Wednesday 15th February
With Robert, we got picked up at 7am near the hotel and then joined people in a minivan. We had a 2-hour bus ride to the boat. The boat ride was quiet, not much to see on the riverside. Of course the boat broke down at some point:
But that wasn’t too long and then we got to the border where we received the stamp out of Cambodia (for free!). Then back to the boat to the next checkpoint where they checked our visas and added the departure card. And no corruption there either, please!
That’s where I realised that my Vietnam visa had been given to me for 2 weeks only!!! Arggggh!!! I didn’t even know 2-weeks visas could exist. We tried to ask if they could modify the date there. Robert was pretty good at trying this negotiation but they said they couldn’t.
The second part of the boat trip, now in Vietnam, to Chaudoc, was really beautiful. The riverside is also much more inhabited than on the Mekong or Nam Ou riversides in Laos. Vietnamese boats are really beautiful. Some have painted eyes that give them funny faces:
At some point, of course, we ran out of petrol! And we got a “home”-petrol express delivery service. So funny. J
Of course, we also broke down! The driver started repairing the motor, while the small dozen tourists we were started immediately checking on the water and food supplies we had to calculate how long we would survive if we got stuck there. Ahah. Sadly, the repair only lasted a small half-hour and scrapped our exciting survival organisation plan before we had even finished it. And we finally got to Chau Doc around 5pm.
We found a guest house with a floating restaurant straight on the river. It is amazing to be on such huge structure that can float and even get detached and moved if necessary. Smart idea for when the monsoon comes. Whatever the level of water, no worries, it just floats! Here was the floating house nearby.
We enjoyed a sunset beer and early diner there while looking at the passing boats. It was a gorgeous spot as we could observe so many different kinds of boats passing by!
In the evening, we walked around the streets of this quiet city of Chau Doc debating on whether Vietnamese people are friendly or not. Many travellers I have met the last 3 months in Cambodia and Lao that have been to Vietnam told me how unfriendly, less smiling, pushy and especially sneaky Vietnamese people are, always trying to screw you up and make the most money out of you they can. Is that true? We decided to try to arrive with no preconceived ideas of them and see with our own eyes. So far, people in Chau Doc were friendly, not pushy and didn’t scam us.
On the riverside, there was a fountain that looked like a dragon, and a woman healing a man by removing with fire the oxygen from glass pots she was then sticking to his back:
We walked along the beautiful riverside where we found another floating restaurant for a last evening beer. Another good-bye, as I was going to Saigon next to meet my dad coming travelling with me for these 3 weeks in Vietnam while Robert was staying in the Mekong area for 10 days and going to meet a friend of him living there, before to head to New Zealand and then Central America.
Thursday 16th February
Here is the bus station where I took the bus in the morning.
The bus to Saigon was really comfortable. It took me 6 hours to get there. Then a friendly motorbike driver picked me up and after agreeing on a price, took me to District 1, the backpacker centre. I met with my dad and checked in the hotel called An-An II where the staff was very friendly too. How nice from my dad to choose an hotel with my name! 🙂
He handed to me the second-hand D700 body I had bought on ebay that he had picked up in Paris for me. How great to have my camera again in my hands. Woo…I felt empowered and at peace, having again in my hands my precious magic wand that I use to discover and cease the world around me.
This is Buy Vien, a street very similar to the Khao San Road of Bangkok, with lots of tourists, tourist shops and on top of that, some crazy motorbikes traffic.
We went for a walk around. After 5 weeks in quiet and relaxed Lao, the very intense traffic was really a pain for me, I wasn’t used to that anymore. It exhausted me. We went for an early dinner and at 9pm I was already sleeping.
Friday 17th February
We started the morning by chilling out with some breakfast, and then I went to the immigration office to ask if they could extend my visa. The guy said it would take 2 working days which meant getting the passeport back on Monday, but I could definitely not imagine myself staying in this hectic city for 3 more days so I decided to do it later in Hanoi.
In the afternoon, we went to the War Remnant Museum. It is a really interesting and rich museum explaining the Vietnam War in depth. I learned a lot, I wish I could go again several times. There was a photo exhibition of all the photos taken by war photographers who died during that war, including Robert Capa, one of the founder of Magnum, and his last 2 shots:
It was really sad to see all these shots and know these photographers risked their life to report, to illustrate the truth, to be witnesses, to tell the world, and died there. At the time of writing, an American reporter Marie Colvin and a young French war photographer Remi Ochlik just got killed in Syria while trying to report the closest to reality.
This exhibition in the museum was a beautiful hommage to the memories of all the war photographers of yesterday and today who fight to make the truth known and without who we would not have images showing and sensibilising the world on what is going on.
After the museum, I bought a new cheap mobile phone as the second-hand cheap one I had bought in Phongsaly three weeks before was already not working anymore.
Then we went for some walk on the riverside, where you could see huge restaurant boats.
We just went for some dinner after that in our area and then bed, exhausted again.
Saturday 18th February
We bought a 7 dollar-package to the Mekong Delta. It was a very very touristy tour in which they manage to cram so much stuff you get dizzy. The tour is really cheap because they hope tourists will purchase lots of goods during the day. Still, a good deal as a one-time experience to see a lot of things in one day when you have decided to rush a country and see as much stuff possible!
This is the type of boat in which we were for the day
So here we were, tourists among the tourists, playing the real tourists. On the boat, we met Thomas, a French guy studying business in Toulouse who was travelling around for 2 months and then going to study in Argentina for 9 months. We started this tour day by a visit of some handcraft shops of course (buy,buy,buy!) , then watching a woman making rice crepes, and then the possibility to put a snake around your neck.
Then we saw the small industry of the Phu Phoc Island caramels. The steps of coconut peeling, pressing, boiling in water, and putting on the table to cut them after sometimes adding some natural flavour like ginger, palm tree, etc. The delicious part was we could try lots of samples! Yummy!
After that a horse carriage ride to the other side of the island, where there was an interesting atmosphere in this afternoon heat with abandoned rollercoaster of a sometimes surely more lively flee market.
We passed through a local market (buy,buy,buy!) and boarded the boat again, to go to another island for some light lunch. After that, we had some nice tea, with honey, lime and bees’pollen, and boarded some small boat for a ride through the water forest:
After that, we walked a bit, again a small local market (buy, buy, buy!) and had some fruits before to come back to the main land, and back in the bus to Saigon. Pfiou! There we chilled out, went for dinner and that was it.
Sunday 19th February
Although we left at 7am, our bus to Nha Trang was a “sleeping bus” like I had never seen until now. Three rows of individual sleeping beds, on which I felt like a bird in a cage, before getting used to it.
The beauty of this bus, and later I discovered of many buses in Vietnam, is their klaxon, which has a kind of saxophone sound, really beautiful. Part of the landscape was some really intense green and ordered rice fields.
We stopped in Mui Ne for a quick lunch break, and arrived in Nha Trang at nightfall. The striking thing about this city was the number of Russian people in its streets, to the point that most of the shops had written their text in Vietnamese and Russian too! My dad decided to rename it “NhaTranGrad”
Monday 20th February
I spent the morning at the Post Office, putting beautiful stamps on postcards and envelops to send a little hello from here to you guys. I do love stamps a lot, and the funny thing in Vietnam is that they have a lot of stamps of very low value, so if you want to send a parcel with real stamps, you have to be patient. Two Canadian guys, Gary and Dave, had pity on me, and helped me out, which made it even more fun.
After that, I sat a bit on the beach of Nha Trang, beautiful although no one was swimming, maybe because of the current.
Then we had some soup at the local market with my dad, where the lady asked us at the time of paying 20,000 dons for the fresh coconut we had drunk instead of the 10,000 dons she had told me at first when we ordered. This was the first of a long series of “scams” and “oh how strange another misunderstanding!” with Vietnamese people, where the rumours I had heard about them became reality to me. While 10,000 dons is only 50 cents of a dollar, the thing that annoys us all is not the amount of extra-money we pay but truly the principle of getting scammed and seeing dishonest people laughing on our back.
After that, we bought some fruits. Vietnam has a few different fruits I had not seen in Cambodia and Laos.
Then we went to see the Photography gallery of Long Thanh featuring really beautiful photos of Vietnam.
See some more here
After that, we saw briefly the cathedral of Nha Trang, quite beautiful. Then another gallery of also a really good photographer, Do Dien Khanh. He was there, very friendly man so we stopped a bit for a chat. This is him posing in front of some photos he took
Enjoy scrolling his gorgeous photos here:
After that, we visited the Cham towers of Po Nagar, built between the 7th and 12th centuries. The Chams were powerful people who ruled in this area between the 2nd and 15th centuries. It was called the kingdom of Champa. In the North were the Vietnamese, and in the south the Khmers. Their kingdom was entirely absorbed by Vietnam around the 17th century. They are now an ethnic minority which counts 140,000 people, and what is left is those towers spread around Nha Trang, which are still places of worship.
After that we just walked around this part of the city, enjoying the sea side view.
We tried to reach a promontory from which to see a legendary mountain, but it was closed. We continued walking around, looking for a place for dinner. I was photographying the woman frying corn while this woman on the left who was buying some, bought some for me! Some Vietnamese people can be friendly! Wait a minute…maybe she has some origins from Lao? J
We found a nice terrace for some dinner. There was no tourists at all on this side of the bridge, which felt really great. There was this cute little girl at the restaurant who kept posing for my camera, she was really funny.
Tomorrow, going to Quy Nhon!