I thought it was about time to update on all the goings ons in Vietnam. What a place it has proven to be, when we finally made it out of Cambodia….. Let me just tell you that little tale first of all.
So Alice and I boarded the night bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City at midnight, having been told we would set off at 12.30am. The bus actually left at 1am. I, couped up like a hippo in a shopping trolley, endeavored to make myself a little comfy and ‘bed down’ for the night in anticipation of our 8 hour trip ahead. Having managed some intermittent dozing, I shuffled up in my seat around 6am and said to Alice “do you think we are in Vietnam yet”….completely forgetting we had the whole border crossing fiasco to contend with – well it was early!!!) We both looked out of the coach window as the sun had come up and found the place to look remarkably similar to Phnom Penh. After a few rumours traversed throughout the bus, we cordially deduced that we were in fact in Phnom Penh and pulling up at the exact same spot we had left five hours before. The fabulous thing about Cambodian bus companies is that nobody speaks English and when one has the audacity to ask “why are we not in Vietnam?” you are looked upon with utter disdain. Its obviously perfectly normal, appropriate and within the terms and agreements of our bus ticket travel to spend five hours circling and then return at exactly the same spot to set off on our ‘real’ bus journey to Ho Ch Minh ten minutes later. Yep, so needless to say our 8 hour journey morphed into a 14 hour epic. We never did find out where we went on our five hour magical mystery tour……………
So safe and sound we arrived in Ho Chi Minh, a little bleary eyed and ready for a shower and snooze at the hotel. No sooner we stepped foot off the bus, we were accosted by a seemingly friendly Vietnamese taxi driver who, upon perusing my accommodation booking invoice, happily agreed to take us to our hotel. I asked the fee and was advised that taxi’s run on meters here. No problem, we will only pay for what we travel so I assumed! We drove across town for a bout 20 minutes and finally arrived at our hotel to the demands of a $25 fare from our driver. I think he clocked the disgust in our face and settled for the $15 we finally gave him…still and exorbitant amount for the time spent in the car. Anyway, having ventured out of said hotel room a short while later, we walked less than two minutes up the road only to stumble across the place where our bus had dropped us off. Oh yes people, Alice and I got FLEECED big time!!!! Ha ha, we read about in the guide books but still managed to fall prey to the ‘nice Vietnamese taxi drivers’.
So Ho Ch Minh was a bustling metropolis to say the least. The place is crazy and you gamble with your life every time you cross the road. There is no such thing as a pedestrian crossing or traffic lights and basically, you just have to walk and hope that some of the 5 million mopeds in the city (yes there actually are 5 million of them) will swerve around you!!!Funnily enough they do.
Done quite a lot of culture in Hochers as I have affectionately named it…..Our visit to the war remnants museum was most sobering. Its very sad to know that people are still affected by the legacy of the Vietnam war even now, with babies born with severe disabilities and mutations as a result of the deadly ‘agent orange’ sprayed across vast areas of land by the US army…..very sad indeed. War, why do we have war???
On a lighter note the Mekong Delta cruise was fun and handmade coconut candy proved moreish…I was not tempted by the array of snake, squirrel or crocodile offered on the menu at our lunch stop though. I have felt very smug to be vegetarian since arriving in South East Asia despite not managing to avoid dodgy belly on more than one occasion!!!!
So, next stop was Nha Trang. The flight was 45 minutes and altogether a very pleasant journey, well done Vietnam Airlines - plenty of leg room, which is ironic since the general population are so ickle!!! Nha Trang is a beautiful beach resort mid way up the coast. The sand is white but sea very choppy. One has to make a calculated guess when venturing in, whether you will be able to leave it with bikini still in tact or lost at sea!. I managed to maintain modesty at all times, but was not impressed with waves crashing on my head leaving me resembling a drowned rat…albeit a brown one. How did Ursula Andres ever look sexy walking out of the water…..
One day, Alice and I had a smart idea to visit Vinpearl Island. A friend had told us about the place where you pay one fee ($20) and basically spend the whole day on fairground rides, playing computer games and frolicking in the water par. Sounded lovely, until I saw the cable car…….. To get to Vinpearl, you need to take either a ferry or cable car across the ocean. I say ocean and not sea to help you visualize the enormity of our journey. Basically, the cable cars are suspended about 100 mtrs above sea level, and span a distance of about a mile. Lovely idea for the wishing to take in the beautiful scenic views of Nha Trang bay on route to pleasuredom….not so great for people like me who appear to have developed a large dose of vertigo over the years! It was soooooooooooo scary, perhaps one of the most uncomfortable things I have done in a while! But hey, it would all be worth it when we got there and the pictures I did manage to take are pretty special. Vinpearl lived up to all its expectations and more….I basically spent the whole day in a state of frenzy and/or mild sickness from putting myself through all these thrill seeking exploits, water slides which propel you at about 50mph through darkened tubes and rides which leave you hanging upside down overlooking the sea with nothing but a cross brace holding you in. Oh yes, if there was a definition of going out of ‘one’s comfort zone’, I would say that I experienced it at Vinpearl. I was most gutted to miss the comparatively sedate monkey and dog show, but did catch the end of things when the monkeys and dogs were de-robing their brightly coloured custom made outfits…..I’m sure they love their three daily performances and ride in an open back lorry thereafter. Greenpeace would have a hernia!!!!!
So all in all Nha Trang was a fab place to be, hot, lively not to mention cheap. We ate most nights at a little place called ‘Same Same But Cheaper’ and it really was that. A full blown meal for just under two pounds cannot really be sneezed at! And the three pound manicure, pedicure and nail art combo was simply ludicrous. My nails do look lovely after two hours of steady hand painting by a very patient young Vietnamese girl.
And here we are in Hanoi. Arrived yesterday, did not get skanked by a taxi driver as have now taken to ‘calling ahead’ to our hotels for transport to be arranged. We are off on a three day junk boat cruise round Haling Bay tomorrow. One night is spent sleeping on the boat and the other in ‘bamboo huts’ on Castaway Bay. Needless to say I am a little nervous about bedding down with the frogs, gecko’s and mozzies, but there goes that ‘comfort zone’ thing again….Bring on Saturday for some Thai tranquility or a large dose of Veitnames rum!!!!
So I have now completed my time of volunteering in Cambodia. Time has flown by and the past two weeks have passed in the blink of an eye. Tonight, I will close my Cambodian chapter and head off onto the next page of Vietnam which I am sure will bring more excitement and challenge.
I must admit that the volunteering experience was not what I imagined. I thought I was destined for two months at an orphanage caring for children. I’m sure this would have been rewarding albeit tiring and most emotional. However I have been incredibly fortunate to encounter contact with a diverese range of Cambodian children, families and social workers. An experience which I am sure only few volunteers have enjoyed. To this end, I must say a big thank you to Riverkids for allowing me to join them as a social work volunteer.
During my time in Phnom Penh I have learnt so much more about Cambodian culture, the traditions, attitudes and expectations. It is country so different to England and I am sure that anyone who visits will find themselves in ongoing states of amazement (necessitating closure of the mouth on occasions…). In some ways, it feels that Cambodia is functioning about 100 year behind us . The place is a complex abyss of social problems, pressures and hardship yet tempered with a sense of determination and resolve amongst the Cambodian people. I must often remind myself that Cambodia is only 33 years in recovery from a civil war that took the lives of so many. Surely the country is still bound to be in some state of suffering and chaos?
Through my visits to the slum communities, I have been able to witness the problems that Cambodian people are facing on a daily basis and their struggles to live in such impoverished circumstances. The experience has made me feel blessed about my life in the UK and has served as a sobering reminder to never take even the smallest thing for granted! Some families eat just once a day and a bag of rice must go a long way……
Despite being an experienced social worker in the UK, nothing could have prepared me for the some of the things I have witnessed during my time at Riverkids. The standard of living amongst families, the lack of basic amenities, the poor health of some individuals and the tragedies which many have undergone is most saddening. However, I can also see that as a staff team Riverkids is really trying to bring about positive change and improve children’s lives.
The past two months have been a true éye opener’. I have not ceased to be amazed by the plight of families, the resilience of children and the commitment of Cambodian people to ‘keep going’ during incredibly tough times. There is real strength of character amongst the communities and Cambodia must work to preserve this. I realize that Riverkids is working in very difficult circumstances with a considerable lack of resources to meet growing needs . However, I have always felt reassured that staff are doing their very best with the limited provisions. I can see through shadowing the work of Mr Chea and Mr Theany, that they have established trust and respect amongst community members. Their input is not only accepted by parents but clearly embraced and valued by all. Social Workers are touching the lives of many people in need through the delivery of support, empathy and much needed resources. You can see that social workers really are ‘making a difference’which is a beautiful thing.
Next blog from Vietnam……………….
Serious stuff done..........On a completely unrelated note:
1) My day of solitude at the Himawari Pool was fab
2) Blue Pumpkin Ice Cream Sundae's really should be shared
3) I saw a load of live chickens today hangin off the side of motorbikes tethered bytheir ankles
4) My ruck sack is too small for all my belongings...........
5) I am actually going to miss cold showers
6) I am frustrated by the half glasses of wine served in ALL CAMBODIAN ESTABLISHMENTS
7) I look like a drag queen in Khmer photos.
8) Vietnam is supposed to be 39 degrees tomorrow
9) I spent 30 mins on my balcony yesterday watching a tied up puppy stare at a trunk of wood, who is more sad me or the puppy?
10) I am sooooooooooo over rice
Visit Our Main Sites
Be Our Friend