Welcome to Vietnam! We have just entered the land of conical hats and heaping bowls of steaming rice. Time to break out the chopsticks! I was excited to finally enter Vietnam. Most backpackers along the South-East Asia circuit visit the same countries, and many conversations eventually settle on where you’ve been or where you’re going. Those that have traveled through Vietnam have either loved it or hated their experience. How would Vietnam treat us as we made our way up the coast to Hanoi?
Vietnam Border Crossing: Our month in Vietnam began with crossing by land border from Cambodia. I’ve learned that there is absolutely no truth in advertising anywhere in Asia. We were promised that the same bus would take us from Phnom Penh, deliver us at the border, and then pick us up and deliver us to Saigon. Instead, we were dropped off at the remote Cambodian/Vietnamese border with no explanation of where to go or what to do. We are resilient girls though so we just tromped up to the office, pulled out our passports, and smiled. Smiling always helps when confusion is present.
Step 1 was completed and we exited Cambodia into “no-man’s territory” , the weird in-between area that exists between the imaginary lines of land border crossings. I always wondered that if something went down (like a robbery or murder or spitting on the ground), which government would take precedent and punish for the crime? Indeed, the Vietnam customs office was nowhere to be seen so we starting traipsing along the deserted road in the direction that we though Vietnam might be located. Luckily, we guessed correctly and, instead of winding up in the middle of some tribal village, we stumbled upon the border officials where, for 25 cents, they happily stamped our passports and gave us “official” seals. These seals declared that we were in excellent health and were not harboring any deadly diseases that could potentially wipe out all of Vietnam.
Another bus (same logo) eventually found us on the Vietnam side, and the little bus-driver man waved his hat frantically to flag us down….like we were going anywhere. As our bus hurried away from the arid, barren landscape, I settled back and imagined what Vietnam would be like. Would we be walking in rice paddies? Would we be asked about the war? Would I find cool souvenirs? (yes, that was and is always a valid concern!)
The long day ended when when we were dropped off at the bustling travel center in Saigon. It didn’t take long to find a clean guesthouse and Liz, Jen and I were soon out on the streets again looking for dinner.
Making Plans: After a solid night’s sleep, we were awakened to relentless beeping horns and other city noises. Eager to begin our Vietnamese adventure, we hit the streets with guide books in hand to find coffee (first, of course) and then book some tours (second). There were TONS of travel agencies to choose from. Sometimes, you just have to take a deep breath and dive right in – which we did. Several hours later, we had a fistful of tickets and a bus schedule of our “full bus ride” that would drop off-pick up all along the Vietnamese coast. Tomorrow we are off to see the ChuChi Tunnels, followed by a trip down to the MeKong Delta. I’m looking forward to seeing the picturesque countryside that I’ve seen in so many glossy magazines. Perhaps I’ll even find myself a conical hat!?