Now, experienced with long haul buses in Vietnam, I convinced the Londoner to take the bus with me instead of flying to Ho Chi Minh City- insisting it was something he had to experience! He agreed. The other guy was going to take a day longer than us to get there since he was traveling by motorcycle, so, before we left the island, we all pre-booked our hostel in Ho Chi Minh and made plans to meet up.
With very little sleep after our night on the beach, drinking rice wine with a security guard, the Londoner and I fell asleep as soon as we took our seats on the ferry.
We woke up when the bus docked in Ha Tien, the port town. There we loaded up on bus snacks (I introduced him to my childhood favorite- Koala Yummies) and ate a lunch of mystery meat followed by a scoop of durian ice cream. Durian is a popular fruit in Southeast Asia known for its strong, trash heap like smell and similar taste. Clearly we ordered this not knowing the flavor! I ate mine, surprisingly I actually don’t hate durian, but the Londoner couldn’t bear it. As we were walking, he jerked his cone forcefully enough that the scoop of ice cream fell to the ground “Oh no!” he exclaimed, pretending it was an accident, relieved he did not to have to take another bite.
We waited for the bus at the travel agency the hostel used to arrange our trip. (I learned on the way there that the extra cost for convenience is marginal and had no problem allowing them to book our trip back.) Before boarding, the travel agent handed me a piece of paper with a handwritten Vietnamese message on it. She pointed to me, the Londoner, and two other Western guys (who we later found out were French speaking Swiss) and told us to hold up the piece of paper when we got off of the bus in Ho Chi Minh City. It would inform someone to take us from the bus terminal to the center of town. The informality of the whole process was incomprehensible to me but I nodded confidently, pretty certain it was a foolproof plan.
The four of us were assigned the seats in the way back of the bus, where the seats are situated side by side. These seats don’t lift up as high as the other seats because the ceiling in the back of the bus is much lower, so we were forced to lay down, side by side, the entire ride.
It was me, the Londoner, the two Swiss guys and a girl that turned out to also be Swiss. At first I thought we’d all become great friends by the end of this cozy ride but the three of them ended up speaking in French the whole way. The Londoner and I definitely were not invited into their French speaking circle.
We had our own fun though. When we weren’t attempting to sleep, we were eating Koala Yummies by the handful and discussing hip-hop music and our lives back home. He told me about his new job and his family.
Between having an English speaking buddy and knowing what to expect, the bus ride was far less intimidating than the first time! I was even able to order lunch at the rest stop this time around.
After 8pm, we finally made it to a very rainy and dark Ho Chi Minh City. I held up the hand-written sign, and sure enough, we were all collected by a man in a shuttle bus and dropped off in the center of town. Fool proof I tell ya!
The rain was coming down hard, the streets were flooded and we were soaked! We huddled under the awning of a closed bank while we waited for our Grab. Since no one wants to take a Grab motorbike in the rain, it’s always a long wait for a car. I was jealous of the Swiss group (who were all best friends by this point) they hadn’t pre-booked so they were able to stumble into the hostel less than a block away. Eventually a Grab showed up and we made our way to our home for the night.
Driving though deeply flooded roads to get there, we arrived after 11pm. Our hostel was also flooded. The hallway and bathroom were covered in an inch of water and the roll of toilet paper was soggy and useless. The dorm room was dry, thank God, so we went to sleep, prepared to move hostels first thing the next morning.
Ho Chi Minh Adventures
Around midday the next day, the first English guy arrived to our new, dry, hostel. His timing was impressive for such a long, rainy, motorcycle trip.
Having already spent several days in Ho Chi Minh City before visiting Phu Quoc, I can say with confidence it was the company of these guys that made my second visit so much more fun.
After lunch, we were trapped in the market due to a heavy rain storm (if you haven’t caught on, I was in Vietnam during monsoon season).
We walked around the market, checking out every random trinket available for purchase. And there was a lot of stuff! We tried on plastic sandals that were shaped like fish and got solicited to buy everything from knock off Nikes to Buddha key chains, “cheap price for you!” they’d say as we walked by. I almost never buy stuff when I go to a market, but, with nowhere to go and nothing but time to kill, the three of us ended up getting matching Saigon beer t-shirts and brightly colored plastic ponchos. The ponchos were justifiable but the shirts were just a good time.
Later that night, we went out for pizza wearing our new gear. Coming here, I never thought I’d crave western food, but damn, after two months in Asia, the red sauce, dough and cheese were much appreciated. We couldn’t have looked more touristy- wearing Saigon beer t-shirts in a Western restaurant.
Per the suggestion of the Londoner, the three of us went to the spa! Between the saunas, hot and cold pools, and massages, we spent the better part of the afternoon there. That was an unexpected treat in Ho Chi Minh City.
In less than a week we managed to become regulars at a brewery called Heart of Darkness, we visited a few rooftop bars for happy hour, ate Pho daily, and partied on backpacker street with an insanely talented English-speaking Vietnamese cover band. Sharing so many experiences and laughter, the three of us had become a little family.
Eventually, the time came for us to part ways and it was not easy to say goodbye! One guy headed home to Auckland, the other flew to Da Nang, and I caught the next bus to Mui Ne.