Saturday, January 27, 2007

January 11th was an agro day for me. I should look back and see if it was in my horoscope. I didn't wake up angry in our decent hotel room nor was there a cloud over me on our search for morning noodles, but I really flipped out when I realized that I had been foolish and gotten ripped off for the bus trip from Rach Gia to Chau Doc. The taxi dropped us off at the ticket booth but before we had even gotten out of the car a woman in a ratty leaf hat and mismatched pajamas started shouting "Chau Doc? Chau Doc?" Then when we got out of the car she grabbed my arm and brusquely lead me to a run down bus here she asked for 300,000 Dong (just over $20) to take us and our bags. Caught up n the feigned urgency I complied and thought her intensity was due to the bus' imminent departure. After we were sitting there for 15 mins it finally dawned on me that I was being taken for a ride in more ways than one. I left the bus to go see the actual price of the trip and I was accosted by other woman affiliated with the bus. She was trying to push me away from the ticket booth and trying to physically get me back on the bus. But I had already seen the price posted at 45,000 Dong and I was livid for being both over charged and (wo)manhandled. I slapped the woman's hands away but she kept pulling at me and so I stuck a pointed finger in her face (surely this has to be a universal gesture) and pointed at the price, berating her for ripping me off because I am a foreigner and warning her not to touch me. I am sure she understood none of this really but at least she relented. At my leisure I walked back to the bus finding it running and Jono leaning out hoping that they wouldn't leave without me. I was further aggravated when the bus went only for another minute or so before stopping to try to solicit more passengers to fill all the seats. We were also held up because the woman I had had the stand off with got into a non-serious motorcycle accident across the street and everyone on the bus wanted to gawk.
Really I should have known better than to get upset about any of this because they are all just par for the course taking the non-tourist bus in Vietnam. Finally when all but the 5 seats Jono and I were taking up (and thereby getting our moneys worth) were full we got bumping and honking down the road, all the windows open for lack of aircon and hawkers getting on and off at every stop. Their wares included tofu/processed meat sausage wrapped in palm leaves, iced coffee in baggies, various puffed items, huge sesame seed crackers and lotto tickets.
The drive seemed like we were passing through a huge small town as one spread into the next. It was quite different from the trip between Tra Vinh and HCMC, which was sprinkled with rice fields and cows grazing in ditches. I was a little confused when we arrived in Can Tho province and we were shuffled onto a smaller minivan bus, but atleast it had shocks and proper seats so the rest of our journey was more comfortable. By then I had gotten over my grumpiness and the trip ended up being much shorter than I had anticipated. I think it was only about 4 hours between Rach Gia and Chau Doc.
When we arrived I let Jono take the lead and he refused to be rushed off by the hoard of xe om and cyclo drivers that met us at the bus station. We had a coffee at a nearby stand to decide our next move and the drivers just came and joined us at the table, eager to shuttle us off somewhere. After listening to us talk about what hotel we would go to and watching us flipping through the Lonely Planet, one driver spoke to us very eloquently of his hotel and of arranging the boat trip the next day to Phnom Penh. I was inclined to like him but I am alway skeptical of obvious touts. We ended up in a cyclo fashioned out of an old bike with a wooden cart on the back that we somehow managed to fit into with our bags. This slower pace was quite nice but I couldn't help but feel for this skinny old guy pulling us along. We stopped in front of a hotel but noticed immediately that it was not the one we had asked for. Then we see the tout pulling up beside us smilingly on his motorbike. After we refused his offer to have a look the cyclo guy took us to the intended hotel but the tout followed us the whole way and then as we were getting out he said sweetly "if you don't like this one, you come to my hotel". Then he looked like he was going to wait for us and this was all getting a little too much. Indeed we did not like that hotel but we looked at the map and made another plan before going outside and luckily this persistant fellow had given up. The other hotel was just across the street and was newly renovated, clean and well decorated and I could not have asked for more. We spent the rest of the day exploring around Chau Doc, especially the market and the riverside where we saw these tiny kids practicing some brutal-looking martial art with expertise beyond their years. After weighing all the options we booked our selves on the slow boat to Cambodia for the next morning, and that experience deserves a posting all to itself.

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