I love Greek food, but I do not like these little cactus fruits someone in our house has picked up from the grocery store. I’m not actually sure they’re Greek, but I’ve never seen them before.
I’m not an organized person, and I don’t really expect a squatter’s residence to be organized…but it’s a little strange here.
Yo. While I think this island is crazy and might as well belong to the UK, I’m here. So I might as well immerse myself and get into the nightlife, right?! DJ MK is playing tonight at some “white only” party (attire, not people) and Abi got us tickets.
Maybe you just found an irresistible flight for a weekend trip to sunny Barcelona, booked it, then remembered the cost of accommodation, food, and sight-seeing. Maybe you’ve just moved here, and finding more than a few hours a week of work has been harder than you expected. Maybe you’re just a generally frugal person and like to find the cheapest price for everything no matter what.
Whatever your situation, I got you homie.
Because the further your money can go, the further you can go
I don’t really feel like we need to spend any more time in Phnom Penh. It’s not my favourite city on earth, and the beautiful beaches of Koh Rong are beckoning us back South.
We get a bus ticket that will pick us up at 8:00 from our hostel. While we wait, we cut up the remainder of our fruit from yesterday morning. The $2.50 we spent has lasted us two days, not bad!
The usual crowded van picks us up and drives us to a larger bus. It only costs us $6.50 to make the four hour journey from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, where we will then catch a ferry. We’re on a bus that I would classify as a local bus. The seat numbers are the only things I can read, and there are a couple monks in our company. I don’t think monks take tourist buses but who knows, maybe!
Plan A was to arrive in Sihanoukville at 12:30 (as per the four hour listed drive time) and to catch the last ferry to Koh Rong at 2pm. It’s 1:50pm and we’re still on the bus, so it looks like we’ll be staying the night in Sihanoukville.
When we roll up at 3:00 and all I’ve eaten is a mango and a banana all day, I’m a little hangry.
We find motorbike drivers who will take us to a $2 dorm hostel with a pool for $2 each. Done. They also make a stop at a place to buy boat tickets, and an ATM at our request. My driver is a little too friendly and keeps calling me beautiful, asking if I have a boyfriend, and offering to take me for dinner. No thanks, but a free motorbike ride would be cool. No? Okay. I tried.
The most fabulous surprise in the world occurs when we arrive at the dorm and find out that a fan bed is only $1. One dollar. That’s basically free. We could upgrade to air-con for $2, but who needs air-con really? We take the thriftiest option and go with $1 fan. We drop our stuff and immediately head to the pool-side bar for some food. It’s 4pm and I’m starving. I order a pesto pasta for $2. If I hadn’t already seen photos of how beautiful Koh Rong is, I would totally stay in cheap Sianhoukville forever! But alas, we must leave this thrifty paradise tomorrow morning at 8:30am for the beautiful island. Not complaining. We had to boot a return boat ticket, so that means we’ll be stopping in Siahnoukville again anyway. Perhaps we’ll stay another night on our way back up into the mainland.
The hostel is quirky and basic, but totally awesome, especially for a dollar.
I take a shower and we walk over to a street side Khmer restaurant for dinner. We each pay 5,000 riel ($1.25) for a plate of noodles and seafood. We get a free pot of green tea with ice just for showing up! After dinner we stop at a fruit vendor to get tomorrow’s breakfast. We get 25 bananas for $1. I can’t handle how cheap things are here. 25 bananas!
We go down to the beach where there are some bars enticing people with free or cheap drinks and fire shows. It’s fine during the low season, but I could not imagine being in such a party place during the busy season. It’s a lot like Koh Phi Phi, in Thailand but cheaper. The cheaper thing is cool, but it’s still not my scene. I can’t wait to get up and go to calm Koh Rong tomorrow!
We get up and go downstairs for a quick breakfast at the hostel. We have the same singing waiter as yesterday, and he’s really excited to see us. Tamara orders a different soup than what I ordered yesterday, but gets the same soup anyway.
After breakfast we rent another pair of bicycles and head out on a 9km journey to an old tomb. It was built in 1920 to honour emperor Khai Dinh, who was the last member of the Nguyen Dynasty. We have to bike a bit up hill, but it’s nice to get out to the country side roads where it’s more quiet! Traffic in Hue is infinitely more calm than in Hanoi, but having to maneuver a bike through it is still pretty hectic. I don’t fully understand the traffic rules, but it seems like it’s just a free for all where you just squeeze in to make a turn where you can. Sometimes people even drive motorbikes on the wrong side of the road, but no one seems bothered. I get used to it much faster than I expect. Soon, I too am throwing caution to the wind and making left hand turns through heavy traffic without flinching.
The tomb entrance fee is 80,000 dong ($4), which feels expensive but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.
We walk up a set of wide steps through an old stone triple gate entrance to a gazebo-like structure that is also made of pure stone. I’m still unsure of where this guy was actually buried.
A couple is having wedding photos taken around the grounds of the tomb, which I find slightly strange because… well, we’re standing over someone’s dead body. The structure is beautiful though, so I kind of understand the appeal. We keep climbing to find yet another couple having their photos taken. The photographer is making them stand in very specific, very staged poses, while their friends take iPhone photos of them, and some selfies too.
I love the traditional red Vietnamese dress!
We finally get to the top where the mosoleum is located. Aha, this is where he’s buried, I get it. A gold and jewel studded throne, surrounded by intricately painted walls and mosaic tiling make up the inside of the stone building. Everything is lavish and beautiful. Some of the emperors most valuable items, like a pen, some French table sets, a French vase, etc., are on display beneath glass for visitors to see. For me, the artwork of the decorations and room design are the most interesting. I would like a giant mosoleum built for me when I die too, please.
Biking back to Hue feels much shorter that biking to the tomb. Some very light rain sprinkles down on us, but the cloud passes quickly, which I’m very grateful for because I’ve left my raincoat at the hotel. We make two quick stops; one, to buy a mango and a dragonfruit, and two, to check out a tall pagoda on the side of the road.
We drop our bikes at the hotel and walk over to the river. We find a very insistent lady trying to sell us an hour boat tour for 100,000 dong ($5) each. We manage to haggle the price down to 100,000 dong for both of us instead.
We get into a dragon boat where we are provided with two small plastic chairs. We’re the only two people on the boat.
It’s nice to pay so little for a private boat but there isn’t a whole lot to see on either side of the river so we just relax and let the boat float us up and down a small portion of the river for an hour. There are some cool giant fabric lotus flowers that have been installed in the centre of the river.
Our boat driver brings us an array of trinkets like book marks and reproducted Vietnamese paintings on small scale paper. He’s not so pushy compared to other vendors we’ve encountered in Vietnam so far, but he still hovers around us for a good portion of the boat trip, which is awkward.
When we get back to land I buy a quarter of a piece of coconut “meat” on a stick for 10,000 dong. It’s a nice snack. We’ve skipped lunch today but have eaten a mango, a dragon fruit, and some coconut to make up for it. It’s only cost us 20,000 ($1) which is much less than we would pay for a sit down lunch, and is probably much healthier. I didn’t bike 18km today for nothing.
We come back to the hotel and use the wifi to do some research about what to see and do in Hoi An, our next stop. We’re hoping to do a little less sight seeing and to find a little more adventure. Staying in the big cities obviously isn’t the way to do this, but we figure we can get to other, more rural, areas from these main points of interest. My Lonely Planet Guide and Tamara’s French guidebook to Vietnam should give us a good variety of information.
After an hour of looking and not really finding anything that looks super promising, we leave it and go for dinner. I’m sure there’s lots to do, but the books focus on the museums and old buildings of Hoi An, which isn’t really why I came to Vietnam. One can only visit so many temples and pagodas, ya know?
We get one free beer at the hostel because…free beer.
We walk ten minutes in search of a well priced restaurant, and finally stumble upon one that looks good for both of us. I don’t realize until I sit down just how seriously hungry I am.
I just pick some noodles with shrimp and vegetables, with the hope that it will come to me quickly. While I wait, I start to realize I’m getting sick. What I thought were hunger pains are so much more. I’m sweating an unusual amount for a cool rainy evening, and my stomach is absolutely crazy with an achy pain. It’s about time really, because I managed to travel for a whole year through places like India and Thailand without being sick once. I knew it was too good to be true. My time has come. I just hope I can make it through the meal before having to run home and curl up in a little ball and pray for health.
My noodles come and I scarf them down as fast as I can. Within minutes, I’m magically cured. I really didn’t know hunger could hurt that much. It felt more like I was going into withdrawal than just craving some rice noodles and veg.
What do you know? My mystical sick-free travels continue. Haza!
We return to the land of free beer and enjoy our last night in Hue. If you’re ever in Hue I can strongly recommend the Google Hotel to stay, or just to drink!