The bus pick up and of course the bus itself arrived and left late as all do even though Asians love to give these optimistic times with promises of just a couple more minutes that drag on way past that grace period. Either way, I was on the bus one way or another as they began piling in mainly Vietnamese and Khmers around me to further stuff me into the corner while my back and forehead continued to bleed with sweat. To entertain and torture ever passenger on board, they played mercilessly awful music with classically poor video choreography. Even though I know next to nothing in the fields, I could easily win the Asian versions of the Grammys and Oscars over here without even trying based on production alone. Being uncomfortable would be a total understatement; my arrival into HCMC can not come soon enough. To make anyone sitting at home with plenty of legroom and personal space jealous, the bus began fuming thanks to its old, overworked engine. Everyone that didn’t like the idea of sitting in a sauna got out of the bus for the half-hour plus to get the rare breath of fresh air and watch the driver and his assistant pour cool river water over the piping hot metal. Once the engine got straightened away, everyone stuffed the bus again in anticipation of some mind numbing music and videography focused on some bizarre repeating love story while fighting over the tiniest Guinness World Record worthy vents for the slightest touch of cool air flow. Sweet Moses, for all that is good in the world, I was ready to get ahold of that TV and displace it from its sockets before bashing it through the nearest window upon which I would have stuck my head out said window like a dog as I lapped up whatever polluted air that happened to stream across my face. Sitting around in sinful Sihanoukville for a day and a half didn’t sound so bad right there and then. Many thoughts ran across my mind in the all too much time available to me and not a single one of them were peaceful nor lacked some act of violence on the chair that sit within my lap, the sun’s rays that seemed solely directed at me and me alone, the fact that I was pinned into the dreaded corner by a larger, innocent woman to my left, etc. Amidst the hot flashes, I swear my life flashed before my eyes. This is where the journey would end on this bus ride across the surface of the sun and through hell. Never again can I complain about a winter frost. Foolishly, I expected the bus to take me directly from Sihanoukville through Phnom Penh to HCMC but the bus’s path concluded in Phnom Penh. A man at the front of the bus was looking for a passenger going to HCMC (me); I saddled up on his moto with my full luggage attached adding further weight to this teetering prospect. Since we were late for a very important date, this tiny man zipped through traffic like a jackrabbit evading the loose traffic laws and potential T-bones to reach my connecting bus. I boarded hopefully the last bus to Vietnam’s largest city with plenty of leg room and a more purposeful fan. The Vietnamese man sitting directly next to me was curious about me despite his lack of English. I had a cheat sheet on hand to help practice some of my Vietnamese with him. Luckily, Vietnamese is composed of Roman letters versus chicken scratch which helped him understand what I was trying to say when I pointed out my rendition of their written word. Frequently, he called on a boy who appeared to be a family member and knew some English, who in return I tried to return the favor by going back and forth with the boy counting up to twenty in both languages. After passing through border control with relative ease despite having to give up my passport to the bus crew who handled the proceedings (always a stressful time when my passport isn’t within my possession – referencing the Myanmar mishap here), we continued on to Ho Chi Minh City well past the advertised arrival time which stood as no surprise to me. With enough time honored patience, I found myself in the city of Ho Chi Minh. As no tuk-tuks lay in sight (apparently Vietnam has thankfully kept them out of their borders), I split a taxi with three English boys to a hostel in District 1 (aka the backpacker zone) for a high class experience with the necessary air-con. With some spare time in the late evening I got myself my first authentic bowl of pho (pronounced fuh) and a Saigon lager on the cheap to wash it all down.
‘Wats’ in Cambodia’?’ Day 144: Through Hell and Back – The DAY bus to Ho Chi Minh