“The journey is part of the experience- an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca.”

-Anthony Bourdain
23 September Park, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Yoga in 23 September Park, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam- before security kicked me off the grass.

Upon arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, I instantly felt a connection to the place that I hadn’t felt when I arrived in Bangkok. I’m not sure if saying I like Ho Chi Minh City better than Bangkok is a fair statement though.

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh all chilled out after jungle yoga-ing for a few weeks, as opposed to arriving in Bangkok, anxiety ridden, wondering what the hell I’d just gotten myself into.

But, for whatever reason, Ho Chi Minh gave me good vibes. From the first glimpses of the French architecture and chaotic motorcycle traffic I got through the rain covered bus window, I knew Vietnam would be a special place for me.

City life, however, was an adjustment. After two weeks on the countryside in Thailand, one part of me was stoked to trade in bug spray for air conditioning but another part of me missed the serenity of the jungle… and the space to do yoga!

I attempted to make Ho Chi Minh City work for me. I did early morning yoga in 23 September Park, but got snapped at by a security guard to get off the grass. Tons of people work out in the park in the early morning (to beat the heat) but apparently, not on the grass- and pavement is not conducive for yoga on a travel towel.

I walked around Phạm Ngũ Lão, the backpacker area, but, just like when I arrived in Bangkok, I wasn’t feeling the backpacker party scene. (Does this mean I’m getting old?… Nahhh, wise… I’m gonna go with wise.)

Eavesdropping in the Hostel

One night, I overheard guys in my dorm room talking about Starfish Beach. Having never heard of it before, I looked it up. I quickly discovered it was on Phu Quoc Island- a Vietnamese island I’d also never heard of before. Between the mystery of an unknown place and my longing to get out of the city again, I wanted to go.

After further research, I learned it wouldn’t be easy to get to, at least not if I wanted to “travel like a local,” and I did. For cost’s sake, of course, but also because I was craving adventure. The trip from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, had been an easy, quick and uneventful flight. For me, half of the excitement of discovering a new place is the challenge of getting there. 

I woke up on a Friday morning ready to make the journey- 8+ hours by bus and a 2 hour ferry ride, solo. As I was getting ready to leave, the lady working at my hostel recommended I wait and take the night bus to Ha Tien (the port town on the mainland), then catch the ferry to Phu Quoc when I arrived first thing in the morning.

I didn’t like the idea of traveling overnight. It reminded me of a red eye flight, and I swore off red eyes years ago! (They always ruin my whole next day.) She explained that if I didn’t do it that way, I’d have to stay in Ha Tien overnight since the ferries only run to the island in the morning. I was okay with that. In fact, I was quite excited about staying in a small port town for the night! She offered to book the bus ticket for me, at whatever time I wanted to go, but I was determined to do it all myself.

From the extensive research I’d done on long-term travel in Southeast Asia I learned that hostels and travel agents charge a service fee to book tickets. On top of that, it is not uncommon for Westerners to get ripped off, especially in Vietnam. I’d read countless blogs with tips and tricks on how to avoid these services and tourist trap scams and I was ready to test them out! 

I planned to take the public city bus to Mein Tay, the main bus station, where I would catch a long haul bus to Ha Tien. After I declined her offer to book the ticket for me I asked “can you tell me where this bus stop is though?” pointing to the highlighted stop on the map on my phone. Despite my not wanting to use her services, she politely explained where the city bus stop was and reassured me that it would take me to the main bus terminal.  

City Bus To Mein Tay

The bus stop wasn’t far from my hostel, and with the lady’s directions, it was very easy to find. I waited less than 15 minutes for bus number 2 to pull up. When I hopped on I was charged 5k dong for my ticket … and an additional 5k dong for my bag. Basically, my bag got it’s own ticket. This felt like a scam- especially when the bus driver aggressively pointed to the floor and yelled something in Vietnamese when I set my bag on the seat next to me. I mean, if I’m being charged full fare for my bag, shouldn’t it get a seat? (The bus was practically empty).

I considered questioning the bag charge, but, with 5k dong being equivalent to 25 cents, haggling over a quarter didn’t seem worth the negative energy it’d surely emit. I simply smiled at the driver and put my bag on the floor next to me.

My smile didn’t phase him. He continued to yell in Vietnamese. His speech was loud and hostile, his brows were furrowed and lips pursed. He wasn’t speaking to me (maybe about me), but, between his tone and the way the he glared at me in the rear view mirror, I felt unwelcome. For the remaining 45 minute bus ride, I didn’t pay him any attention- I listened to music and watched the crazy Ho Chi Minh City traffic buzz about out the window.

Mein Tay, the main bus terminal, was chaotic. There were dozens of windows with city names on them. I stared blankly for a minute before trying to locate a window that said “Phu Quoc.” I didn’t see one. Then the name “Ha Tien” caught my eye. A man saw me looking at it and asked “Ha Tien?”

“Yea?….” I replied, questioning myself… Then asked, “Phu Quoc?”

“Yes! Ha Tien… Phu Quoc,” he said, nodding his head and miming that I’d go from Ha Tien to Phu Quoc. He pulled me up to the window then scurried off. The woman behind the window confirmed, “Ha Tien?” When I nodded, she pointed to the price, 180,000 dong ($9 USD), scribbled something on the ticket, ripped it out of the booklet and gave it to me in exchange for payment. She then pointed to a big row of buses behind me.  

I walked towards them but couldn’t tell which bus was mine. Many of them said “Ha Tien”  on the windshield. I kept showing my ticket to the uniformed men standing on the curb, each one pointed me onward.

Towards the end of the row, I handed my ticket to a man who looked at it, smiled, and pointed to the bus right behind him. He loaded my bag underneath. I tried to ask how much time I had before departure but he didn’t understand me. With no data on my phone (my Google Project FI phone plan works in 130+ countries but not Vietnam) I couldn’t even use Google Translate. (Don’t worry, since then someone has shown me how to download a language so I can use Google Translate offline). I really had to use the bathroom but didn’t want to risk missing the bus, so I had to get creative…

I pointed to my wrist, a fairly universal symbol for “time,” then pointed to the waiting area, then to the bus, hoping this would somehow convey- how much time do I have before the bus leaves? I then handed him the calculator on my phone. He smiled with understanding and typed 45 into my calculator. Sweet, I was pretty confident I had 45 minutes until the bus took off. “Toilet?” I asked. No matter how little English someone speaks, they almost always know the word toilet. He pointed back towards the way I came in.

After using the bathroom, which had a traditional Southeast Asian toilet- a hole in the ground with no toilet paper and a bum gun (the lovely title given to the water hose used instead of toilet paper) and seeing the bus hadn’t left without me, I was able to relax.

Through the glass wall of the air-conditioned waiting area, I kept an eye on my bus, ready to jump up if I saw people start to board. I made eye contact with the bus driver and his attendant. They gave me the sense they were also keeping an eye on me, knowing I didn’t understand a thing. I appeared to be the only non-Vietnamese person at the station. There were groups of young guys, families with children and little old ladies bustling around the station, waiting to board a number of different buses. There was a little convenient store like stand selling a wide variety of snacks and drinks. Some were familiar to me, like gummy bears, red bull, and orange Fanta and others were foreign, like rices cakes, seaweed and squid flavored potato chips, and Pocky stick cookies. I sat there, adsorbed in the sounds of conversations I couldn’t understand and the faint smell of fish and incense that seem forever present in the Southeast Asian air. 

Minutes before boarding began, the attendant got my attention and motioned for me to get on the bus. (I knew they were looking out for me!)

The Sleeper Bus

southeast asia sleeper bus

The infamous sleeper bus! At 5′ 7″ those seat capsules are a tight squeeze. However, being able to *almost* fully recline is a beautiful thing!

At the doorway of the bus the driver handed me a plastic bag and pointed to my feet. No shoes. I slipped off my Burks, put them in the plastic bag, and stepped onto the bus, barefoot.

With the early afternoon departure time, I was surprised to board a sleeper bus. These are common, long haul, buses in Southeast Asia, with three rows of double stacked, reclining, capsule seats. Until then, I was under the impression these types of buses were only used for overnight travel, I was wrong!

I was assigned a seat near the back, on the top row against the passenger side window. There was a neatly folded blanket and water bottle on the seat. (With no toilet on the bus, and unsure if or when we’d stop, I was reluctant to drink it.) I climbed up and settled in. Let me just say, at 5 ft. 7 in., I barely fit! I managed to make myself reasonably comfortable though.

Mekong Delta views

Mekong Delta bus window views.

I planned to use the long bus ride to write but I was so engrossed in my new surroundings, I couldn’t focus on anything else.

The bus wasn’t completely full, maybe 3/4 of the way. There didn’t appear to be a single other Westerner or English speaker aboard. As we drove, I was equally mesmerized by the people on the bus as I was by the countryside sweeping by outside my window. 

A tiny elderly woman was seated on a bottom seat, catty corner from me. (Directly in my line of sight but slightly in front of me- so she didn’t notice me staring.) She was wearing, what I assumed were, leopard print pajamas. To me, pajamas were a perfectly logical choice for an 8 hour bus ride! I now know she wasn’t wearing pajamas. Patterned cotton pants and shirt sets, that resemble proper Western pajamas, are common daytime attire for Vietnamese woman.

Her skin was brown and leathery and the wrinkles on her face were so deep they consumed her facial features. She had a severe arch in her back that caused her legs and torso to form a 90 degree angle when she stood up. In the seat, she sat in a squatted position. I couldn’t imagine sitting like that for 8 hours, but, whenever I looked down at her, she appeared content.

Somewhere in the Mekong Delta, the bus stopped, but we did not get off. Locals from the small village boarded the bus, selling stuff- mostly food and what I later learned were lottery tickets. One lady was selling these flat, round, peanut covered things that kind of looked like peanut brittle, a young boy, not a day over 12, was selling fishy smelling, seaweed covered nuggets, and an older woman was selling little ice creams that looked like a mix between a Choco Taco (remember those packaged ice cream cone tacos?) and a kolaczki . With a smile on my face, I shook my head no to every person who put their goods on display next to my seat.

A few miles down the road, the bus boarded a ferry to cross a river in the Mekong Delta. We remained seated on the bus for the 20 minute river ride which started to make me feel claustrophobic. 

Quintessentially Vietnamese attire.

A Vietnamese woman at the rest stop.

Not long after the ferry, we stopped again. This time everyone got off so I followed, relieved to stretch my legs and breathe fresh air. There were tons of food stands, shops and over half a dozen other buses and their bus loads of people. We were at what appeared to be a rest stop.

The attendant was looking out for me, again. As soon as I put my shoes on and stepped off the bus he said “toilet?” and pointed to the bathroom. Then took my phone and typed 30 into the calculator, letting me know I had 30 minutes.

Banh Mi

Banh Mi- A French bread sandwich filled with anything from fried eggs to bbq pork.

Everyone from the bus scattered. After I used the bathroom I saw the old lady in the leopard outfit hunched over a table eating. Whatever she had looked delicious- noodles, meat, and something green- no doubt, I was hungry. But there were no English menus or signs anywhere. I hadn’t been in Vietnam long enough to recognize any of the dishes by their Vietnamese names. 

However, when I saw a stack of French bread and the words Banh Mi printed on a little stand in the back of the food court, I ran over to it.

I knew what that was thanks to my friend from college and her husband who I’d met for dinner in Ho Chi Minh City the night before. (Long story short- a girl I went to college with and her husband were coincidentally visiting HCMC the same week I was. We met for dinner and foot massages and caught up on the last six years since graduation. She’s had three babies, moved all over the USA and is the process of moving to Singapore! Before the night was over, they highly recommended I try the popular Vietnamese sandwich known as banh mi- describing it as cheap, filling and delicious. The end.)

Unsure what came on it or how to order it, I pointed to the bread, held up one finger and said “one banh mi” to the lady behind the stand. She looked confused, I must have pronounced it wrong. I pointed at myself, then to the food and held up one finger. I think she was trying to ask me, in Vietnamese, what I wanted on it… Or telling me I looked like a fool, hard to know for sure.

When she finished making the sandwich,  she pulled out a 20k bill and a 5k bill to show me that it cost 25k dong. I now know that 25k dong ($1.25 USD) was pricey for a banh mi in the middle of the Mekong Delta. A bahn mi from a place in Hoi An, made famous by Anthony Bourdain, only cost me 20k. But, back then, I had no frame of reference… and I was hungry!

I ended up with a piece of French bread stuffed with eggs, soy sauce and vegetables. The rush of Asian spices mixed with the familiar taste of fried eggs and French bread was a completely new flavor combo … and I liked it.  

 

sunset skies from a bus window.

Sunset skies from a bus window.

Ha Tien, After Dark

We finally arrived in Ha Tien around 8pm. It was dark and raining. 

Using a combination of overly articulate Vietnamese and hand gestures, the attendant attempted to ask me what hotel I was staying at. He was trying to figure out where to drop me off. I wasn’t sure what to tell him since I hadn’t booked anything. (I was becoming a pro at not pre-booking.)

I showed him the name of a hostel I had written down in my notebook before leaving Ho Chi Minh City. He looked at it, confused. Later I realized the hostel I wrote down was actually in Cambodia. (We were near the border.) That explained his look! Remember, I had no data, so I couldn’t even look up/book something in the moment. 

With no clue where I was going and with little visibility from the darkness and rain, I got off the bus. Following the attendants direction and the majority of the other passengers, I climbed into an over packed van. I was squished next to a sweet, middle-aged man. The screen saver on his phone was a photo of a beautiful woman and two small children- I assumed his family.

It was apparent to everyone that I didn’t know where I was going. I am sure “what should we do with the white girl?” came up a few times in their conversations. The middle-aged man made his best attempt to tell me, in English, to stay at the hotel he was staying at, “200 thousand dong ($10 USD), good price,” he said, pouring a handful of gum into the palm of my hand. I know he was just trying to be helpful but following a strange man to a hotel was against everything I’d ever been taught.

When we pulled up to his hotel, I became more uneasy. Through the window of the van I could see into the open, street side, common area of the hotel. It was chaotic. There were ten to fifteen people, mostly middle-aged Vietnamese men, packed into the small space. Some people were drinking around a small table, others were playing what looked like a board game on the floor, and a few others were lying around, haphazardly. Everyone was shouting in Vietnamese.

When the middle-aged man got out of the van, he motioned for me to come with him. I shook my head no, still hoping I’d be taken to the hostel I’d written down in my notebook. The man shrugged, as if to say, your loss, and turned to walk away as the bus sped off.

A few minutes later, the van stopped again. This time in front of a row of hotels. None of them were the hostel I’d written down, of course, but they were less chaotic than the last place. The driver of the van insisted I get out. A woman opened the van door and, with the rain picking up, helped me get my bag out of the back quickly. She drug me, by my hand, for a few hundred feet before directing me into a hotel. 

The lobby was dry and well lit but cramped with motorbikes and over sized ornate furniture. At the time, I didn’t realize it was normal to bring motorbikes indoors at night for safe keeping so the sight of vehicles inside the lobby was odd to me. The woman who brought me there exchanged a few words with the woman behind the desk and left. She must get commission for scooping up tourists and directing them here, I thought.

The woman behind the desk wrote 350 on a piece of paper and, along with a pen, slid it across the counter towards me- anticipating my counter offer. I wrote 200. She shook her head no and gave me a death stare as she snatched back the paper and wrote 250 ($12.50 USD). I agreed. It was late and I was wet and tired.

The only other person in the lobby was the woman’s ten year old son. He took my phone and plugged in the Wi-Fi code. With my phone still in his hand, he led me to an elevator that we rode to the 4th floor. The kid unlocked the door to a room, handed me back my phone, and the key, but didn’t say a word before walking off. I closed the door and locked it.

It was a private room with an attached private bathroom and no windows. I was kind of hungry but too exhausted from the day, and a little scared, to venture out and scavenge for food. Before long, I was asleep.

In the middle of the night I woke up to the loudest storm I’d ever heard. The thunder boomed and the rain crashed down so hard it sounded like high definition sound effects in a movie theater. With no windows in my room I had no clue what was actually going on outside. In and out of sleep, I dreamed the entire city would be underwater by morning.

Good Morning Ha Tien

When I woke up at 6am I was relieved to discover I hadn’t drowned in the night, but the rain was still coming down hard. I packed my bag, which had barely been touched considering I didn’t even change out of the clothes I came in, and headed out.

Leaving my room for the first time in the light of day, I noticed it was on the outside corner of the building. Its two outside walls butted up to a tin roof covered patio. Tin! That explained why the rain was so unbelievably loud. It was raining hard but the tin made it sound 10x worse than it was.

I headed downstairs, ready to embark on day two of my journey!

Information about ferry times and the location of the dock were conflicting. The lady at the hostel in HCMC said they only leave in the morning, but online it appeared there were multiple types of ferries, leaving from multiple locations, at multiple times throughout the day.

By 7am the rain had almost completely cleared so I left the hotel to explore Ha Tien, hoping what I read online about later ferries was true.  I was on the look out for food, an ATM and the ferry dock. 

The town was wet but the people hadn’t skipped a beat. At the fish market near the river, people were packed like sardines on the sidewalks (pun intended) and every cafe was filled with people drinking Vietnamese coffee and eating hot noodle soups. There was still no sign of English or Westerners. Confused, and even scared at times, I loved it. It felt more authentic than the big city, filled with backpackers.

After about 30 minutes of wandering, with no ferry dock, no ATM and no food (at least none I knew how to order) turning up, I went back to the hotel. I asked the man at reception, who I assumed was the husband of the lady I’d met the night before, where the ATM was. He didn’t understand. I wrote the letters ATM on a piece of paper and still no luck. He handed the paper to the 10 year old boy. He stared at it for a second then said something back to the man in Vietnamese. The man then used a series of hand signals and finger numbers to explain how to get … somewhere. 

His mimed directions successfully led me to an ATM. As I approached the ATM an old Vietnamese man pulled up behind me on a motorbike and started speaking to me in English. His accent was reminiscent of a 1960s American spokesperson. It was native and articulate but made me feel like I traveled back in time- into an old black and white television program. I wondered if he had learned English listening to American news broadcasts during that era? He looked to be the right age, in his 60s or 70s. Maybe it had something to do with the war? Again, the age and era lined up. 

He told me about the ferry- where to catch it, what time to go and that his sister was selling tickets at the dock. He pointed me in the direction of the dock, explained where I could find his sister and took off. (In hindsight, I should have asked him a lot more questions and for a ride to the dock, but at that point, I was still too scared- of both strangers and motorbikes.)  

The travel agency.

I finished my withdrawal and walked in the direction the man on the motorbike pointed, hoping I could grab something to eat along the way. I saw a large highway bridge and realized to get to the ferry dock, I would have to cross it. In that moment it became clear, walking to the dock was not an option. 

I didn’t know what to do. I’d been told horror stories about cabs not using meters and overcharging. I had no data to order a Grab- I’m not even sure Grab existed in that small town? Feeling defeated, I walked back towards my hotel hoping I could reconnect to the Wi-Fi and find answers.

That’s when I walked past a travel agency. Even though my goal had been to avoid using such services, I was I happy to see it! I had a pretty good idea of what the ferry ticket should cost, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to inquire. If they tried to overcharge me, I could  leave. 

I walked in and said “Phu Quoc?” timidly, to the young girl at the counter. She nodded and pointed to a sign on the wall that said Phu Quoc. It had no other information listed but seeing the name in print was a good start.

She told me a ferry ticket would cost $30 USD.

“No.” I responded sternly. “I was told it would be between 180 and 215 thousand ($8-11 USD).

“Oh in Dong?” she clarified, acting like it was a currency miscommunication, not a blatant attempt to overcharge me, and came back with “250 thousand dong ($12.50 USD).” (That wasn’t the last time someone tried to over charge me by giving me the price in USD). The cost was slightly higher than what I’d been told it should cost but her price included a ride to the dock. I was sold!

Communicating was difficult but we eventually got it arranged. A bus was to pick me up from the travel agency at noon, and bring me to the ferry dock where I’d catch the 12:30pm ferry. 

With a few hours to kill I left the travel agency to continue my search of breakfast. I hadn’t eaten since the bahn mi the day before.

The cafe at the corner, which had been completely filled with people an hour earlier, had calmed down. There was no English menu and no English speaking staff but I decided to give it a go anyway. I held up the number one, mimed eating soup, and said “one soup.” The few customers there were drinking delicious looking Vietnamese coffee, so I ordered one of those too. I pointed to someone’s glass, held up my finger and said “one coffee.” I sat down, unsure what exactly I’d get served. 

Moments later an iced coffee with condensed milk and a beef noodle soup arrived at my table. It was different than the familiar Pho, but I can’t explain it what way. Together it cost 46k dong ($1.97) and hit the spot! With the sun out, rain cleared, ferry booked, food in my belly, and caffeine in my system, I could breath. 

Vietnamese iced coffee

Vietnamese iced coffee.

After I ate I went back to the travel agency to wait. The woman at the desk asked for my passport… When she left with it I became uneasy- I do not like being separated from my passport. I waited, periodically looking out the window for the bus that was due any minute.

Eventually the woman returned. She had my passport in one hand and two helmets in the other. Handing me my passport and one of the helmets she said “we go now.”

Eeeeeeeek! ….

The only motorbike riding I’d done was a brief lesson in Thailand. I was not ready to ride on a motorbike, especially not with all my bags. But, considering it was noon, I didn’t seem to have another choice if I wanted to make the ferry.

I strapped the ill fitting helmet on my head, put my large backpack on my back and my small backpack and my purse across my chest, then hopped on the back of the bike. Without my bags I was twice the size of this woman, with them, I have no idea how I didn’t knock her off that bike.

She took off before I could tell her there were no pegs for my feet. Already wobbly and weighed down by my gear, I flexed my feet hoping I’d be able to hold my slip-on sandals in place the entire ride. As soon as we merged onto the bridge a few ladies started yelling at my driver in Vietnamese. They apparently informed her that the pegs weren’t down because right then she stopped and put them down for me. Thank God.

The ride was quick and exhilarating. Being forced into it was exactly what I needed to begin the process of getting comfortable on a motorbike!

She dropped me off right in front of the dock, handed me a ticket with my name and information on it and I paid her 250k dong (12.50 USD). It seemed too good to be true, but it wasn’t! 

The Ferry: Superdong 9

I flashed my ticket to a uniformed man on the dock. He pointed to a big boat with Superdong 9 painted across it. It wasn’t yet time to board so I waited on a bench opposite the ship with an older lady and a few young kids. The kids said “hello” then giggled when I said it back. When it was time to board the woman tapped my arm and motioned for me to get on the boat.

Based on my research, there were three different types of ferries that went to Phu Quoc- a freight ferry, a passenger ferry and an express ferry. My goal had been to take the slowest, cheapest, freight ferry, but considering I ended up booking through a travel agent, I knew I was not on that one. It turned out that I was on the passenger ferry. It was slightly faster and more expensive than the freight ferry, but not as fast or as costly as the express.

Each passenger had an assigned seat on the lower level of the boat. As soon as I sat down, I spotted a Western looking family get on. I heard them speaking and not only were they speaking in English, they had North American accents. I’d never been so excited to hear a group of English speakers in my life. The North American accent meant we may even have geography in common as well! They were assigned the seats right behind me! Lucky me, I thought. I let them talk for a moment, not even long enough to determine if they were American or Canadian, before I turned around and asked where they were from.

They were a family of three from Canada. The mom and dad were in their early 50s and the daughter was about 20. They were shocked to learn I was traveling alone. The mom’s motherly instincts kicked in and she offered me leftover garlic bread from their dinner the night before and taught me how to peel and eat a mangosteen- a sweet, fleshy Southeast Asian fruit with a thick brown peel that I’d never tried before. I gladly accepted both.

After we’d been given the green light by the boat crew I accompanied the dad and daughter to the top deck of the boat. We watched the Superdong 9 cut across the sea as we carried on chatting. Other than the brief conversation with the man on the motorcycle, I hadn’t had a real conversation with anyone since I’d left Ho Chi Minh City. It felt good!

Hotel Transport

When the boat docked I said goodbye to the Canadians, who were waiting for a private car to pick them up, and hopped on the first bus that offered me a ride. Everyone else, all Vietnamese people, had tickets that said 30k dong but I was charged 60k. Sometimes there is no way to avoid paying what is, politely referred to as, the tourist price.

I sat down in the back and gazed out the window while the bus finished loading up to max capacity. A monk, driving a heavy duty pick up truck, pulled up next to my window. He was bald and wearing a brown robe.  Huh, that’s not something you see everyday I thought to myself, then giggled thinking how this could be the intro to a bad joke… a monk driving a pickup truck pulls up next to you… Before I could come up with the punch line, the bus started to move. 

It made multiple stops, eventually dropping off everyone but me. According to my map, I was still a few miles from my hostel when the last passenger was dropped off. I had pre-booked my hostel that morning, while waiting in the travel agency. It looked amazing, and was incredibly cheap, so I didn’t want to miss out on it. And the incident in Ha Tien, motivated me to plan ahead at least a little bit.

I showed the driver my map, hoping he’d be able to get me a little closer. “9 Station,” he repeated after me, with familiarity, and kept driving in the right direction. Eventually, he stopped on the main highway and said “few hundred meters,” pointing down a small side street on the opposite side of the road. I thanked him and jumped off the bus.

After walking a few blocks, unsure and uphill, I was greeted by an oasis of a hostel. Seriously, to this day, it is the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in! A pool, awesome bar area, beds with curtains, and free washing machines- for $6 per night!

9 Station Hostel Pool- Phu Quoc, Vietnam

9 Station Hostel Common Area- Phu Quoc, Vietnam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When all was said and done, my journey to Phu Quoc took a day and a half and cost $36- including food and lodging.

The trip was challenging but I learned so many things in the best way possible- through experience! It was a crash course in Vietnamese culture from food to clothing to motorbiking. I learned that it’s ok to ask for help, to trust others (or at least not fear everyone), to trust myself and the value of a casual conversation!

I could have spent a little bit more and had everything arranged for me- or spent even more than that for a flight. But I would have missed out on the experiences and lessons that money can’t buy!

This journey was an expression of the seriousness of my intent, my intent for a Vietnam adventure… And that adventure had only just begun! …