Friday, July 26, 2013

The Perfect Road Trip

And so just like that, it was decided that we would travel to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam from Phnom Penh in Cambodia!! Just the name Vietnam had always fascinated me, what with all the movies seen in early adolescence especially the rather impactful 1978 Robert De Niro and a dainty Meryl Streep, starrer, The Deer Hunter, an Academy award winner and what a fantastic movie!!

Meaning of Vietnam: "Viet" was a pronunciation of a Chinese word for "far", which described a nomadic (wandering hunter) people in that region of Asia. Historically these wanderers migrated southward into current-day Vietnam. "Nam" means South. Therefore, Vietnam means "Viet (ethnic) people of the South."

My better half, oh! of course I understand your loyalties my darling readers and friends lie with me, and so they rightly should, and I do understand your agony at having to bear the connotation of terminology such as 'better half' but in this kind of trip planning I do fully endorse him to be in fact "better' than me!! Well, as I was better half usually makes these impromptu plans and just tells us "okay so we leave tomorrow morning at 6.30am by bus for Vietnam" and all three of us, my two daughters and I say.... like ....." in five hours from now and we are going to another country??" Hahahaha!! This is how the 'better half' operates and we have grown to love the man for his surprises and so we hustle to pack our mini bags for a three day road trip to Vietnam. So, now I use pictures to take you through the surprise packages we encounter on this so called road trip!!

There is thing about road trips....there are the happy early morning travelers and then there are the not so happy early morning travelers,

 The not-so-happy early morning travelers one with head down on the table and other with head buried in a book, in the waiting room of the bus journey from Phnom Penh to Vietnam.

So far nothing much had been said about the bus.The waiting room seemed to be quite the backpackers haven and the younger ones of our pack were not too pleased: not with the people but with the prospect of lack of comfort amenities in the six hour journey to Vietnam.So much for surprises!! 

Finally we all were ushered into a mini-van sort of vehicle with five co-passengers. All of us were a little perplexed as to how we would manage six hours in this confined not so comfortable space.Was this the bus that was to take us to Vietnam!!? Took us all, all of ten minutes to break the ice. Music came to the rescue and we all sang Abba songs as our co-passengers were from Sweden and knew the songs.

At least the part about singing all along the way on road trips was coming true, even if the vehicle was not right and the route unknown. So here we were getting used to the idea that we would be spending the next five hours like this when suddenly the mini-van came to a halt.Out jumped the driver and opened our doors and asked us to step out. Huh?? The kids and I were somewhat surprised.We are really far from Vietnam still we said!! Is something the matter? Do we have a flat? 

Well, we hopped out and were asked to take our belongings and vacate the van. Here I am with two of my Swedish friends and the van in the background.But, where exactly am I?? I wondered....but was patient!

And here are my better half and our friend from Germany...moving towards the border crossing point.And then I realized it. We were at the border of Cambodia and Vietnam.So, our road trip took us from Phnom Penh Cambodia to another province of Cambodia from where we had to cross over on foot to Vietnam as our vehicle had a Cambodian registration.

So,I thought from here we are to take another bus to go to Ho Chi Minh city.Well, on and on we marched in the sun.It was not a very short jump over the was a fairly long walk.

  Here is the international border checkpoint and imagine my surprise when from the border post I spied the huge Mekong river. Vietnam and Cambodia are linked by the mighty Mekong river. Yaaayyy !! I realised the surprise my 'better than the best half " had planned for us. We were going to Vietnam via the river!! Amazing! We were going by a large boat to a place called Chou where we were again going to take a bus in

Here we all are, all ten of us, except me as I am clicking the picture, inside the restaurant where we had some interesting soupy noodles and waited patiently for an hour or more for the boats to arrive.The Europeans were travelling by speed boat to Ho Chi Minh directly whereas our family of four was going by a much slower languorous boat to Chou Doc where we were to spend the night and take the bus to Ho Chi Minh early the next morn at sunrise!!

And so after this delicious simple meal and some glorious hilarious braiding and being photographed, fun, we parted ways with our dear friends with the promise that we will look each other up at Ho Chi Minh City over the next few days.

This is the lower deck and the following pictures show the relaxing upper deck of the long boat we took to Chou Doc.

As the evening progressed the sky clouded up and as we cruised the Mekong Delta towards Vietnam, singing many happy and sad songs, we saw some wondrous rain.

And after this lovely perfect river trip we finally reached Chou Doc.The boat docked next to a floating hotel and imagine our joy and surprise when we learnt that we were to spend the night right here in this hotel's room, being rocked gently to sleep in the Mekong-Bassac waters.

                                                   The docked boat

Just outside our room window

One of the beautiful royal boats below in which we spent some relaxed hours at Chou Doc.

One of the most wonderful experiences of human life is to see the sun rise on a brand new day. It always fills me with hope and joy for a better world!! We were really lucky to catch this beautiful sunrise early the next morning!

After this wonder of nature it was time to grab a quick bite and head for the sleeping bus to Ho Chi Minh. The most delightful thing about the breakfast were the freshly baked buns, no doubt a remanent of the French pasts of Cambodia and Vietnam and the very strong and sweet delicious VietCoffee. Do remind me to give you the recipe at some later point my dear.

And then again on the road this time to board the bus to Ho Chi Minh. Here are some moments in Chou Doc early at around 7am. These countries are surely up and about really early in the mornings!! 

Waiting at the bus station.....and here it rolls in..... and what a bus!!

And so we slept and ate and watched TV and had a lot of fun having been given the four seats right at the back so we could enjoy the trip like a family!! Some people on the bus ate Durian, a favourite fruit here, for which it is rightly said "tastes like heaven but smells like hell" and all the time I kept thinking oh!dear Lord if one thing could take away this and make the bus "smell like heaven" in spite of the Durian it would be AmbiPur, which always made our personal spaces feel like fresh and heavenly.So, here's a new slogan I just coined...
"Durian: Tastes like heaven and NOW even smells like heaven...AmbiPur....need one say more??" (
In between at some point the bus had to cross the river and as there are no bridges on the extremely wide Mekong-Bassac river our bus rolled into this boat which ferried us across the river!! So, in the bus on the boat across the river!! Hahhhaaa!! This was turning out to be quite the awesomest (as my kids put it) trip of all of our lives :)

The first views of the wonderful city of Saigon now known as Ho Chi Minh.

Just imagine our delight when as soon as we checked into the hotel and stepped out to explore the city we bumped into our dear German friend. It's true what they say what is destined to happen will happen.We were destined to meet and have share many memories of Saigon and so we did.

The wonderful views from our hotel window of the city where we spent the next few days exploring a turbulent past :the Cu Chi tunnels the War Remnants Museum and many many wonders that will take up yet many more posts for you to enjoy,But for now my dear readers and friends I leave you with thoughts of the journey we just took together! :)

We took a direct bus back from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh.....

Just waiting for the next road trip plan to materialize ..who knows this wonderful surprise filled man might just come up with one in the next one is Friday you know ;))

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