BootsnAll Travel Network

Vietnam: The Wrong Foot

February 8th, and Bec and I were back in Phnom Penh – our third stay in the Cambodian capital in little over a week. From Sihanoukville, we wanted to head directly to southern Vietnam, but could only do so via a private taxi that was prohibitively expensive. And so instead, it was back to Phnom Penh for a night; a quiet night spent at our guesthouse doing very little.

We booked ourselves on a (another) slow-boat down the Mekong river from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc, the Vietnamese border town, and were picked up at 7am by a minivan which would drop us at the boat. Suprisingly, the minivan arrived on time, but at 9am, we were still in the minivan, having driven alongside the river well out of Phnom Penh for at least an hour-and-a-half (having spent a half hour driving round Phnom Penh dropping off and picking up other passengers).

Eventually we made it on to the boat, and were off down the river. The trip was, to be honest, rather boring, particularly when compared to our slow-boat journey from Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang in Laos.

The boat docked after a few hours, and once on land we received our Cambodian exit stamp. Before we could officially walk over the border and onto our connecting Vietnamese boat however, there was the little matter of a quarantine check. Sounds nasty, right? Well, this quarantine check (or health check, or something similar sounding that conjured up nasty images of rubber gloves) involved us handing over a bit less than a dollar each. That’s it. Now we were officially healthy, and could enter the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

A few hours later, and we had almost reached the town of Chau Doc. The friendly Vietnamese lady who had organised us onto the boat back at the border offered us a room at a decent sounding guesthouse she knew. We were only staying in Chau Doc because we had to – we were headed further into the Mekong Delta to Can Tho, but couldn’t get there without an overnight stop, and so we didn’t really care where we stayed. The business card for the guesthouse mentioned DVD’s, internet, cheap food and the like, and the friendly lady even called the place to ensure they had a double room available. How could we say no?

After dropping off half of the travellers on the boat at the main port in town, the boat continued on for another half hour (‘just ten minutes more’, the lady had said repeatedly), taking us along the narrow river between square corrugated-iron shacks hanging out high above the water, supported by wobbly, knobbly wooden poles. We finally stopped, and were transferred to a couple of tuk-tuks for a 5 minute drive further out of town. School had just finished, and as we drove along, smiling kids yelled out Hello! with glee, waving enthusiastically.

But that’s about where things started to turn sour.

We arrived at the guesthouse, and asked for the double room we’d earlier been assured we could have.

“For you, we have doorrble,” was how the receptionist had answered our enquiries.

“Yes, double. We rang ahead for the double.”

“Ahhh, for you, doorble.”

“Yes, double.”

“No, doormmle. Doormmle.”

“Huh? You mean dorm?”

“Yes, doormmle.”

“No no, we rang ahead for a double room. We don’t want a dorm room. The lady said we’d have a double room.” We turned around to look for the lady form the boat who had accompanied us to this out-of-the-way guesthouse, but she’d already left. Great. It’s safe to say we were starting to get just a little annoyed.

“We only have dorm room. Double room is for people on our 3-day tour.”

“So if we book a 3 day tour with you we get a double room, is that it?”

She nodded almost hesitantly. We’d been screwed.

“So did you lie? Or did the lady on the boat lie?” This is what I wanted to ask, but didn’t. It wouldn’t have done any good for anybody. It wasn’t the fact we had to sleep in a dorm room that pissed us off – shit, after 4 months in Central/Eastern Europe, dorm rooms were a piece of cake – it was the fact we’d been misled. We were now miles out of town with no other option for a place to stay.

We reluctantly took the keys and checked out the room. It was hard to see at first – the mozzies that emerged when I lifted up the blanket blocked most of my sight. I went back to the desk and asked for some bug spray or some mosquito coils. The girl looked at me blankly – “You have mosquito nets.”

“Yes, but I want to kill the 325 mozzies that are already in there.”

Blank stare.

We soon gathered ourselves together and went randomly walking to see what we could find. We were seemingly in a small town, an outer suburb of Chau Doc perhaps, resting at the foot of a 300 metre high hill. On a busy street we sat on some steps leading up to a pagoda, and watched the locals watching us. We were the only whiteys around, and garnered enough stares from curious passers-by and young kids to satisfy even the vainest of people. It did become a little unnerving though, particularly when we stopped in at a little food place, ordered God-knows-what, and had the entire place staring at us as we tried to work out exactly what was in our soup. The phrase, “What the hell is that?” has never been used so often. We often eat Vietnamese food back in Melbourne – we love it. This was, well, I don’t quite know.

Back at the guesthouse, we asked about the internet that was advertised on the business card. The girl pointed to the sole computer behind the reception desk, “but the line is not work.” Of course it’s not bloody working. We tried to get the tv working so we could watch a dvd – anything to pass the time before we could get our of this shit-hole. The dvd player wasn’t working properly – I got an electric shock when I touched it. I asked the girl at reception if she could fix it, and she found another dvd player which also didn’t work until I switched the plugs at the back of the tv. And so we sat down to watch Monsters Inc. 15 minutes before the end, the dvd stopped. Luckily they had two copies. The second copy crapped itself with about 10 minutes to go.

This was not our day folks.

Defeated, we went to bed – the dorm room had just 3 beds, and, thankfully, we were the only people in there. Note I said people. Also note that the term people, yeah, that doesn’t incorporate rats. Because there were plenty of rats about. And everyone hates rats. Even rats hate rats. They scurried through the roof all night – just as we’d get to sleep, they would screech, arguing about who was the dirtiest, and rouse us from our precious slumber.

The early light of a new day couldn’t come fast enough.

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