I love the smell of coffee in the morning

Day XXXIV – April 21

Another early morning at 6.30am, I wake up under crispy white sheets in the middle bed. I’m in a 3 bunkbed hostelroom with 4 dudes snorring. My alarm wakes me, as does the bright morning shouting from outside. I swing my legs over the side and start some quick packing. I’ve gotten so routined at it that all the 14 kilos I carried out of Hanoi airport a week ago, I have ready to go in less than 10 minutes. I pay a quick visite to the bathroom and I’m on my way.

At 7 I’m back at the bus agency where once again I’m told to wait – why not just let me sleep that extra hour?!
To kill the time I try the street vendors coffee, and sweet momma why didn’t I before?! Vietnamese coffee is the best. Coffee. EVER! Why do I discover this only on the last morning?!

I get on the bus to find Harry and the Korean that was in our room, who turn out to be on the same one, as well as a latino dude I’m sure I’ve seen before… You just keep bumping in to people on the Southeast Asain Backpack track.

We’re asked by the steward to fill out a Cambodia visa form and pay $25. Sais in Lonely Planet is should be $20.
It’s then that I find out. Money is missing from my moneybelt.
A $50 note, and one of €50. I know for sure it was right there just last night, and I made very sure not to loose the bag out of my sight. Except for when I put my eyelids in between…
So it was either one of the hostel ladies or one of my roommates.
Either way, the thought is making me sick! FCK! Most likely it was someone in my room, and I can’t wrap my head around it. Why the HELL would you steal from a fellow traveller?! You know how tough things can be?! I am Jacks inflamed disappointment! Already the bus is moving and there is absolutely nothing I can do.
I guess whoever did it was sort of courteous by leaving one €50 note at least… All I can do is hope karma will serve them right. Once again I’ve been confirmed; big cities suck!

This is where it becomes so obvious again: I’m just a little girl traveling alone, and have nobody to watch over me, nobody that I actually know or can trust.
I find this one a little harder to let go than the bananasceme in Hanoi. But there’s nothing else left for me to do.

Life goes on.

Around noon we get to the border, which we have to cross by feet. Turns out the visa was $20, but the busguide assures us he wasn’t ripping us off – so what was it the $5 was for then? But I just can’t get upset over such a small amount right now.

On top of things the aircon just broke down, and the heat is smothering.


It’s hot and sunny and in dry shades of orange, yellow and green. And flat, too.

Another note on the eternal Saturday: sleeping in doesn’t go beyond 11 o’clock. Due to check-out, or just the day being too hot by then. And most of all: there’s too much fun to be had to waist your time lying around in bed, better spend it snoozing in the shade or a hammock.
I wonder how much of that is going to change over these next 2 weeks when I’ll be volunteering, with a steady alarm and regularity introduced into my days. It will be so nice not to have to pack for such a long time!

When we get to Phnom Penh I’m left with the Korean, who’s also continuing to Siem Reap. Our connection just left, so we have to wait 4 hours for our connecting bus. I have to give it to those Aussies, the ride from Saigon to Siem Reap takes well over 16 hours.
No, today is not the best of days.
pp menu
We set out to find a not-too-expensive airconned bar, and end up in an icecream parlor where I find broodje bal and kroket on the menu, typical Dutch fastfood. Makes me laugh and sad at the same time.

Afterwards we go for a walk around and look for this park I found on the map, but upon asking a local, hear it’s been overbuilt.
This town doesn’t strike us that charming either…

I’ve been on the lookout for a blond tuktuk driver, but I guess Levi didn’t make it out this far yet. Or maybe he hasn’t bought his tuktuk yet… He was most serious about buying one to go pick up his friends who were coming over to Phnom Pehn.

sky over ppSplotta splotta splotta! The dark grey sky is breaking over Phnom Penh as I settle into yet another crowded bus at 6pm, and it’s completely dark before we’re out of the city.
The downpour doesn’t stop all night, all the way from one to the other side of the country. The massive rain is accompanied by the most amazing lightning I have ever seen. More than to the ground, the fulminations are thrown between layers of clouds, creeping out in flowers spreading over the entire sky, like the fireworks they save for the end of the show.
In the mean time the telly’s been tuned to this show that reminds me of those 70’s dance-alongs, sound over the speakers; no sleep till Siem Reap.

We get there around midnight, and I get the promised tuktuk to make up for the 4 hour delay in Phnom Penh. He takes me to Garden Village Guesthouse, the one that everyone’s been talking about. But at the gate I’m told they’re full.
He tells me he knows another hostel, and takes me to No Problem Guesthouse, one that does have vacancy and a dorm.
Weirdest place I’ve been in so far; a Beach-like crapshack with ceiling fans in a dirty dorm and no bathroom. Just after I lie down, a local (?) walks in to fall flat on his face on an empty bed –no sign of life follows- minutes before the boy that checked me in and his girlfriend come in… How nice it would be if I could just pass out now.
But I’ve lost my fatigue, and I still haven’t heard from Green Lion, so there’s that to worry about.

Boring busdays pt 2

bus ticketNext destination:
Ho Chi Minh City population: ± 9 million

Day XXXIII – April 20

I get off one bus in Na Trang at 6am, the next leaves one and a half hour later.

As I sit on the curb waiting between the high yellow buildings, a man named Duc, a South Vietnamese army veteran, comes rolling over in his chair to make some small talk and sell his postcards. He thanks me for the Dutch invention of his hand driven wheels. I buy his cards. “I like you,” he says, “thank you.” It’s a bittersweet encounter under the burning early morning sun.
I don’t know enough of the conflict to know how to handle this situation. Then again, if you weren’t right in the middle of the conflict, how much do you ever know?

Vietnam is expensive! * I just had to get out more dong than the 4 million that was supposed to see me through, to get my 588.000d busticket from Saigon to Siem Reap tomorrow.
Got that one taken care of now anyway.
The agency tells me it’ll be a 7.30 till 17.00; 10 hour drive. The elder Aussie couple –you‘ve got to love ye elder backpacker!- had told me they took 15 hours though. And you never know who’s right.

Too bad I forgot to take pictures of all these communist posters. Especially in Hoi An I saw so many of them! No use doing it from a moving bus now… Well, just imagine the ones from way back when, a little, but only a little less vintage but with the same message of together-we-stand-strong.

Here in my slim seat, utterly alone and forlorn I let my eyes wander. The surrounding area of Na Trang looks quite alright. Towering mountains close by on one side and beautiful beaches just on the other. This time I don’t mind skipping them though; these beaches are mostly about party party anyway.
Next we pass Mui Né, or so my neighbors tell me, and it’s just the most beautiful coastline imaginable! The harbour looks very crowded though, and it’s resorts all over the place.
By now the land has become much drier, but still the colours just pop out. It has this Mediterranean vibe about it.

Even out here on my eternal Saturday I get a little stressed from time to time. Like now; I have quite some stuff to take care of before shops close tonight;
1) get the photos needed for my Cambodian visa
2) find me a bed for tonight
3) get my reservation and pick-up in Siem Reap tomorrow arranged so I have a bed there
4) get in touch with Green Lion; they still haven’t responded to my e-mail but I’m supposed to start working with them in just a few days
5) find that same same but better shirt now I’m still in Vietnam, and maybe the just phó you shirt.

Same same
The Southeast Asia insiders joke you don’t read about in Lonely Planet or Insight Guide, the line you see on shirts EVERYWHERE; but what does it mean?
Sit told us about it on the train to Chiang Mai when Katie asked him. In full it’s same same, but different, describing ladyboys.
It originates in Thailand, but you will hear the saying it’s turned in to all the time. I don’t think the locals here even know what it’s about; but it’s a joke you can make with tourists, so they do. And once you know about it you can’t unsee it.
In Vietnam one might find the spoof same same, but better. Another spoof on the market I haven’t seen yet is it’s not the same, it’s completely fucking different!

hcmc mapBut we’re not yet near the city.
So, as I do a lot on these long bus rides, I’m quietly pleading “Please, please let’s be there soon, please!” Doesn’t make one bit of difference of course, I’m only stressing myself out more. I’d better let it go and fix my gaze at the scenery. Nothing I can change about where I am now or how fast I’m moving as long as I’m on this bus.
Maybe it also has to do with the fact that I’m so alone on that bus. But once you check in to a hostel you automatically meet new people. And I should’ve learned by now I’ll be fine, things will work out either way.
Also, it’s the most common thing for these busses to stop at seemingly random places, having locals or drivers hopping off and on, just along the highway or wherever. I’m still not entirely used to it all.

kim placeWe’re dropped at Saigons busy square 6ish. I spend half an hour finding a hostel for less than $8; Kim’s Place has a dormbed for $6 a night.
I take a shower and a moment online before I go out for a last bowl of Pho with one of my roommates, Harry from Wales. After, he takes me to where people go for drinks and sit on those plastic chairs again, having an old but stern lady serving us fresh brewskies at 7.000d a pint – almost twice as expensive as in Hoi An, but still it converses to just €0.30.

And all I checked off of my list is tonight’s bed.

Little after midnight Harry and I try finding our way back. I’m the one pointing it out while he’s not sure yet after spending several nights here. We go in and he’s convinced. But now the girl sleeping in the reception, by way of nightwatch, isn’t. We explain who we are and things are OK, and I climb under my sheets. I’m too tired to be bothered getting my moneybelt on so just leave it there next to my head and drift off.

Lesson learned:
If there are no lockers, don’t let your guard down or think this place might be as friendly as all the ones before, but WEAR YOUR MONEYBELT WHEN YOU GO TO SLEEP.

*Reading this back makes me laugh at myself a little. Last night I ordered in some food ‘cause I was having an extremely lazy Sunday, and spend as much on that as I would on an entire day there.