Escape from Vietnam

It started with a bus ride from Kep, Cambodia, to Saigon, Vietnam—the bus ride was not what I was told it would be.

Instead of a direct, seven and a half hour trip, it took about 11 hours, going into the night, and locals were let on for a cheap lift with loads of rice or whatever the load.

I shoved over to share the seat I had bought for about $20 with two men on either side.

Music blasted and I’m 99 percent sure it was because they (the driver and another guy who hung out the door, pulling people in and helping people out, even when the bus was moving) needed to say awake.

And then I felt a spray. Not realizing what it was, I heard a guy yelling at the driver that if he spit one more time he would be spitting back.

Oh well. As frustrated as I got, I tried to maintain my cool. I burst into fits of laughter once in a while and people gave me strange looks. No matter—it was hilarious.

We arrived in Saigon at midnight.

I stayed at a guest house, My House, that made and sold “Bird’s Nest”. That is, nests built from threads of saliva from cave swifts. The saliva is collected for the famous Vietnamese delicacy, bird’s nest soup.

Every day, several girls wearing masks sat at a table, picking at the nests with tweezers and removingdiscoloured-looking things. The whole procedure appeared very technical.

The finished nests were wrapped in a very fancy packaging and displayed in a posh display case.

I’m not a fan of cities. However, I did like Saigon. People were quite friendly and it was pretty clean. I enjoyed buying a driver (you have the choice of cab, tuk-tuk or bike) and biking among the sea of motos.

After about a week in Saigon, I headed north on an overnight train to Hoi An. There were six beds in one room—I had a middle hard sleeper. I woke up a few times, but with my earplugs in, I was golden. (Earplugs are an important travel need.)

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack—man, I loved the train. The rhythm was comforting somehow, and I stared out the window with a little girl and her dad joining me.

My original plan was to keep heading north through Vietnam, east through Laos, and then south through Thailand. Travel almost never ends up as planned, however.

When I arrived in Hoi An, it was beautifully sunny and I went to the beach the first day. I planned to rent a bicycle and spend the next day at the beach too, but that never happened. It started to rain and rained for a week.

Meanwhile, I planned on using this opportunity to write more articles and upload photos to share. Well, my computer started to have problems and then just stopped working completely.

After taking my computer into an IT center, I sent my hard drive to the manufacturer with the hope they could retrieve all my photos and family videos, etc.

The next day, after I went for a walk, I came back to my camera on the floor, missing two screws and cracked. I got new screws from the IT place where I had taken my computer. They were more than willing to help at no charge as they already felt bad for me about my computer.

Then I dropped my wallet in the toilet—the tipping of the iceberg, I suppose. I booked a ticket back to Thailand at the closest airport.

The last two nights in Ho An I did not sleep much. People shuffled into big tour buses right below my window at all hours, with all the exhaust pouring in. Plus,there was a “horker” who really needed to see a doctor.

If anything will put you off cigarettes, listening to a guy like that is a sure cure.

It wasn’t all bad, though. What I did love about Hoi An was ordering jasmine tea and receiving an entire pot.

Also, traditional Pho (rice noodle soup with beef, pork, chicken or vegetable, and served with a large side plate of mint, cilantro, Asian basil, bean sprouts, sliced peppers and various greens) was very yummy. I had veggie Pho for breakfast most days.

Another specialty dish I liked was garlic spinach (also known as Morning Glory and once a staple for the poor).

And the coffee was incredible. I could not help ordering a cup now and again.

My favourite part was meeting My. She was a waitress across the street at a restaurant I frequented. She was so kind and lovely, and I played her a few songs on a teensy guitar I bought in Saigon. I am not very good, but she loved to listen.

My saw me reading huge war history books on Cambodia and bought me a beautiful bookmark. On my last night, she took me to a quaint local coffee shop. I gave her a bracelet I had picked up in Cambodia.

We are staying in touch. I miss her smiling face.

Hoi An was incredibly beautiful lit up by colourful lanterns. On my last day I bought two tiny ones, wishing I had room for more.

It is interesting to note that while I was in Vietnam there was an “unofficial” ban on Facebook. I downloaded a program that helped block the IP address from the government, and in retrospect I wonder if that is what set my computer into grave failure…

Regardless, I believe there is a reason for everything, whether we see it in the moment or not.

I did savour good moments in Vietnam, but after heading back to Thailand and having a magical time, I can see I was meant to leave.

Rebecca Hogarth has been a resident of Dawson City since 2007. She feels the energy of the Yukon and the encouraging people within allow her to shine in so many ways.

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