Musings - Day 28
Day 28 – 23rd January 2020
Ho Chi Minh / Saigon I am leaving today heading across the border to Cambodia. Keep the messages coming guys – they are great!
Hồ Chí Minh 19 May 1890 – 2 September 1969, was a North Vietnamese revolutionary and politician. He served as Prime Minister of North Vietnam from 1945 to 1955 and then its President from 1945 to 1969. Ho officially stepped down from power in 1965 due to health problems and died in 1969.
I have to admit to being slightly concerned about, not only todays travel, but also tomorrows. You see it is Chinese New Year which is a big thing here. Shops, banks, trains, restaurants all close. Apparently it is less so in Cambodia, but I have yet to witness that. Alarms were off at 06:00am, so quick shower, finish my packing and off to an early breakfast of Melon and toast. Settles my laundry bill with a little negotiation from 284’000 Dong down to 150’000 Dong with an out of touch night watchman still on duty from last night. Around $6 U.S. about a fiver. For 8 shirts, six socks, two handkerchiefs, 7 pants. It now means that I can wear something clean to sweat in! So I leave the hotel at 6:55am knowing that I have about a mile to walk, fully laden, in the 27°C heat. The heat is intense! Well actually it is not just in the tents, its outside as well. The trek saw water coming out of me like a squeezed sponge, it was like watching a mule go uphill with the flu. I pass a whole host of early morning traders on the way to the pick up point. Fruit sellers, kebab sellers, lottery salesmen, cooks, milk shake makers, marketeers and a man selling original ‘Ray Bans’ and ‘Oakley’s’ two pair for a dollar. Really genuine stuff because as you know ‘Ray Ban’ have changed their logo to a pink flamingo.
I arrived in plenty of time to the place where I was going to pick up the bus. (Right outside the place I bought the ticket from yesterday.) Big sign ‘closed for holidays’ What the fireman’s helmet emergency safety catch, was I going to do now? I sat on the steps feeling a little dejected, wetter than a pair of sea lions socks! Man was it hot, with my forehead dripping like a tap. I felt a nuzzling against my leg, it was a dog with two heads that I had just dripped on. I probably need to elaborate here. It was actually two dogs conjoined by their genitals after a coitus maximus. Anyone who has seen this event knows that the male dog is in agony and cannot move until nature has taken its course. Fine! (going into a David Mitchell impression) So here I am, no bus ticket because the shop and therein the ticket producer, from the receipt that I have in my hand, is closed. There are two stuck copulating dogs nuzzling me for a biscuit to perhaps celebrate their accomplishments, and I'm dehydrating like a stick insect on a cactus. A voice in the darkness says “Rationalise.” Time was on my side, so said goodbye to Mr and Mrs fornicating Stray, and headed back the way that I had come to try to speak to the next tour operator who was not closed for the holidays. There I met Mai tee. (pronounced Might) Might what, exactly I dread to think? Just to make a quick judgement, there must be some local law that would prevent her wearing a skirt. Body odour! What! It is very difficult to take you there. Imagine that you are looking down on a boiled egg resting on a turd. Now take a deep breath. It brings a choking sensation, that takes you to a bilge pump on a Grimsby trawler. Mai tee had her qualities, and she was in the end helpful, as long as she kept her distance. She told me that they take care of all the bookings when the other store was shut. Hallelujah! Mai tee let me give you a hug – er perhaps not. She passed me over to her mate who produced the ticket for me. When I say produced she didn't do anything beyond the bounds of physicality, she just merely wrote it out. It was going to be a yellow bus. Not green, nor blue just make sure you get on the yellow bus. As well as the strict instructions she provided me with four bottles of water. This suggested to me that the bus may not be air conditioned. For six hours that would be a mare, especially after reading that it was 94% humidity on the thermometer thing pinned to her office wall. Although it gave me some lift knowing that I still had 6% left in me to play with. She said that I could leave my back pack with her, and to go and get some ‘beakfast’ as the bus was three quarters of an hour away. Beakfast! Beakfast! Was that something that they had in the mornings to go with their stewed chickens claws?
I had ready eaten at the hotel, but I did take a hot drink in a nearby coffee house. As I am drinking the aforementioned coffee, I was at an outside table with a view of the yellow bus stop, and the ticket providers office.
Now wherever you are in the world Brits stand out like a sore thumb. I could see the Brits from forty yards away. I call the condition the ‘Three Rathers’
1. Rather than have an identifying Union Jack tattoo on their forehead, they wear black socks with brown sandals. Dates back to before the war.
2. Rather than having British passport earrings dangling from their naan breads, they have a coat on. It is so hot out there you could bake a pizza on her face!
3. Rather than miss out, they queue. Brits love to stand in line. Could be waiting an hour to get bread, when they were really after a lawnmower.
It was getting near the time to return for the bus, when a guy came up to me with a sack. He said that he was a snake wrestler. I said to him that’s no good, it isn’t really dangerous. He said why? I said because you have already taken their teeth out. I left before he opened his sack.
This journey was going to prove really interesting, although I didn’t know it at the time. First thing was the bus was yellow, and it was singularly the most comfortable bus to date. Fully air conditioned, (wrong about the water) sumptuous leather springy seats, and a single seat to myself on the right side of the bus. (As opposed to the left and not the wrong - clarification is often crucial in such times.) Moving on. I saw many, many things today, that showed me more about Vietnamese people that I had seen to date. First thing that I found incredible was the telephone / electricity system in the streets. They just seem to tap in to the nearest lamppost to get their supply. Every telegraph pole, lamppost or in fact any structure that resembles the former, has about a thousands wires attached. It is like twenty plates of squid ink spaghetti has been thrown against a post.
As the bus made its way into the inner cities, a personal best was achieved when I saw six passengers and a dog on a scooter. So let me describe the payload. Dad (with crash helmet) driving with son about eight years old (without crash helmet, but with surgeons face mask) between his legs standing up. His surgeons mask was covered in dead flies, that made me wonder was it better protection from the smog, or from the innards of the insects, whose bowels were thwacked at 30mph? I digress. Behind dad, standing on the seat were the three or four year old twins, pinned by the arms of mom the next seated human. No helmets for the standing twins, but a helmet for mom. On moms back was a papoose arrangement for toddler who was cocooned in the carrier attached to his moms back. If this wasn’t enough, up pops Shiatsu. The dog (no helmet for Fido) was sharing the papoose. Before I could get my camera out the lights had changed and they were off. The next thing that baffled me was a stainless steel septic tank with a four foot Buddha on the top of it. I mused would you have a pray and a pooh at the same time? Or perhaps pray to the one, for the other? A little further on we stopped at some lights where I could see across to an outside stall holder selling animals. Huge golden carp or koi suspended in clear plastic bags full of water. Below them was a pure white albino catfish, I am guessing must have been around 10lbs, also in clear plastic bag full of water. Further across were chickens, cockerels, linnets and cockatiels all in separate cages, and then the saddest thing of all. Three puppies for sale in a cage no bigger than one used for the cockerels. The dogs were panting, obviously dehydrating in the temperature. They were the size and shape of German Shepherds, it just looked so cruel to see them caged that way. The saddest part for me was that I didn’t know whether or not they were for sale as pets or to eat!
The poverty of these shanty towns was plain to see. Kids with no shoes, running on cracked pavings, family camp beds strewn across pieces of wasteland sheltered only by corrugated iron sheets tied together with wire. Monkeys were commonplace in cages at the side of the road, with many other forms of tree dwellers similarly housed, probably for sale. Bizarrely just a little further down the way the bus passed a stone masons, whose garden housed two life sized stone giraffes standing next to a steel statue of liberty. Another thing that fascinated me was headstones. They do not mark the place where someone is buried, in fact they are individual mausoleums and are laid firmly above ground. The procedure apparently is to wrap a body in linen and gauze, bury it in a place that symbolises importance to the family, and then excavate the body after a period of normally between two or three years. Then they get to place them in the enclosed marble tomb in a field full of the like, similar to a graveyard but above ground. The land where they were actually buried, like a rice field or a personal garden is where the soul leaves its body, fertilising the ground. The marble crypt is simply the memorial to a departed soul. Research tells me that they are fundamentally Atheists, who are not against all spiritualism as such, but are non-worshippers who believe in the family being their chosen deity. Interesting concept.
The border crossing was quite informal, with next to no checks on individuals, baggage or carried items, but we were all without our passports for about three quarters of an hour. This was handing them in on the Vietnam side, then driving around a mile to the Cambodia side. Interestingly during the mile of no mans land, for want of a better title, there were many, many casinos and high rise hotels, like a mini Las Vegas, all trying to get punters in. We parked on the Cambodia side for a toilet break and rest while we waited for the return of our passports. Scary, in as much that it is for most people it is your only travelling document, so to lose site of it for what seemed quite a while, it was disconcerting. A couple that I had got talking to on the bus had been advised that this would happen, so it calmed the concern for me a little. Tony and his wife of thirty five years Dagmar, (originally from Germany) lived in York, and were on a six week holiday to see all the war sites that he’d read about for years. He was telling me about the Cu Chi tunnels that were so tight to get down that his claustrophobia, made him feel sick when down there. I saw pictures of these things they are so tiny. He said that a family sheltering down there had to live in a space of no more than four square metres. How dreadful! I got dropped off the bus at the Olympic Stadium, which is a total misnomer.
The National Olympic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It has a capacity of 50,000. Despite its name, the stadium has never hosted an Olympic Games in its entire history.
Position: 11°33'24” N 104°54'58”E – Miles completed: 10162
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia 23:42 - 23rd January 2020 - Journey 28 days 18 hours