Monday, May 17, 2010

Border Crossing Into Vietnam

Good morning, Vietnam!

Okay, I've been waiting to say that for awhile now. Yes, I'm proud to say I've been to Nam, a country known for its bloody history, beautiful landscape, and conical shaped hats. It's a country that's caused much distress for my family, as my uncle Bob was deployed there during the Vietnam War. My grandma, being the devout Catholic that she was, prayed daily for my uncle's safety and swift return home. Though his return may not have been as swift as my grandmother would've liked, my uncle, I'm happy and proud to say, did safely return home. And now, just 35 years later, I returned to the country--albeit, a changed one--that I assume caused many sleepless nights for my grandmother. I can just hear my grandma now (rest her soul) if she was alive today:

"Adam, you're not going to Vietnam. You're not going to Vietnam, are you?!"

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!"

"I just can't believe it. I just CAN NOT believe it!"

Man, I loved that woman. I miss ya, grams.

Getting to Vietnam was an adventure in itself. After Phnom Penh, Sunny and I went to Sihanoukville where we picked up our Vietnam visas. It literally took 5 minutes to receive our visas at the Vietnamese Embassy. In our opinion there isn't any other reason to visit the city, as all the beaches are completely contaminated with rubbish. It's a shame, really. And it's beginning to get a bit old, seeing how the people in Southeast Asia treat the environment. Since the beaches were a let down in southern Cambodia, we decided to go to Phu Quoc Island, located off the southern coast of Vietnam. According to our map the best route to enter Vietnam from Sihanoukville was at the Ha Tien crossing, a border that recently opened for tourists.

Once our minivan reached the border, our driver, more or less, said to have a nice day and proceeded to point in the direction of Vietnam. As we exited the minivan, hordes of motorbike drivers surrounded us who were eager to make a buck. Our driver said there would be motorbike drivers waiting for us on the Vietnamese border who would take us to Ha Tien. As one can imagine, many of the passengers were displeased as we were told that the minivan would take us into Vietnam. Some of the passengers were carrying a lot of luggage and began to voice their dissatisfaction.

"How am I going to carry my luggage on a motorbike?" one disgruntled man began complain. "Answer me! How am I and my belongings going to be transported on a motorbike!"

I didn't want to stick around for the fireworks, so, with our bags in hand, Sunny and I proceeded to walk towards the distant Vietnamese border under the hot, baking tropical sun. The border crossing went fairly smooth and, just as our minivan driver said, there were motorbike drivers waiting for us on the other side. Sunny snapped a picture of me as I was about to board the motorbike, then off we went to Ha Tien. While cruising along on the back of the motorbike, the differences between Cambodia and Vietnam were discernibly noticeable, e.g. the landscape, the looks of the people, and the language, both audibly and visually.

Once we made it to Ha Tien, to our dismay, we were told that the ferries for Phu Quoc Island were not operating at the moment and that we needed to travel to Rach Gia, a city located 3 hours away. So, again, we quickly hired a few motorbike drivers to take us to the bus stop. And since we didn't have any Vietnamese currency, the drivers took us to a local money changer where we didn't receive a fair exchange rate, something we found out later. It wasn't but 10 minutes after we arrived at the bus stop that the minivan came hauling around the corner. The driver and his accomplices quickly and forcibly boarded us into the vehicle. It happened all so fast that it wasn't until after we paid the driver and boarded that we realized we had been totally ripped off. I obviously take partial responsibility, as I should have known the official exchange rate before entering a new country.

Sunny and I, sweating profusely by this time, sat in the very back of the jammed packed minivan. Feeling a bit dazed and confused, we sat in silence thinking about what had just transpired. Our driver never lifted his foot off the accelerator and relentlessly continued to honk his horn as he swerved around cars, motorbikes, and pedestrians.

Annoyed from the perpetual sound of the horn, the rattling of the minivan, boys offering me smelly, dried fish, and women who, unabashedly, continued to stare at me, I began to think to myself, 'what the hell have I gotten ourselves into?'

After we arrived in Rach Gia, we bought our ferry tickets and found a hotel room. Later that night, Sunny expressed that she didn't know if she could have made it without me that day. The feeling was mutual. Here's a word that best describes the day we had just experienced: Pandemonium. It always makes things easier to be able to lean on someone in times of chaos and craziness. We both looked forward to the following day and making it to Phu Quoc Island.

Next Stop: Phu Quoc Island


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