A Tour of South East Asia, Part 12
Monday, 19th March
7.30 am. Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City
OK, the bus has set off and we are away. All this is new to me – I’ve been to Thailand many times, Cambodia several times, Laos once but never to Vietnam.
I’m on Kumho Samco Buslines but there are numerous companies giving a similar product. I have been given a complimentary bottle of warm water. If I was ever seen with a water bottle, there would be vodka in it. Fortunately, I’ve brought a six-pack of Singh still cold from my fridge. I am greeted with a loud and cheery, ‘Good morning!’ as I walk to the back of the coach. I couldn’t believe my eyes – it was the same Japanese guy who was on the bus with me to Siem Riep and to Phnom Penh! I said, ‘Are you following me about?’ But he acted as if he had never seen me before.
A cute Khmer girl stumbles as she enters with a smile which kick starts my day. We are at the back of the bus together and bouncing around like a couple of balls in a pair of skids. Obeying one of Newton’s Laws of Gravity, at every pothole she bounces higher than me and eventually bounces into my lap. That’s saved a seat should any more passengers get on.
It looked like we were driving straight into the Mekong but the bus came to rest on a flat barge swarming with hawkers, bearing fruit and flowers and desperate to get at us. I am the only Farang on the bus and as such a curiosity and a target for those wanting to do business.
The barge holds our bus, a pick-up truck, a mini bus, a score of motor bikes and even more foot passengers. A lad with no arms gets on, a quadruple amputation is an effective career move on the banks of the Mekong and I put a 1000 Riel (that’s nearly 20 cents!) in his bag. He says, ‘Thank your sir.’ That is nice, they usually look pissed off and ask for dollars.
Now a woman comes towards me with a huge pyramid of fruit on her head. I buy some sliced mango and strike up a conversation with the pretty Khmer who has bounced onto my lap. The mango is eaten with salt she tells me; it is very good, so is she. She shows me the correct way to do it. I put on a naive act as if I have never seen a mango, or even a woman, before. This happens all the time in Cambodia, the women are shy but flirtatious towards the solo Farang and keen to exchange email addresses. Why? I don’t even look at my inbox even if I was holding designs on getting a look at hers.
10.20 am. Lunch stop 1 km from border
You’d have thought the French would have taught the Khmer how to make a decent baguette before they left. The one I just ate was as light and flaky as a leper’s arm (100 riels for the baguette – the beer was 4000 riel). However, to the various beggars I paid out a lot more to get rid of them and to show off to my travelling companion.
The hotels at the border on the Cambodian side are hideously grand and luxurious. The hand of the Americans must be in this. Must be something to do with rest and recovery during the war with Vietnam. Where the hell are we – Las Vegas? So we go through Cambodian passport control and I assume we are now on the Viet side, where there are no posh hotels just wooden hovels on stilts.
3 pm Saigon
Officially, I am in Ho Chi Minh City but it is soon clear the place is, and will always remain, Saigon.
I’ve only been here an hour and already I have a bar girl perched on my knee. Coincidentally, her name is Knee or perhaps the K is silent and superfluous – she is certainly neither. I will use the silent k to see if I can shut her up.
I took fifty dollars to the exchange and got back a million Vietnamese Dong, then tried to spend it all immediately in Lucky Seven Bar across the street because Knee called out to me from her bar as I came out with the Dong. They can smell your Dong here.
So, two cups of strawberry tea, a plate of fries, then an ice beer – and I feel better with Knee suggesting schemes for my wallet during the next two days; already I've bought her three lady drinks and another for her less aggressive, and I think, cuter colleague, Rosie.
I dump Knee off my knee, make an excuse and promise I'll be back later – I have to sleep alone and for a long time first.
Now I am back in my room – away from the persistent demands of the moto boys, the pushy girls and roll a joint. I think it would be harder not to get a shag in this city and I know it is a struggle that I’ll lose in the next 48 hours.
Food $1.50, tip to guy who brought food 10,000 VD ($0.50) lady drink 60,000 VD ($3), and man drink (beer, tea or cola) 20,000 VD ($1). I am acting as if I am a millionaire. On the Bui Vien are numerous bars and cafes including Lucky Seven and of course Knee, the little cute and loud bargirl keen to give me good GFE (as they say in WSO).
Maybe it is a little early to go back and debauch in Lucky Seven? Who knows what traps await me. It seems that the receptionist, the cleaners, the girls in the tour office from where I bought my return ticket and changed my money are too ready to offer special services if I would only ask. Or is it just my imagination running away from me? 'Shy girls get nowt' must be the slogan of the Vietnamese female. Note to reader: sing this last sentence in Four Tops style – 'It is just my imagin –a – tion running away from me.'
The Battle of Wounded Knee begins
I have almost convinced myself that Knee would be happy to be reunited with me rather than my wallet! Gone are the days I shelled out big money to keep a girl out of a bar.
I will have a big curry, a couple of beers and be anywhere but the Lucky Seven (no more lady drinks). Tomorrow I will ask a moto guy to take me to the War Remnants Museum. This was an idea suggested to me by Knee – with her as my tour guide of course. Well thanks for the idea Knee but if you don't mind I’ll go alone. Then I can drink beer, and maybe have a massage? But then who knows what tonight will bring? The Lucky Star and Lucky Seven have brought nothing but misfortune. I always pick bars and hotels with the name Lucky in them. One of the worst things that can happen to you in life is to win a bet on a horse at an early age. Horse racing is animated roulette. It’s the sure way of getting nothing from something.
9 pm: The Saigon Mini Hostel
This is the most comfortable bed I’ve ever put my fat ass on. I am installed in the Saigon Mini Hostel – it’s tiny but big enough for me and a skinny woman (and crucially, cheap).
This evening I wanted some beer and hash without any girls sticking their tits into me. I found the biggest bar, The Crazy Buffalo, half way up the Bui Vien – an enormous place, glowing bright pink. The hash was $5 for 200, (that is 2000% cheaper than in the UK, I don’t usually indulge in the foul habit at home – unless I can get a nice bit of skunk on a weekend; but hell, I’m on holiday), a curry was $6, (the usual Indian), the beer came to a staggering $7 for a bottle of San Miguel and a Corona. The place was almost empty and it suited me as I just watched football on the box. I found out later that the inflated prices are the reason for the lack of customers – Falang in Saigon have found rock-bottom hedonism outside the Crazy Buffalo.
I did not go down to the area of the Lucky Seven; in fact, I walked a considerable distance to avoid it. If I had more than $18 I would have gone much further. All I ask is one chance to prove money can't make me happy.
Increasingly desperate messages still coming in from Nong – but it is all over with me and girlfriend experiences. You are making progress if each mistake is a new one. I’ve learned that you should never lie down with a woman crazier than yourself.
Tomorrow I don’t have to go anywhere: I won’t, I’ll just get in a couple of six packs and drink it. They say that drinking alcohol and smoking weed is a slow death – but I'm not in a hurry.
Every man needs to have a good woman with a warm heart: sometimes he just needs to let out a bad fart and have a cold beer.