The cost of maintaining an expat Balinese lifestyle was seriously depleting my funds. I was down to about $2,000 and desperately needed to find a job. Indonesia has strict policies regarding foreigners working there. Still, I was lucky enough to get a freelance writing gig, but it was just that….”freelance.”
Since I had no desire to return to the United States where I’d be underemployed and living in some crap studio apartment in a “less than desirable” part of town; I decided to join http://www.workaway.com to look for volunteer gigs. Most of my remaining time in Bali was spent sitting in cafes researching various S.E.Asian countries where I could score some work quickly. One country kept flooding every page I visited: Vietnam.
In all honesty, Vietnam was a country I never considered going to. As an American whose father suffered from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after the Vietnam War; I had understandable reservations about going there.
My father was a cruel man. A disturbed man, whom my mother asked to leave shortly after I was born. I never knew him beyond what my mother told me. Mother and I were not on speaking terms at that time. New information began to surface, giving me different perspectives of my father. I decided to destroy the imaginary barrier that kept me from Vietnam.
The Let Center in Haiphong gave me the best deal of all. Free accommodation, meals and a stipend of $200 a month in exchange for teaching 15 hours a week. Not bad! Tung, secretary for Let Center, sponsored my three month visa. I took the job and booked my flight to HCMC and onward to Haiphong, Vietnam.
Good night, Indonesia…Good morning, Vietnam!!!
First impressions of Ho Chi Minh City???? A HELLHOLE! I absolutely hated it.
This wasn’t a good start. My plan was a week of debauchery in Mui Ne with a lovely Lithuanian couple I met in Bali and then off to Haiphong in the north. They got jobs in a popular bar there. I spent about two hours in line to get a photo taken and receive my three month visa on arrival.
FINALLY!!!! Through the sliding glass doors, I entered Ho Chi Minh City…a sauna of at least 38 degrees AT NIGHT!
Still pissed about waiting for such a long time get my visa; I tried to be positive. The couple (Ness and Kess) told me there was a cheap taxi option to get to the bus station in HCMC and then onward to Mui Ne. They warned me that the taxi drivers would rip me off and tell me such an option didn’t exist.
I was prepared for bullshit. Hell, I lived in Bali for eight months where schemers are a dime a dozen. About six men approached me demanding that such a taxi service didn’t exist and to take their taxis straight to Mui Ne for only 2,000,000 VND (roughly $100 USD).
Hahahahahahaahha! These men actually became angry and some through their hands in the air like, “fuck you.” Well…”Fuck you too,” I thought. At some bar in Mui Ne was a beer and some hot and sour spicy noodles waiting for me.
This little nomad from the mean streets of Chitown was determined to get there cheaply. The people at the airport are useless. They told me to take the normal taxis. It was a Vietnamese woman that heard my plea for transport that lead me to the line for a cheap taxi. She told me it would cost 100,000 VND (roughly $5) to get to the bus station. She even stayed with and told the taxi driver where I was going!
Life as a nomad can trying at times. I truly believe there are angels you meet on your travels which help them go a bit smoother. She was one of them, and I’m entirely grateful.
The taxi dropped me off at the main bus terminal in HCMC. It was so chaotic! Food stalls frying up spicy junk food, smokers everywhere, lost tourists and young, hip locals sitting on overturned crates staring at me.
“Damn it,” I think to myself, “Where is the bus to Mui Ne?” With my handy Iphone 5; I use Google Translate to tell the attendant where I want to go. He’s quite indifferent and spells 140,000 VND (about $6 USD) on his hand. My bus driver is sitting on the first step of our bus smoking a stinky cigarette and spitting. He’s got the cool, spiked red hair that some Korean boy bands have.
And we’re off…the cool thing about Vietnamese buses is that the seats recline ALL THE WAY BACK!!!! I slept for a good part of the four hour journey when someone poked me in the head and motioned for me to get off the bus.
I was in the middle of nowhere…literally…at 1:00 in the morning. The sounds of birds and things crawling around gave me the creeps. A quiet, Buddhist monk was also let off at the same stop. He hardly spoke any English, but could see the concern in my face. Through sign language, broken English and Google Translate, he called a taxi for me. This man waited with me until the taxi arrived. The hospitality of the Vietnamese people will warm your heart. I’m not talking about the dirtbags in the touristy places ripping you off on a bowl of pho bò, but the good people who come out when you’re in a jam.
Ahhh…Mui Ne! Where the signs are in Russian and Vietnamese. Where the party never ends.