Monday 26th November – the day after the storm in hcm. The day I do a visa run to Cambodia (part 1)

So I’m currently sitting on a local bus in HCM to some random office of an agent I found on Facebook to pick up my invitation letter to stay in Vietnam for longer. I don’t know if I will have trouble coming back into the country from Cambodia but I’ve already booked my flight to Spain from HCM at a later date (I have high hopes – please help me god!)

I barely slept a wink of sleep last night because people kept coming in and out of the dorm room and the door shut really loudly (ah the perks of sleeping right next to the door). Even though it was a great hostel with a great environment and it was nice and quiet – I struggled to get the sleep I needed. So here I am on an actually decently modern and comfy bus to this random office….feeling like I’ve had a big night out, an all nighter or two day bender (whichever one you can relate to the most).

I woke up at 6.45am and went to bed at around 10pm hoping to get a really great night’s sleep. After all, that’s why I changed hostel to find somewhere quiet to sleep… but quiet is definitely not what I got (darn that stupid door and people for not closing it softly).

I also woke up to the beautiful sound of many alarms going off…early in the morning.

I thought waking up at 6.45 would give me lots of time to have breakfast and leave at a reasonable hour but the staff were super late… So I couldn’t order my breakfast while getting ready like I planned 😦

This asian girl came down while I was looking around and asked if I was a staff member at the hostel (the perks of looking vietnamese)

When I went back up towards my dorm room – on the level just before mine, I saw two distressed looking guys and that same Asian girl looking like they were trying to sort out something. They guys looked really upset. I thought maybe I could try to help them in some way even if I wasn’t a staff member so of course I asked: “is there something I can help you with? What’s happened?”

Guys: “our phones got stolen”

Me: “how did that happen? Did you get pick pocketed?”

I thought their phones got stolen while they were out last night but as they started explaining their story, I realized that I was sorely mistaken.

Guy 1: “we don’t know. They took our phones while we were sleeping… But we’ve tracked our phones and we know it’s still in the building.”

Me: “oh my god that sucks. I would die if I lost my phone.”

Guy: “yes we’ve lost our way to contact our family and friends.”

They continue to tell me:

“our phones were just in our bed next to our head.”

I was shocked that this happened – because you hear stories and don’t think it will happen to you. But this was way too close to home… It could have happened to me (I had my laptop and phone next to me). And to be honest, I get a feel of the guests in the place and relax after I establish trust in the people staying there… But this just goes to show that you can never be too sure.

We then established that at least they had travel insurance and their credit cards still.

They really needed the staff to look at the cameras but the staff still hadn’t arrived yet.

I continued getting ready and getting packed. I went down to have breakfast and there was a queue…

There goes my plan to leave as early as possible.

The staff at the hostel told me I could leave my big backpack there (thank god)

Finding the local bus to the agent’s office

I left and determined I needed a coffee badly… So I went to the closest cafe to fulfill my cravings.

Just as I was was about to finish my coffee, I see the same Asian girl from before walking into the cafe. She sits with me and I decide to procrastinate and have a chat with her.

Her name was Jasmine and she was from China – she just finished her business and English degree and started solo travel a few years ago (and loving it too).

We talked for a good half hour and exchanged details (I can visit her whenever I want – yay!)

I then decided to leave to catch my bus….

I tried getting money from an ATM but it wasn’t working

Oh well…

I followed maps and got to the stop – saw my bus but it was leaving – no!!

For about two minutes, I chased after the bus, waving my hand but it didn’t stop…

Oh well…

I walked back to see if I could find a bus stop somewhere and saw a blue sign in the distance. When I got closer…it had my bus number. Yay!

I stood there.. Waiting… And the bus came 10 minutes later (score).

I hopped on and the ticket lady came to collect money… I showed her my destination on maps and another passenger helped me communicate.

I loaded my calculator app to get the price – 6000! Score!

I sat on the bus for about 30 minutes and hopped off…. But I’m definitely nowhere close to the office (lol). I still need to catch a train but i decided to make a pit stop at another cafe…

All I could rely on was trusty google maps in the hope it will lead me in the right direction (when it hasn’t been the most reliable navigation source in Vietnam) .

Once I was done with my second coffee, I walked towards the direction maps was telling me to… I had to go to the metro station across the highway… But how??? The traffic looked insane.

Having very little confidence I decide to go into a restaurant and ask for help with trusty google translate. Eventually they pointed me in some direction… But it was in the opposite direction of the station…. Hmmm

I decided to follow their instructions anyway but the further I walked the less hope I had it was the right direction.

I see a foreigner in the distance and decide to ask for help.

Me: “excuse me, can you please help me?”

Guy: “yeah sure”

Me: “I need to get to this station but it’s across the highway and I don’t know how to get there. Is there a bridge or something I can use?”

Guy: “oh yeah you have to cross the highway… On foot.”

I look at him in disbelief…

Me: “really?”

Guy: “it’s not as scary as it looks. Trust me”

Me: “ok… I guess I’ve already crossed a lot of roads in vietnam…have you lived here for a while?”

We then continue to talk a bit, establishing he is teaching in Vietnam and that I was doing a visa run ~he gives me some contacts and recommends for me to walk to the agent’s office instead of taking public transport.

The lovely guy sharing information with me about the visa run

Maps said it was only a 30 minute walk so I thought… Why not..

After we say good bye and part ways, I take the leap and start to cross the road. At first its just bikes… And then cars… And then I have to hop over a fence to deal with more cars and bikes again but I take my time and make it! Yes!

The closest road to where I need to be is flooded…. So me and this lady walk around it….and I start venturing towards the office.

30 minutes passes and I eventually get to the street the office is located – finally

I hop into the office, speak with the staff and get my letter, after checking all my details and filling in an immigration form (yay!)

The lovely agents…

The agent offered for a personal bus and guide for USD$15 but after calculating the cost in comparison to doing it myself I respectfully declined, so they gave me info on how to cross the border by public bus.

I thanked them and started making my way… But then my stomach started to grumble…

Me: “where can I eat around here?”

One of the staff give me some directions but I leave without fully understanding her instructions.

The food hunt…

I start walking in the direction I think she tells me to and and up in yet another flooded dead end – ugh.

I see another foreigner and ask for a recommendation of cheap local food.

He walks me close to where I need to go and tells me to go to the next street up.

By this point I just want to eat anything… But I persevere and encounter yet another massive flood….

How am I going to get across?

I stand there for about ten minutes watching people, noticing people in cars and bikes are crossing the water fine.

Should I (hitchhike?) ~ I thought…

I put my thumb out and started smiling at people. The first 5 people ignored me but then a lovely local stopped and let me hop on.

He took me across the flood river safely and in one piece.

I walked and walked and all I could see was local grocers…

Where are all the restaurants?

I was starving by this point…

After about 20 minutes I finally find a restaurant, bustling with locals – yes!

There was a huge flood river next to the restaurant and the water was coming into the restaurant. Some people even crossed the river and their pants were soaked up to their thighs.

I couldn’t read anything on the menu but the waitress could speak English and offered me chicken. I happily accepted.

The food came out 2 minutes later and oh my lord, it was seriously one of the best meals I’ve had in Vietnam so far ~ a delicious chicken rice with amazing soup, all for about 22,000 Dong (AUD $1.30)

Best fried chicken…. Ever!

After eating all the chicken and being extremely satisfied…. I proceeded to book a Grab bike… I waited for a good 20 minutes and the driver would not come closer even though he was only a minute drive away because of the flood river and told me to cancel the trip. This happened to me twice and I was starting to lose my patience because I’d been waiting almost for one hour to catch a Grab to the bus stop.

Even though I was getting impatient, I didn’t want to give up because my number one travel rule is that patience goes a long way and Grab had a promotion and the ride was only 10,000 Dong for a 30 minute drive ~ (AUD$0.60)

Third time lucky – the last driver uses a different route and finds me! Wooo!

He drove around many streets of Saigon and I instantly felt better. It was awesome because it felt like I was getting a bike tour of Saigon for dirt cheap while getting where I needed to go.

Arriving near the bus stop and finding the bus to Cambodia

He drops me off at the address the agent provides me and I pay him but can’t see the bus station anywhere…

I decide to ask for help… Again.

I walk into a tour shop and ask them where I can find bus 703 (as instructed by my agent).

The lady tells me to turn left and keep walking. I walk for 10 minutes and don’t see anything but I decide to just soldier on and eventually… I see a bus stop. Woo!

Once I get to the bus stop, I’m walking around for a while but can’t see bus 703 anywhere….

Time to ask for help again

I find some security guards and they point me in the right direction and I find bus 703 – finally!

I made it after a 5 hour journey…

But then… Nobody was in the bus…hmm

I decide to ask a local who also looks like she’s waiting but she has no clue. This other girl overhears our conversation and tells me that she is also crossing the border and the bus should come at 2pm. It was 1.45 – yes!

She sits down at a cafe with two other guys and I decide to walk over and join them in waiting for the bus.

Me: “can I join you?”

Guys: “of course”

We get to know each other while we’re waiting – they are from the Philippines and teaching in Vietnam.

The bus was super late but about 45 minutes to an hour later – we make it on the bus. Now I’m traveling with my new Philippino friends to Moc Bai, the Cambodian border…

Stay tuned for the videos and second part of my story.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed 🙂

***Update – video is now up!***

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