Spontaneous decision: I'll be flying to Luang Prabang in Laos today. I didn't have that on my list but heard so many tempting things about it that I could not resist. But I don't want to leave this place without writing a little bit about my experiences in the past weeks, since I'm sure there will be a lot of new impressions sinking into my memories very soon and might overwrite something :D But bit by bit.
As mentioned before, my trip to Vietnam wasn't the easiest part of my travels so far.
I was picked up at the hostel in Phnom Penh on time in the morning. The promised route was 2 hours by bus to the border, 2 hours on a boat on the Mekong River to Chau Doc and another 2 hours on a minibus to Saigon.
It took us 4 hours to get out of Phnom Penh because of the local ceremonies that blocked many of the main roads. The ride on the boat was nice, but took only 1 hour. I was the only passenger on the minibus to Saigon and that trip lasted for - 15 minutes. Then the busdriver dropped me off at a local bus company, bought a ticket for me and left. I'm absolutely sure, this was not part of the deal. When I got on the bus, I was surprised in a positive way, since the sleeper buses are not uncomfortable. Seats are arranged in three rows down the bus, upper and lower seat with a single seat for every passenger and (more or less) enough space to stretch out your legs. I was a bit confused about the reason, why I was on a sleeper bus, since the busride was supposed to take only two hours... After four hours I got a bit nervous and found myself close to freaking out when it got dark after 5 hours (around 7 p.m.), since I had planned to arrive in Saigon in the early afternoon and had no idea, where we were going. And noticed, that I was the only westerner on the bus and no one spoke english... I tried to convince myself over and over again, that we would arrive SOMEWHERE and whereever we would arrive, there would be a place to stay for the night. So much about the romantic idea to enter Vietnam on the Mekong River -.-
I was lucky to find an Asian phrase book on my tablet, wrote the question "When do we arrive in Saigon?" down in Vietnamese and handed it to the passenger in the seat next to me. He showed me his watch (20:03) and wrote something with 30 underneath. I responded by writing "20:33?" and he nodded. I didn't care that much about the arrival time, for me it was more important that we would arrive in Saigon at all. The next problem was, that I had no idea, where in Saigon we would arrive. I showed him the map on my tablet where the hostel was marked upon (bless me that I save screenshots from time to time). He tried to help me out by talking to the bus driver (I suppose, he asked him to drop me off at my hostel), but the busdriver just laughed and shook his head. He was trying to tell me something I did not understand, but what I got was that I was supposed to stay on the bus until we reached our destination. Then he got off...
We reached the final destination at 8:50 p.m. and I was not even off the bus when the first taxi driver waved through the open door at me, shouting "You! You! Taxi!". I had the impression, this would be a bad idea... And then it must have been some kind of fate. A tiny vietnamese man stood next to me and told me - in english!- that I had two options. I could go with the taxi driver and pay a high price for that. Or wait for a couple of minutes and could use the bus company's minibus service, that would take me to my hostel for free. I was exhausted, still a bit shaken from all the different emotions I had been running through that day and had no energy left to doubt his words... I just gave in. He took my backpack (I was a bit worried that the 14 kilos might crush him :D) and placed me on a seat in the packed waiting area. I felt a bit uneasy, but better as soon as we got on the minibus. His name was Binh, 24 years old and a student of agriculture (as far as i understood him). He knew, where Belgium is located in Europe, but not, where Germany is, which I thought to be sympathetic somehow :D He accompanied me all the way to the hostel, carried my pack into the lobby and waited until I was checked in - finally. He gave me his phone number and skype contact and I promised to drop him a message as soon as I had a vietnamese SIM-card (one thing I learned in Thailand and can highly recommend if you plan to stay in an area for more than two weeks!). He left with the words "Take good care of your passport. If you lose it, I can take you to your embassy." I thought this to be odd at first, but - yes - Saigon is not the safest place on the planet and I experienced that myself a couple of days later.
When I arrived in my dorm, two young british guys greeted me with the words "Hey, do you want to buy a motorbike?"
This question led to the next big story, which I cannot write about now, but will do for sure later. I had discussed this idea with Henrik before and we talked each other into this a little bit. I was trying to be reasonable about it (I had only one day of experience on a scooter in Chiang Mai), but the idea to explore a scenic country like Vietnam on a motorbike was absolutely tempting.
I did not accept the offer but promised to think about that. Went upstairs to check out the roof top bar on the 9th floor, which was one of my favourite places to hang out in the following days, since the view from up there was amazing and a good place to meet others. And safe compared to the rest that was going on down in the streets at night. Sank to my bed after one beer and slept a well well deserved sleep.