Vietnam by Bus
After Cambodia we headed to Hanoi with a stop in Nha Trang for swimming and sea. Sihanouk Ville beaches had really not been beaches as we understand them. The bus ticket was US$ 7 per person from Phnom Penh to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city). Everything went OK until arriving in Vietnam. Bus dropped us before the border and we walked to Vietnam. Our passports were eligible for free 15-day visas. However, we were offered some kind of tickets in a booth labeled quarantine. Saying no thanks and walking through worked like usually with similar border scams. In the Vietnamese bus stop the company told everyone to pay US 1$ more to resume right away, or wait a long time. Everyone decided not to pay and the journey continued almost right after the incident, with a bit irritated customers.
In Saigon we teamed up with Lori, a Canadian teaching English in South Korea and looked around for a bus to Nha Trang. A tour operator An Phu showed nice photos of their bus and promised seats from the middle of the bus. So we ended up purchasing an open ticket covering all the way to Hanoi, allowing multiple stops on the way, lasting one month with US 15$. When the bus arrived to pick us up from the travel agency for the first 11 hour overnight leg, there was a surprise waiting. The bus was full of tiny Vietnamese people who were sitting in the front part of the bus and all the tall foreigners were packed to the back seats. There the floor was raised with a half of the leg space available. It is probably not necessary to mention that there was a bunch of unhappy foreigners when we arrived in Nha Trang after the nightly ordeal. When complaining about this in An Phu office a man who called himself manager promised to make it up by reserving us good seats, if we did the booking one day before. Later, when reserving the seats, we learned that the bus had no seat numbers. This treatment reminded somewhat the OBLOGO experience in Bolivia.
Päivi loved Nha Trang beach and swam daily. City had everything we could hope for: sea, beautiful scenery, a nice breakfast buffet, bakery, and reasonable price levels. The beach was clean and perfect for almost a week, but then one day it was filled with Styrofoam, plastic bags, driftwood and rubbish, and we decided to take off. The density of hawkers was lower than average in Vietnam and most of them understood “sorry”. Hanoi, the capital city, was quite the opposite. When arriving, we were greeted by piles of golden brown grilled pigs, or that’s what we thought. There were hundreds of them piled in front of some sort of butcheries. On the second sight there was something weird in the carcases: they had noses, body structure, and tails like dogs, and dogs they were. For us that was disgusting not to mention spitting inside buses.
Pickpockets and dog-eating
Vietnam is suffering from high amount of pickpockets. Our friend Lori’s camera and purse were stolen in Saigon. She was disappointed by the police not showing any interest in the robbery. Earlier a couple of our friends from Finland got their camera stolen on broad day light and they have been avoiding Vietnam ever since. We heard similar stories from the fellow travellers we met in the bus. The final surprise was in the border crossing from Vietnam to China. The border was called Dong Dang. There were six officials lined up trying to tear passports into peaces. When we asked them not to intentionally to try break weakly made Setec passports, they got carried away even further. Päivi’s passport is now almost totally broken thanks to the Vietnamese border guards. When walking away from Vietnam, they tried again the trick of selling some coupon like they did when we entered. No thanks was again enough to avoid the extra payment and supporting the scam.
The whole bus trip through Vietnam from border to border was about 50 hours and US 29$. Every time the bus arrived they tried to leave the tourists to the most expensive hotels, and only after quarreling took us to the real bus stop. Most of the lunch stops were also in expensive restaurants or in local street bars. By the amount of scams Vietnam reminded a bit Brazil, except in Brazil there was less racism toward tourists. So far only Thailand has been more racist. The beach in Nha Trang was also surprisingly similar to Rio de Janeiro Copacabana beach. The dog-eating Vietnam is not Santeri’s favourite, but Päivi does not rule out another short beach break in Nha Trang.
PS. The Internet is censored in Vietnam, so don’t plan on updating or reading blogs there without www.anonymouse.org.