!!"
Sempre me interroguei onde seria este tão mítico lugar que toda a gente faz referência...
Mas esta minha dúvida de menino teve aqui um fim! Não é mais um lugar virtual, se não real.
A CochiNchina (e não Cochichina como sempre lhe chamava) fica aqui mesmo meus senhores... Pós lados do Vietnam, na antiga Indochina!
Conchichina... Indochina...
Sim! Faz sentido...
Oh fáchavor ler...

School uniforms

Deixa-te disso!! Vai mas é pa casa jogar playstation!! Amanha copías pelo Tanh Txin Pon!

Virtually, the first meal of the day at 4pm... Stopped at this food stall to have a nice pork noodle soup with my old friends.

Is there a place where they DON'T drive these things?

People watching at Cong Vien VanHoa Park
The daylight was coming to an end and Miguelito follow its guidebook advice. Thought to spend the last few hours in Saigon watching people from Saigon.

'One of the best ways to experience local city life is to while away an hour or two in one of the city's public parks. Early morning Tai Chi and badminton keep the older folk in shape, evenings aerobics classes are open to all and young romantic couples whisper sweet nothings on their parked motorbikes at dusk' by Rough Guides.

All ages! They run or walk the circumference of the park

play badminton

read porn.. i mean... the News...


behave like monkeys...

simply move their arms and legs about...

old or young...

on their own...

in dancing groups...


They keep active and social regardless their age or status! Its just natural on this part of the globe I guess...