*Part 2 and 3 of Matt and Kyle's visit will be done once Rob gets his butt in gear and finishes typing them! Until then we are jumping ahead to our time in Vietnam! Enjoy!*
Phu Quoc was supposed to be our first stop in Vietnam. It is a little island off of the southern coast. There is a 15 day visa exemption for Americans to go to this island. Our plan was to head from Cambodia overland to Phu Quoc and then fly to Ho Chi Minh and pick up our “visa on arrival” from there. What our research failed to reveal was that in order to get that visa exemption you must arrive to Phu Quoc by air. It was a 6 hour trip to the Vietnam border. We started with a tuk tuk, then a bus that took us within 15 minutes of the border, then we switched buses to the one that would take us to the border crossing. We get to the border and were told that we were not allowed in Vietnam with the documents that we had since we were arriving overland. We were then essentially stranded at the border and had to get back to a major city in Cambodia. A man who had assisted our group with our passports ordered a very expensive taxi ($90, we had paid $15 to get there the first time around) for us all the way back to Phnom Penh. So off we went, 6 hours back to where we came from. We had our taxi driver drop us at the airport to see if we could get on a flight same day. At the airport we were able to find 2 flight options, but we were not allowed to fly out without our visa approval letter printed out. After some searching, a nice man at the airport allowed me to go back to his desk and print out the paperwork that I needed. I thought it was a miracle that we were going to pull this off. We went online to book our ticket (because it is MUCH cheaper than buying from the desk, which is ridiculous). Found 2 seats left on a flight for a great price, but couldn’t get the purchase to go through. When we asked the desk for assistance, they told us that the flight we were looking at filled up only within the past 30 minutes (while I was getting our visas printed, of course). They offered to let us board the flight that was leaving in 2 minutes time if we paid double the price and in cash. We declined since the price tag was $400. However, it did show that with the right amount of money, you can skip all the security checks and get right on a plane at least in some parts of the world. A little scary. Our first real travel snafu of the trip – can’t really complain much.
We ended up leaving the next afternoon for Ho Chi Minh or Saigon as it is known by locals. We found that a lot of what there was to do in this city was museums that we didn’t think sounded very exciting so we decided to only spend two days here. We hit up the major market there– the Ben Tranh market. We were able to get some of our shopping out of the way – Rob was THRILLED ;). We ate some pho and banh mi, and were turned onto hotpot plates. They are little crockpots filled with meat/fish, veggies, rice and seasoning, stewed to perfection and served to you hot. The first one we had came out uncooked and was surrounded by pieces of what looked like coconut, but was fuel for the fire to cook the food in front of us to our liking. Of course, before they came and lit the plate on fire, Rob picked up a piece of the “coconut” and took a bite. Thankfully it was a small one and no damage was done.
Motorbikes are the main mode of transportation in Vietnam and there are millions of them in each city. They all drive with no rules, any side of the road, no regard for red lights, they just honk their way through traffic. Motorbike tours are big in most of the cities, however they are very expensive. There are however, men on motorbikes on the corners of most blocks waiting to offer taxi rides, so we decided to approach one of them and ask how much it would cost to just drive us around the city for 30 minutes. No need to say much, just drive and let us see what is around. We managed to get 45 minutes for $5 and the three of us took off. Our guy drove us to different sides of the city, into oncoming traffic and eventually back to where we started.
Our only main site seeing done in Saigon was visiting the Chu Chi Tunnels. We had heard that it was an interesting place to visit, but once we got there we were regretting our choice to go. The tour concentrates heavily on how awful Americans were in the Vietnam war and how victorious the Vietnamese were in the Chu Chi Tunnel attacks. They took many liberties in their tour information in regards to this and the videos they show you are pretty tough to watch as an American especially. It made for a very uncomfortable day, one where we wished we were Canadian and told people we were when asked. :/
Saigon was a great city, but we were anxious to move onto new spots in Vietnam. So we headed to the beach in Mui Ne!