We left Phnom Penh by boat, at once heartbroken to say goodbye to such an amazing country and relieved not to have to sit through another karaoke infused Cambodian bus ride. A few hours into our journey along the Mekong, everything became suddenly vividly green and people in pointy hats started popping up amidst the lush background. We had arrived in Vietnam.
We’d decided to overnight in Chau Doc and leave for Can Tho the following morning, but the hotel we had selected turned out to be a lot more expensive than what Wikitravel mentioned, so we somewhat blindly checked in at Vinh Phuoc. The room was all right at best, but them polyester bed sheets were mind-bogglingly bad. Who came up with that idea?! Sweaty.
The next morning, the hotel offered us a bus ticket to Can Tho with transfers for $8. We knew the bus fair was supposed to be closer to $5, so we decided to go to the bus station and take care of it ourselves. The hotel owner offered us a moto for $1.50, which seemed reasonable…
…except, he clearly didn’t take us to the bus station, but rather a random ticket office. Whatever – we naively went ahead and bought tickets for $3.50 each, and sat down to wait.
When we were squeezed into the back of a Ford Explorer with our knees to our chins and 7 others (for a total of 9), we just assumed that it was our pick up to the actual bus station. I mean, if a guy is just selling seats in the back of an SUV, why is he bothering to write tickets, right? RIGHT?!
The Explorer *was* the bus. As this slowly dawned on me, I did what I haven’t done since I was 16 years old: I had a full fledge panic attack. I tried to ask the other people through my meltdown where the big bus was, but got blank “why is the white woman crying” stares for a reply. Richard quickly caught on that I was not gonna sit through the claustrophobic conditions or breakneck speed for 3 hours and somehow managed to bail us out and have us dropped off at an actual bus station. To be clear – we are seasoned travellers and used to not-the-greatest conditions; we’ve taken six hour pick up truck rides across rural Thailand and bus journeys in Cambodia that would make you pull your hair out. But this was OFF LIMIT.
What upsets me mainly is that the hotel owner clearly fixed this by sending us to the wrong place. Is he on a commission from that ‘bus’ ‘company’? In future we won’t just naively go with it when this happens – if you get a moto from the hotel (not recommended), stand your ground and make sure they take you where you want to go.
We kept wondering if the $8 bus tickets were for a real bus, or the cramp-a-van? Note that the price for the crapbox turned out to be the same as a real minibus. And while it was just as white-knuckle, at least you didn’t have to be a full on contortionist to be able to breathe. And we eventually made it to Can Tho…
And the beauty of the Mekong Delta made it all ok in the end. We took a 7 hour boat tour that we booked via our hotel and ended up being just the two of us in the boat. $15 each for a private tour is a pretty good deal! I had never been to a floating market before and Cai Rang literally blew my mind. It felt a bit like Mr. Kim’s flying restaurant in the Fifth Element when, out of nowhere, a boat docked right next to ours in the middle of the river and started whipping up some coffee for us. It was so surreal to me, futuristic but old fashioned at the same time. People eating, sleeping, doing their laundry, scooping water out of their boat, hauling, tossing, throwing fruits in the air for others to catch. Minuscule floating noodle shops, floating gas stations, all those boats crammed together going about their daily business was a sight like no other I had see before. It was quite touristy in hindsight, but still something not to be missed if you come to Vietnam.
The same evening we did a free dinner food tour with a local dude who took us around town to off the beaten path streetfood restaurants. And so we ended the day sitting amidst the locals on red kids plastic chairs at a sidewalk pub, with millions of scooters buzzing around us, sipping on Bière LaRue while people around us snacked on BBQ mouse (eggplant for us!) and I was already in love with Vietnam.