Two Savages in Southeast Asia

And Away We Go!

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Wind lashes through hair,
Decorative masks stop bugs,
Here, we find freedom.

Fresh from yet another 10 hour sleep (how do we keep doing that? is it the heat?), we rinsed off, packed our things, and paid our fine host at Tam Anh Guest House. She sent us off with a smile, and we sat down at a corner pho place for delicious liquid breakfast.

We caught a bus to where we believed the scooter rental place was (using the address on their website), and rode in its stiflingly unaircondionted cabin for around an hour. When we arrived, it turned out that there was no scooter place there, just a shop front which appeared to be for lease.

Undeterred, we decided to make good use of our time and get a sim card at last in order to contact them by phone. We stepped into one of the many shops that had signs which said “sim” (fortunately, some words are the same in every language!), and asked in our broken Vietnamese. We were answered in much-less-broken English, and they did have what we needed! They didn’t, unfortunately, have the size we needed. Our phones take a micro-sim, and they only had the larger, standard sims.

The woman behind the counter resourcefully grabbed a pair of scissors and one of my old sims for sizing, and clipped an appropriate piece out of the larger card. After a bit of adjustment, it worked just fine! I feel like that kind of thing would nevr happen in the states.

We didn’t have the phone number for the scooter folks, so we stopped at an Internet (the cafe is implied) to look it up. We emailed them, and while waiting fora response we played a couple rounds of Warcraft III. We seem to keep ending up playing video games…

They responded to us by text, and agreed to meet us in a half hour. We got another chunk of cash out of an ATM, and about a half an hour later performed a strange handoff: we gave them 1.3 million dong (about $60 US) and a passport, and they gave us the keys to a scooter and a pair of helmets. There was no check for our driver’s licenses, no walking around the scooter, no contract signing, just a promise that we’ll be back in two weeks. I’m sure it’ll work out.

We applied our “disguises.” Many Vietnamese, especially in cities, wear face masks to protect their lungs from the pollution and any airborne particulates. We picked up a couple of these, and with our helmets covering our hair and those hiding most of our faces, we can get a few seconds in which people could mistake us for Vietnamese. This has a few benefits: we won’t be as quickly accosted by people trying to sell us tours, etc., and we will escape notice of the police. We read online that it’s illegal for a non-Vietnamese to own a motorbike, and while we don’t own this bike, we are riding it, and the Vietnamese police are known for being among the most corrupt in Asia. So, to avoid “paying a fine”, we decide to try and escape notice as foreigners.

And then, freedom! We rode triumphantly out of Ho Chi Minh City to the south, guided by a few cached map tiles that happened to be in my phone. We weren’t able to find a map yet…

But we drove. The countryside outside of HCMC is gorgeous, with the Mekong river delta splitting it and making everything green. Countless smaller rivers have floating lily clumps in them, and alongside the roads there are still the same delicious food stands that we saw in HCMC, although the prices are slashed. We stopped for some delicious bao (buns) filled with mystery meat and eggs. The man who sold them to us also grabbed us some chairs and gave us a glass of water, encouraging us to drink more. He didn’t speak a word of English, but our broken Vietnamese coupled with pointing, counting on fingers, and appreciative bowing helped us become happy and full.

We continued past pagodas, across a ferry (which had a special room for scooters! the locals helped us get the appropriate tickets.), and up to the town of My Tho. The only hotel we saw (we think “hotel”, like “sim”, is the same in every language) was a very fancy-looking place, so that’s where we are. Fortunately, very fancy-looking translates to a price of 450,000 dong: approximately US$21. So… here we are. :)

We find ourselves in what is apparently a town that Vietnamese visit when they are on vacation: all along the Mekong Riverside are cafes and kitschy hotels. The town’s parkour club is out practicing kongs and standing flips, running in among the endless riverside benches. We pause in a cafe for coconut water (amazing how much better you feel after drinking one at the end of a dehydrating day), our American bodies sweating and too large in the little plastic chairs. Even the Vietnamese appear oversized in their injection-moulded plastic bodies, but we outright barely fit. Still, we enjoy the night air and the music coming from the cafe as geckos lazily run up the treetrunks around us.

Tomorrow, hopefully we will have a couchsurfing host! I am unspeakably excited to have the chance to hang out with a real Vietnamese person who isn’t trying to sell us something, and who can tell us what is awesome to do and see in the area. Hopefully tomorrow will bring us to the bat pagoda, too…