Sunday, December 19, 2010

The overnight bus and boat ride to Phu Quoc

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, at around six pm last Monday.  My initial plan was to spend three nights on this little island in Southern Vietnam called Phu Quoc and then possibly fly up to Hanoi and go on a two night boat cruise through Halong Bay, which is in Northern Vietnam and a destination that the country of Vietnam is petitioning to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Phu Quoc is a pretty rural island but you can actually take a 50 minute flight there for about $40 or $50 US dollars.  However, since I have been having panic attacks since my flight from SFO to HGK, I decided to veto that idea and take the longer more interesting adventure: the overnight bus/ferry.  My game plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the bus station.  I figured that if the bus station looked too sketchy, I would just get a hotel in Saigon and make the trip in the morning.  But, it looked fine because there wasn't a single non-Vietnamese person there, which leads me to believe that the people looking to rob the tourists wouldn't be there either.  So I bought a six hour but ticket for about $6 US dollars and waited in a waiting room with a bunch of locals, who were going home to their families (see covert picture above taken with my iPhone).  This room was about 1000 degrees, filled with people.  In the corner, they were playing a Kung Fu movie on a flat panel  for everyone's entertainment (see below, left)--including my own actually.

I thought that American movies dubbed in Chinese were funny, but Chinese Kung Fu Novelas dubbed in Vietnamese are much funnier.  These people look like they have tourette syndrome or something when they speak.  It was awesome.  The officers manning the station only spoke Vietnamese, but after the first bus announcement, they read my ticket and said, "10:15" which was my departure time and once I actually had to board, they made sure that I was on the correct bus.
The bus itself, was pretty comfortable.  They had those seat pillows and a large screen TV in the front, which from what I read int the tour books are used for the bus riders to sing karaoke while the bus moves.  I was actually really hoping for some karaoke that night so that I could have someone take a picture of me singing karaoke with a bunch of Vietnamese locals on an overnight bus.  But, soon after the bus left, the lights were turned down and everyone tried to sleep.  I however, had my head lamp turned on and started reading.  We stopped to take bathroom breaks about every two hours and sometime at around 2 or 3 am we stopped the boat and took the boat onto a ferry over the Mekong Delta (see right) which was cool and then I arrived in Rach Gia at around 4:30am.

As soon as I got off the bus, four guys on little motocycles approached me about ferry tickets and a little motorcycle ride over to the ferry terminal.  Obviously, I was I apprehensive.  One, because you're not sure what to do when four guys on bikes approach you and two, I had no desire to get onto a scooter.  But, I did. Again, I figured, these aren't the guys looking to rob you after the bars because it's 4:30 in the morning and half the town is up and awake.  I also figured that since there weren't a lot of people on the road, driving on the back of a little motorcycle would be ok (DON'T WORRY MOM, I WORE A HELMET).  So after I told all four guys that I was scared to death to ride on the back of a scooter or whatever, the oldest one who spoke the most English told the others that it was best if he took me to the ferry terminal, which was about seven kilometers away from the bus terminal.  And, the ride itself was pretty exciting.  I felt like I had to give the guy my number afterwards because I was gripping his waist like a vice but the ride was successful (see above left) and I spent the next two hours at a lite little outdoor/makeshift restaurant in front of the ferry terminal (see above right).

The ferry was a nice little ferry with leather seats and more big screen TVs.  But, once I got to beach, I made the executive decision to spend the reminder of my trip here in Phu Quoc.  I rented a bungalow about twenty feet from the beach with two hammocks and wireless internet and called it a day.  I figure Halong Bay isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but these makeshift huts are going to be replaced with high rise hotels someday soon, so I might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

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