Days 1-7: Southern Vietnam Was Pho Much Fun!

DAYS 1 & 2: Getting There

My journey began with a stressful yet auspiciously happy accident. I forced myself to stay awake for almost 3 nights in a row to try and make myself as tired as possible so I might try and overcome jet lag (Logic: If I was insanely tired on my flights, I could force myself to sleep during my daytime, an thus align myself with the Asian nighttime). As I was sitting up the night before I left, miserably tired but itching with anticipation, I received an email from Delta saying my first flight was delayed. Alright, no big deal, I thought. Then I received another one…and another one…making my international layover in Atlanta virtually impossible to connect. Delta being Delta, however, allowed me to rebook my flights for free just a few hours before departing for the airport and doing so actually let me synchronize my flight over the Pacific with Kristen’s flight! What’s more is that they gave me a random seat on the plane…and it was right next to hers.

My oldest sister Mikaela and my mini-me neice Gabriella did the honors of dropping me off at the airport. I don’t think I need to reiterate how many tears were shed and how hard it was to leave my family.

Kristen is a teacher, raft guide, and graduate student in Colorado who has become one of my dearest friends over the years. We met randomly in 2012 when she came to visit my best friend Areej in Nashville, and then I met her again a few months later when I went to Texas to visit Areej. We immediately bonded over being completely weird and decided it’d be a good idea to borrow her parent’s Prius go on a one-month road-trip though the Southwest. We’ve gone on several trips since and have seen a huge chunk of the United States together. She up and got married last year (way to be a buzz kill…just kidding!) but decided that she needed to go on one more trip with me before completely growing up, so we planned the first chunk of my international travels to allow her to see as much as possible before needing to return home to begin school.

DAYS 2 & 3: Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam

We exited the airport late at night and found our gracious host for our first two nights in Vietnam: Kane! Kane is a family friend of Nhi’s (my dad’s wife), and not only offered to pick us up from the airport (actually…he and his dad picked us up, and waited 2 extra hours for us, due to the fact that our plane was late and then customs had lines longer than Walmart on Black Friday), but also gave Kristen and I two comfy beds, a shower, and water (which was nice because I accidentally froze my Sawyer water filter my very first night in Asia, rendering it useless. On that note, let me mention that you don’t need to pack water purification devices/tablets for southeast Asia. Drinking water can be found every 10 feet. And you can brush your teeth with the tap…it won’t make you sick).

Ho Chi Mihn City was definitely a culture shock. It’s a bright and bustling yet derelict kind of place filled with as much litter as it is filled with excitement! If you’ve ever driven in New York City or Washington D.C., multiply the madness tenfold (or more). Walking across the street for the first time was nothing less than challenging. There are SO MANY MOTORBIKES. And traffic rules/lines/etc are merely suggestions here. For the most part, every biker has a 5 inch bubble around their moto and they cram the roads like sardines, carrying various cargo or numbers of passengers that far exceed my wildest dreams. Larger vehicles pay no heed to bikers and just expect them to move accordingly when they need them to. We found out that you don’t even have to do anything to get a driver’s license, as you can simply buy one. Despite this, one of the things that truly amazed me was that no one had road rage. For the most part, people here just drive/ride straight-faced, never getting mad at someone else for cutting them off, never swearing, never taking on an attitude….maybe American’s should take note…

New adventures mean new beginnings…I started eating meat again today, beginning with the most delicious bowl of Pho I’ve even tasted. I’ve had a love hate relationship with the stuff (meat, not Pho) for the past 5 years, and I have been struggling for a while trying to decide whether I’d continue not eating meat while traveling. Basically, food is a HUGE part of a country’s culture…and quite frankly, I don’t want to miss out on the culture. Plus, it is MUCH harder than you think trying to stick to dietary restrictions like vegetarianism when there are so many beautiful, colorful, meaty foods surrounding you at every turn. It’s not like being allergic to nuts. Decision made.

After picking up a Sim Card for my phone (only $7 for 7 GB of data!), one of the major accomplishments on our checklist was to visit the Củ Chi tunnels…which I got stuck inside of. Okay, okay, I didn’t really get stuck. But let’s just say that I am a prime example and testament as to why the Củ Chi tunnels gave the United States a run for their money through guerilla warfare during the Vietnam War.

These tunnels are an underground, architectural feat unlike I’ve ever seen. Imagine a 3 story ant hill stretching a hundred miles, except the Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF, or Viet Cong) are the ants. The tunnels were built prior to the Vietnam War, when Vietnam was ruled/occupied by France, and then were revived by the NLF when our president decided to get involved in southern Vietnam’s affairs to help fight its communist counterpart in the north.

Not only did the Củ Chi tunnels allow the NLF to hide from and move around undetected by US forces, but all of the openings were made very narrow, so even if a soldier found an opening, he wouldn’t fit. Case in point. I have what they call birthing hips. I probably represent the overall width of a fit, well-built man with broad shoulders. At the beginning of the tour, they let everyone try and lower themselves one of the entry-holes. I was the last one to have a go, and after repeatedly saying my hips definitely wouldn’t fit, I felt that I had to at least try. Alas, I was correct. I could have fit diagonally, but that last thing I wanted to do was to be unable to exit. I arose from my half-way holed position, pink-cheeked, and we moved along.

There was also a section of the tunnels that were widened for tourist purposes. Granted, I was wearing a backpack, but I still had such a hard time fitting through that I gave up at the closest escape exit because I legitimately thought I might have gotten stuck if they narrowed much more.
Thousands of air vents disguised as termite hills/nests provided ventilation to the tunnels and underground living/meeting/working spaces. In some parts, the tunnels were 3 stories deep (hand-dug, mind you). But that’s not all, the Viet Cong installed brutal booby traps and land mines everywhere (interestingly, the land mines were fueled by American ammo).

We ended our night by visiting the “Walking Strip” (where we were some of the only foreigners), listening to some of the worst street performing we’d ever heard, and photobombing tourists. Overall, it was a great first day.

DAY 4: Ho Chi Minh City to Ben Tre, Vietnam

This morning, Kristen and I woke up bright eyed and still clueless about how we planned to get to My Tho in the Mekong Delta, our next stop on the map. That’s what I like about us traveling together….we literally just roll with the punches and take everything one step at a time. That morning, we jokingly established that we are never to know what we’re doing more than two hours into the future.

After packing up, we wrote a note to Kane and his family in Vietnamese. Thanks, Google Translate! We didn’t exactly know what to do to get out of town, but we took a $4 cab ride to the “backpacker” area, where we were sure we would find what we needed. We visited the tour company that runs the boat we planned on taking on the 18th to get out of Vietnam (because we figured they’d also sell bus tickets too, and we could kill two birds with one stone) only to be bullshitted by the lady at the counter, who told us we couldn’t buy a regular ferry ticket without purchasing an entire Vietnam tour, even though the website clearly states that we could buy just a boat ticket. This was one of my first experiences with tourist discrimination: making westerners pay way more for things that can should technically be sold for much cheaper, just because we’re westerners.

After that, we saw a large sign that said “Mekong Tours” and figured we’d pop in, without high expectations. What else was there to lose? Turns out that it was just the place to be. They happily could sold us our speedboat tickets for the 18th as well as a bus fare all the way to My Tho. No tour needed. No problem.

We had an hour before we were to be shuttled to the bus, so we hit up the touristy food/clothing market nearby that Kristen spotted earlier from the cab. So many beautiful colors and types of food! I continued my meat-eating and we shared a rice paper quesadilla type thing (the only thing we recognized on it was corn) and we really wanted food on a stick, so we picked up a couple non-distgiushable balls of something on sticks and 4 fried eggs (teeny tiny quail eggs) covered in unrecognizable toppings. Everything was delicious! We stopped by Circle K to grab some road snacks before starting our journey, and Kristen found out afterwards that her lemon drink was actually full of salt. Who puts salt in lemon water anyway?

A cab driver was arranged for us and took us the bus stop. When we arrived, we realized that this was no tourist bus stop. We were the only white people on it. And when we went to choose some seats, someone told us, “NO” and pointed to a couple seats in the the back. Never have we ever tried to squeeze into two seats with less leg room. Nevertheless, we just laughed it off (especially when a little girl and a tiny mother got on the bus and took the seats that actually have enough leg room for us large Americans).

For a while, we didn’t even know if we were going the right way and then later realized that the bus passed right by My Tho. Fantastic. It was apparently headed to Ben Tre, which was fine with us after driving past the city and realizing it wasn’t exactly appealing. We quickly located a suitable cheap hotel and when we arrived at the bus station, we were told to jump on some smaller van that would take us to our final desitination. By this point, we are completely confused and what type of transportation system we just traveled on. We didn’t now if it was public transport or a private bus company and we couldn’t understand how we got a taxi ride, a 2 hour bus ride, and a local van drop-off for $7 USD each! What a deal, even with the horrible legroom situation. When using public transit in SE Asia, don’t ask questions. Just go where people tell you to go, when they tell you to go. They know what they’re doing!

After we checked in to our hotel (which definitely didn’t look like the photos online, but did have toilet paper and air conditioning, which is all we cared about) we hit up the Ben Tre night market. It was HUGE. I was mesmerized by all the beautifully exotic looking fruit filling the streets. None of the market people knew English and after several broken conversations trying to ask what each fruit was, I gave up and just  bought as many of them as possible, especially from the sweet people who just decided to give me free sample to ease our fruitless conversations…

The most disturbing part of the market were the live animals intended for the kill: Chickens with their legs tied together, eels in small pails, fish in inches of water, frogs tied up, crabs tied up, turtles on their backs, and the list goes on. However, when I compared this to the disgusting factory farming industry in the U.S., this really was nothing. What’s worse? A lifetime of torture and then being murdered inhumanely? Or a decent life in the wild or on a farm and then having a pretty shitty last day? We did find out the next day that almost every animal for sale in the market are caught fresh out of the wild, so that’s something…

Unable to find much ready to eat food, we found the best-rated restaurant on the map within walking distance. Vuon Am Thur Man An Tiem, a most eclectic place, with different outdoor seating areas and an odd decor, displayed all of the live animals used for their meals in cages at the front of the entrance. We laughed about how in the US, if the cows and chickens and fish used in our restaurant food were placed at the front of the establishment, people would refuse to eat there. Americans are dumb. They just like to pretend that the animals they eat never actually had a sentient life. This restaurant seemed to be proud of this display, we realized, after the only semi-english speaking waiter kept explaining, as we went through the menu, that all the animals served on the menu are currently alive up front. It was proof that the food was fresh and it made them proud. Our favorite English translations on the menu were “Pork as Fake Dog” and “Evil Chicken.” We don’t know what these mean, and probably never will. We really wanted to know what the chicken did that was so bad…

Afterwards, we picked up coconut ice cream at another eclectic outdoor eatery. An old, decrepit Vietnamese man came up to me, and with the softest and gentlest and mumbliest voice I’ve ever heard repeatedly tried to get me to buy some weird piece of paper from him. I kept smiling and telling him “I speak English! No Vietnamese,” trying to sweetly ward him off. Five minutes passed and he still hadn’t left. Kristen and I were cracking up by this point, as I kept trying to tell him that I’m not interested. After finally realizing that I wasn’t going to pay him for a piece of paper, we thought he would mosey on. But no, he moved two feet and repeated the process with Kristen. I should have just bought the dang piece of paper.

DAY 5: Ben Tre to Can Tho, Vietnam

The Mekong Delta is famous for its floating markets and fishing industry. Ben Tre is small bustling river town, with quite a local village life, which the citizens have capitalized on with day tours. Being tourists, be took the bait!

We found a tour company across the river that offered obsensley low prices for a pretty extensive half-day tour, including lunch…only 270,000 Dong, which comes to about $12 a person. But then we experienced price discrimination for the second time. I called the company and asked if we could book the 270,000 Dong tour that morning. The voice on the other end sounded taken aback and said “No, no, it’s $35 USD!” I proceeded to tell him that I was looking at his website at that very second and it very clearly stated 270,000 Dong. He paused and asked, “Are you looking at English site?” “No,” I said, “I’m looking at the Vietnamese site translated into English by Google.” Long story short, the company has a completely different site set up for foreigners, in English, with prices that are triple that on the Vietnamese version of their site. But, we needed to leave town by 1 ‘o clock to head to Can Tho, and didn’t think we’d have much luck finding anything else with so little time, so we conceded and just paid the price of being American.

It turns out it was worth every penny. I can’t even describe the caliber of tour guide provided to us by Bat Duyen Tourism. His name was Thanh (or Tommy) and he was a fanastic English-speaking guide originally from Ben Tre who does quite a bit of traveling translating for governments/organizations. He was extremely intelligent and intriguing and our conversations surpassed that of just the Mekong Delta.

We visitied a Brick Kiln factory; visited a coconut farm where we drank straight from a coconut; visited a small village restaurant/shop where we sampled coconut and banana wine and coconut candy and fruit and honey bee tea while listening to local music (we were also introduced to a type of rice wine fermenting with dead snakes, which made me want to vomit); rode on the back of a little motor bike trailer where we swept down one lane streets and kept getting hit in the head head by palms; ate a HUGE lunch where they legitimately brought out an entire fried fish…head to toe; and then ended the tour with a canoe ride down a small river.

Thahn kindly got us back just in time (despite the boat motor crapping out 100 yards from the dock….thank god for the other boat that came along to rescue us) and even ordered a cab for us, which arrived just as we did.

Despite making it to the bus station 15 minutes early to board our bus to Can Tho, we learned that buses in Vietnam (including ours) can leave early. EARLY?! We’ve heard of busses leaving late, but not early. That makes no sense at all.

The next best option was to go to Vinh Long, which is halfway between Ben Tre and Can Tho. We decided that if we liked Vinh Long, we would stay, and if not, we would take the next bus to Can Tho. The lady behind the counter instructed us to go to bus #8, a smelly, dirty local bus whose ceiling leaked…I loved it!

During the ride, I kept looking at the GPS marker on my iPhone and seriously questioned whether the bus was going where we wanted it to go. I used Google Translate to talk to one of the young bus attendants. The conversation went a little like this:

ME: Does this bus go to city center of Vihn Long?”

HIM: “Yes”

ME:”How long?”

HIM “Thank you very much”

ME:”Do you know how much time until we’re there?”

HIM “20 minutes”

ME: “Do you know if there are any busses that will take us to Can Tho tonight?”

HIM: “Any car do it for a donation”

ME: But do know what time the bus will leave and how much money it will cost?”

HIM: “When we arrived in Vietnam, we traveled to Vietnam to travel.”

I gave up. Especially when he bagan to smile and blush at me.

I am convinced that Google did an equally bad job translating my questions, and I looked just as silly to him as he did to me. The rest of the ride, he kept looking at me and smiling and proceeded to try and ask for my number by handing me his phone and moving his fingers over the keypad but I just used my lack-of-Vietnamese to play dumb and completely avoid the question. What was he thinking anyway…after our failed Google translate escapades, did he really think we’d be able to talk over the phone?

Two rickety, swervy, smelly, interesting hours later (after watching all types of locals get on and off the bus, as well as watching various cargo be loaded on and off the bus like it was a Fedex truck) we arrived about a mile outside of Vihn Long and were dropped off…across the river…in the pouring rain.

We stupidly stood under an awning not knowing exactly what to do until the locals finally indicated that we needed to follow them and walk, which I had already gleened was the direction of the ferry, thanks to Google maps. Once we arrived, we stood dumfounded at what we believed to be a line to purchase ferry tickets, but it wasn’t. A completely random guy took pity on us, tapped on Kristen’s arm and motioned us to follow him. We walked right onto the boat. No tickets. No payment.

After arriving, we again stood stupidly under an awning not knowing where to go. This was certainly not a tourist destination. Thankfully, we were able to ask a young guy who spoke a tiny bit of English to use my phone to order us a cab. The cab arrived 20 minutes late, and when we got to the bus station and learned there were no buses to Can Tho. We said “screw it” and decided to fork out $25 to take a cab for the hour ride there.

This longggg day ended so nicely though. We were dropped off at Enjoy Mekong Hostel in Can Tho and got the last two beds in the dorm.

We met a nice Swiss girl named Stephanie, and we all went to dinner. The place was called Quan Nam Nuong Thanh Van and the premise if that you order your preferred ingredients and roll your own spring rolls, which is apparently easy, but not for us. There were diagonal mirrors in the restaurant at the top of the walls like those you find in Walgreens. There were people across from us who were laughing at us for how obviously unskilled we were at rolling our food and we assumed that everyone in the restaurant was probably doing the same thing, thanks to those giant mirrors. A waitress watched Kristen struggling and came up to our table and just straight up took over, showing us with her bare hands how to do it. Afterwards, we laughed about how if a waitress in America came up to someone’s table and touched someone’s food with her bare hands, it’d end in a lawsuit. Silly Americans. A little Typhoid never killed anyone, right?

I have resigned myself to always having some kind of contact with fecal matter in Vietnam. Not because I don’t go out out of my way to wash my hands, but because everything I touch and eat (not to mention everyone who touches my hands to shake them) have been laden with germs due to a non-handwashing culture (or a least that was my perception). You can barely find soap in most bathrooms, and considering people use a water sprayer and their hands to clean up after doing business, there’s a lot of undesired microscopic surprises on every touchable surface. I expect to build up quite an immunity to illness over the next 6 months.

It takes a little readjusting when staying at a hostel. Don’t get me wrong, I’d sleep on a bed of straw with strangers (so side by side mattresses are a luxury), but it’s easy to forget that you could be keeping someone else up by the slightest of noises. Tonight, as everyone else was sleeping, I dropped a heavy battery into the floor next to my bed and an old Asian man staying in the bunk below me woke up suddenly and yelled into the darkness, “WHAT!?! What’s going on?!” and then immediately fell back asleep. I finally made myself go to bed at 11, knowing that I would be waking up before 5 am to go on a $8, 7-hour boat tour around the villages of Can Tho, with the highlight being that Cai Raing floating market.

DAY 6: Can Tao to Chau Doc, Vietnam

Free breakfast started the morning out right, and then Kristen and I and the other hostel guests that had opted in for the tour followed our host to the river. On the way, I continued to be amazed by the things these motorbikes transport. So far, we had seen bike drivers transporting and balancing (and this is a very short, non-exhaustive list) area rugs, bamboo limbs, giant boxes, huge bags of produce, and two to four other people, including toddlers without helmets. I’m talking cargo that weighs at least 5x more than the drivers themselves. Last night we even saw a high chair containing an infant positioned on the foot rest of a scooter, with his parents behind.

We boarded a much less nice wooden boat than some other fancier tourist boats, with a little cute Vietnamese woman at the stern. I preferred this. It felt more local (this is what I tell myself so I can feel less like a tourist).

The floating market was fascinating. It was smaller than we all expected, but maybe that’s because it’s the off-season. The highlight for me was seeing a karaoke boat…like, a tiny wooden boat with a speaker and a man singing (badly) into a microphone.

Melons and pineapple were some of the main items to purchase, along with other produce and clothing, from amongst the hundreds of colorful wooden boats. The woman driving our boat picked up a pineapple and fancily cut it into flower-shaped pieces for us. We joked about everything that her large machete-like knife had possibly been used for. After all, hygiene and germaphobia lie low on the totem pole in Vietnam (like I said, even toilet paper isn’t a standard commodity…in many homes and businesses, the common procedure is to just use a little spray water nozzle-which is affixed next to every toilet- to ‘wash up’ and then just pull your pants back up over a soaking wet bum). Despite the fact that this knife has probably been washed in this toxic river hundreds of times, we established that we’d still eat it because “when in Rome…” We looked over at our hostel friends in another boat, who were already enjoying their pineapple. Then we watched as their boat captian used his pineapple-cutting knife to cut nasty debris and plastic off of his boat motor, which our lady did just a little later. So, yeah. We ate some pretty disgusting, but delicious tasting pineapple (I swore I would never eat any pre-cut fruit on the street ever again).

The tour included many stops, including riverside walks on dangerously slippery sidewalks and an up close look at a rice-noodle “factory.” The rice is boiled down to a milky consistency (with giant heaps of old ripped fabric as the fuel), then spread out over a round piece of leather-like material, then cooked, and then laid out on woven mats in the sun. Our non-English tour guide handed out dry noodles to try to everyone except Kristen. We didn’t quite understand why she skipped Kristen until later when we recounted the occurrence of the admission/donation box. The tour lady had asked Kristen to put money into the box. So, she pulled out her wallet and thought that the lady pointed to a 500 dong bill, which she proceeded to place into the small opening. Later, we calculated that 500 dong is literally just a few pennies and thus we concluded that she didn’t get a noodle out of pure insult.

The last stop was a quaint local bungalow restaurant and guesthouse where we grabbed an early lunch and drank Vietnamese whiskey from a communal shot glass. I made my way to the bathroom area and was pleased to see that they had soap available. But when I went to use the bathroom, I was overcome with puzzling confusion about why there no toilets…only three large rooms with spray nozzles. Was I supposed to pee on the floor into a drain? I almost just went for it, but instead sauntered back to the table to consult Kristen and Stephanie about my predicament. They recommended to me that I should make sure they weren’t showers.

Yeah…they were showers. The toilet was just a door further. I’m super observant. I DID get the last 9 inches of toilet paper on the roll though, so I felt like a winner.

7 hours after departing that morning, we made it back to our hostel just in time to pick up some  Bahn Mi before heading to the bus station to go to Chau Doc (as our boat trip to Phnom Penn was in the morning). For days, Kristen had been talking about Bahn Mi and how we NEEDED to try it. Come to find out, Bahn Mi literally just means “sandwich”. We laughed and laughed about how this situation would translate back home: a foreigner comes to a big city and keeps excitedly telling his friend, “I really want to try a sandwich! We need to find a sandwich!”

We made it in time for the bus (which left only a few minutes late…which is way better than leaving 20+ minutes early). While waiting for it to leave the station, I noticed several small black plastic bags in the seatback pockets in front and around me. I grabbed the one in mine and it felt heavy, so I immediately assumed it was free snacks (because I have learned that many buses here give you free water and snacks). “Hey Kristen”–sitting across from me–“we get free treats on this bus!” I started to stick my hand in the bag and it felt slimy at the top, then I whiffed a nasty trashy smell. It was actually someone’s squishy leftovers. We laughed as I tried to defend myself by showing her the matching baggies in the back of several seats, hence leading to my confusion. I smelled my hand and winced.

Four hours later, we pull into Chau Doc bus station. Kristen got out before me and apparently her bag was taken out of the luggage bay, unsolicited, by a motorbike taxi driver. When I finally made my way out, she shrugged and told me this guy took her bag and wanted us to come with him and his friend. So, we did. The drivers proceeded to wedge them into crux of their bikes and motioned for us to get on the backs. We hadn’t ridden motorbikes yet, and honestly, we were quite turned off to the idea after witnessing a 3 motorbike accident in Ben Tre. But…when in Rome…

The ride was fine! Not scary at all! However, we learned a major lesson: always ask for a price before getting a ride from anyone. When we got dropped and asked how much we owed them, they quoted 100,000 dong each. “What?!” I thought, “that’s ridiculously steep.” But, we were the ones who didn’t ask, and I guess neither of us felt like haggling, so we just agreed to the price. My chauffeur was sketchy though. I only had a 200,000 bill and I asked if he had change. Normally, I would just hand the bill over and get the correct change, but I held onto it as he dug through his wallet. He pulled out 50,000 and says “Ride 150,000.” Kristen and I both hooted and said “No way! You literally JUST quoted us 100.000 each,” and he annoyedly pulled out another 50,000, took my bill and drove away. All in all, the 4 minute ride cost us $9. To put that in perspective, we paid for one hour in metered, air-conditioned taxi ride a couple of days ago and only paid $25 dollars. It should have only cost us about 20,000 dong each. Fool me once…

After awkwardly checking into our hotel (everything is hilariously awkward when two people try to speak to each other in two different languages with no overlap in understanding. It results in a game of amusing charades and—usually—genuine belly laughs from both parties. It helped that the host on duty called an English-speaking coworker who translated over the phone), we hungrily walked down the street to the first decent looking restaurant we could find. For the first time, the menu had no English translations.

We were just going to choose something at random but managed to ask what the best thing on the menu was. A very sweet and beautiful Vietnamese woman (who was on Skype with a French guy, as she was learning to speak French) knew only few words in English, so she recommended something and explained to us that our meal would contain lamb by sounding out a very impressive “Baaaahhhhhhhh.”

10 minutes later, they brought out a giant dish of greens and ginormous bowl of soup full of indistinguishable meat and vegetables, which was kept boiling over a tiny, table-sized fire. We dug in. We were a little turned off when we found a piece of meat that still had hair growing on it, but we weren’t too deterred. We kept a growing pile of unidentifiable objects that neither of us were brave enough to try on a plate in the middle of the table.

We had intentionally left the greens alone. We love greens, but they weren’t enticing tonight. Apparently that wouldn’t do though. We were doing it all wrong. A waiter came to our table and took the liberty of tearing up a ton of our greens and adding about 2-3 cups of it to the soup. By this point, we had officially accepted that it is totally not out of the ordinary for any person to walk up to you and touch your food with bare hands at any given time.

A nice Vietnamese man from across the restaurant came to our table to excitedly practice his limited English with us. He brought a small gift with him…a shot glass of what I believed to be Whiskey. He kept insisting, and I kept refusing…until I didn’t. That made two communal shot glasses of whiskey in one day. Kristen started bursting out laughing thinking about how many friends we had back home that would ever even think about drinking an unknown liquid substance offered from a complete stranger in a foreign country (ZERO).

When we got back to the hostel, I asked if I could do laundry and made sure—or so I thought— that they had a drying machine. We would be leaving very early in the morning to catch the 7am boat to Phnom Penn, Cambodia, and the last thing I wanted was to find my clothes hanging to dry in the morning, still wet, but unavoidably having to pack them still, which would lead to some real smelly mildew. They assured me—or so I thought—that it would be finished before 11pm. I even tried to double-check that they had a drying machine by having the gentleman at the counter call his English-speaking coworker, who said they did.

When I went to pick up my laundry at 11, they happily showed me where my clothes were.

They were wet and hanging to dry.

I can’t say I didn’t expect it!!

DAY 7: Chau Doc to Cambodia

The good news is that my clothes were (mostly) dry. But I was one sock down, which means I now had zero pairs of socks.

We decided to walk to the boat dock rather than take a cab, with it being only a 25 minutes away. Thanks to me, however, it turned into a 45 minute walk . Google maps isn’t always my friend. I thought I turned us right on the correct street, but I jumped the gun by about 25 feet which took us down a long narrow pedestrian path, which would all have been fine and dandy since all we were trying to do was get the the main road parallel to the river, but when we got to the road, there was a 10 foot metal barricade preventing anyone and anything from taking a right. We backtracked as quickly as we could and still made it to the boat dock before 75% of the other passengers. Nothing wrong with a little extra exercise!

During this walk, I became icreasingly more amazed at the things people are able to carry on the backs of their bikes. I saw a man transporting at least 100 melons. Then another man sped by with about 50 bags of sugar on the back of his bike. I’ve also now seen two riders carrying long items between both of their bikes, as well as 4 men on bikes, holding onto four corners of a cart and transporting it. For the most part, anything goes in these parts.

I video Skyped with all my sisters before I boarded the boat, knowing that my SIM would stop working across the border, which took an eternity. The trip was supposed to be 4 hours, but ended up being 6 because of having to get out of the boat twice: once for departure customs in Vietnam and once for arrivals customs in Cambodia.

To be Continued…

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