Well the bus from Kep to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) was booked for 10.30 pickup (what a stupid time). We’d been told that the Anna Tours and Travel mini bus was never full, really comfortable, only took six hours straight through to Ho Chi Minh, yada yada, sounds too good to be true, yep
The minivan turned up an hour late, which didn’t impress us or Jack, an English lad who was trying to get to Phu Quoc via the 1pm ferry. There was only one ferry so if he missed it he would have to stay in Ha Tien overnight and catch the ferry the next day. At this stage his stress levels were running a bit high.
The minivan was packed with no place left to squeeze both our backpacks in and there were three seats for four people. The drivers assistant fluffed around trying to get the back packs in and managed to get Michele’s under the back seat but Jack wanting to get the show on the road squeezed mine in beside him. The bus driver assured him that he’d be in Ha Tien in time to catch is ferry, but the time was ticking away.
We headed off and not far down the road stopped to pick up Passports from a fixer, they handed out the passports to about eight of the frenchies on the bus and I noticed there were spare passports including one belonging to and Australian bloke, (I hope he’s not going anywhere fast)
I grabbed my bag back and nursed it the rest of the way to the border at Ha Tien.
We had a chat to Jack, as he was the only English speaker, and he was talking about how in every group there’s always someone who doesn’t have the right paperwork or visa when you arrive at a border, so everyone else has to wait. When we crossed the Cambodian Border at Poi Pet someone on our bus didn’t have the departure card and had to go through his luggage which kept us all sweltering in this tin shed, waiting.
We arrived at the border, where our fixer took all our passports and headed off to the Immigration Control. Most of the Frenchies got off the bus for a cigarette but we stayed on and were dropped off at the Vietnamese Immigration. The Vietnamese Immigration had us fill out a health card and wanted an International Health Certificate. Of course we couldn’t find our Health Cards but the doctor (he was wearing a white coat) did a laser temperature check on our hands for US $1, wrote the results on the paper and we proceeded to Passport Control, and Murphy’s Law. Murphy’s Law, If something can go wrong, it will (Murphy was an optimist)
The two cashed up Cambodians on the bus had turned up with passports due to expire. So we all had to wait until they sorted it out. So close but yet so far, poor Jack was livid. The smiling Cambodian didn’t help, because Jack was not amused.
About half an hour later some money changed hands, our passports were stamped and minutes later we arrived at the bus station. Well actually we were dumped on the side of the road outside the bus station and told to wait there until 2pm when our bus would depart.
A little confused, we looked around for somewhere to get out of the sun for the next two hours and have lunch. There were a few drink stalls, a Bahn Mi stall but bugger all else as the place was a bit of a ghost town. We didn’t want to travel too far away in case the bus turned up early so we had a bit of a look before spotting a little local cafe inside the bus depot.
One thing we’ve found in Vietnam is check the seat sizes, because for me it’s a long way down and the little kiddy seats can be really uncomfortable trying to get my legs under the table or eat with my knees up around my neck and for Michele if the seats have arms there can be challenges.
Two Chicken and Rices for lunch and Ca Phe Den Nong (Black Vietnamese Coffee Hot). Mmmmmm the chicken was scrumptious and the coffee was nice and thick and mmmmmmmmm. They also gave me a pot of green tea which is traditional when you order coffee. The locals sit in cafe’s, order a coffee then drink gallons of free green tea.
A nice local lady spotted my Vietnamese Language book and sidled over to me and started looking through it, before
finding the page which complimented the chef on a lovely meal. She then continued to give me Vietnamese Lessons, ensuring I pronounced words with the correct tone. Vietnamese is a tonal language with the same written word meaning different things depending on its tone. I told her where we were from, how many kids we had which is always very important to Vietnamese when they meet you. I’m sure if we spent a few days with her in Ha Tien we’d be speaking better than the locals.
The meal only cost $4.50 for both and the coffee about 25 cents. It was so nice to be drinking Vietnamese coffee again (we order ours online when we are in Perth) I had another. Meanwhile a large group of Frenchies were sitting on the sidewalk just up the road arguing what to do.
Just on two o’clock the bus driver pointed to a rickety old bus (which looked like it was discarded from a commune in Nimbin) and said Chao Doc, we said goodbye to a pair of french hippies we’d be talking to. The bus drivers offsider pointed to us and the bus and said Ho Chi Minh.
We got on the bus and the frenchies who’d been up the road, wandering around aimlessly, also joined us and we headed off. The bus stank of incense as there was a mini Chinese shrine to the Goddess of Mercy on the dashboard and the incense was smouldering away. The driver, the old lady of the operation and the offsider were arguing away with hand gestures it was just crazy. The only song that was rattling around our heads was “we’re on a road to nowhere” as the bus regularly detoured, stopping to pick up and drop off bags of rice, boxes of seafood, parts, people, sometimes not even stopping, just slowing down a bit. There were bags of rice under all the seats, in the passageways, boxes of fish in every other space talk about space maximisation, even the dragon lady in the front seat had her sock covered feet up on a box of seafood in the front seat. Her big toe with a bright red manicured nail stuck out of a hole in her flesh coloured sock it was an odd sight.
It seemed this bus was doing the mail run as we’d stop, a box would be removed or pushed under the seat by some guy waiting by the side of the road on his motorbike. We started wondering what time the bus was going to get into Ho Chi Minh City as we seemed to be heading in every direction apart from towards it. Close to 5.30pm we arrived at Chao Doc, where most of the Frenchies got off. There was a pair on to Ho Chi Minh who were unimpressed because we’d spent 4 and 1/2 hours on the bus and were no closer to our final destination. They tried to get a straight answer out of the bus staff but the bus drivers offsider seemed to fade in and out of comprehensiveness. All we got from him was six fingers held in the air- we were really not sure whether this meant six hours more so gave up asking. They decided rather than go the further possible 6 hours on the bus to get off close to the centre of Chao Doc and find a room. They told bus drivers offsider they wanted to get off the bus close to the centre of town but the bus wouldn’t stop. They protested with the drivers offsider who’d open the door to let locals off but for some unknown reason he wouldn’t let them off.
Eventually the bus stopped, at a Tuk Tuk centre about 5 kms further away from the centre and no longer walking distance for the french pair. We discussed getting off but decided against it. We still would have to travel the six hours so it would be a wasted day. As we’d already paid for the room, it would be wasted money and we weren’t too sure whether the staff at the guesthouse were waiting up for us.
The bus finally pulled into the Futur Bus Terminal at about 5.40 pm and the offsider ushered us through to the travel desk, where he purchased two tickets on the HCMC Bus. We were ushered into a waiting room and told wait until 6pm, no info boards, no announcements, no platform numbers. We wandered out, asked around until we found our bus, stowed our bags, removed our shoes and boarded the bus. That’s when we had a startling realisation that they had booked us on a sleeper bus. The driver pointed to a map with our seat number, back row, bottom, port outboard (As we’d say in the Navy) The passageways were a squeeze, as was getting into the hole leading to the rear seats.
Michele wasn’t too comfortable likening it to being in a coffin and felt claustrophobic but for me it was like being in a bunk at sea, but with a big window. I calmed her down and we reclined the seats and laid down to enjoy the ride. Unfortunately for me the seats aren’t made for tall people so I couldn’t stretch out. It was comfortable enough, although I couldn’t sit up to rehydrate due to the low height. They also gave us a blanket but the aircon was a little low for me and with the heat radiating through from the engine I was sweating and stinking everyone else out.
The bus stopped in a big line of trucks and we wondered what was going on. Then the bus started driving through
some gates and onto a big ferry, and then the penny dropped last time we were here we caught the same ferry.
We stopped for about 20 minutes at a huge bus station about two hours out of Ho Chi Minh, with heaps of food places and I was able to munch out on Bahn Mi and Ca Phe Den, Michele wasn’t feeling too flash so just got a mandarin.
Eventually we made it from Kep to Ho Chi Minh , not where we had planned but way out in the sticks. A kind taxi driver offered to take us to our destination, using his meter,after checking the address and map on the iPhone headed off. We looked at each other wondering whether he was legit or not but we saw the sign to Quand 1 (District 1) so we relaxed a little, stupid stupid stupid…… We both saw a Vinasun Taxi and thought why didn’t we see one of them at the bus station. Last time we were in HCMC these were the most trustworthy taxi’s to use. The taxi driver pulled up and pointed to an alley and said that’s the address, we paid and as he departed we tried to find the number but the stupid fool had dropped us at the wrong place.
We asked directions from a lady who didn’t speak English and just then a Vinasun Taxi turned up, he pointed in another direction and said too far to walk so we got a lift with him. Not long after we arrived at our destination and checked our watches 12.30pm. We’d been on the road for 13 hours, we were welcomed by Mrs Long’s daughter who had waited up for us. Never have we beenso glad when we were showered and in between nice crisp clean sheets.