Chau Doc, Vietnam (23rd Nov 2007)
We left our hotel earlier then the trip usually plans as the annual Water Festival was taking place in Phmon Penh and there was no way we would be able to make it in time to catch our speed boat if we didn't allow for traffic, as over the weekend the population gets an extra 2 to 3 million people pouring in for the festivities, which unluckily for us, we miss.
After fighting our way through all of the festival traffic we finally arrived at what seemed like quite an odd location to catch our speed boat into Vietnam. The boat we were getting was docked at the side of a small road in the middle of what seemed like a waste ground. As expected onboard was basic and uncomfortable, and it only got worse as the boats loud diesel engine started up and made it impossible to talk to even the person to you side; this made for a perfect opportunity to wear down the batteries on the iPod and try catch up on some reading. The journey was certainly different to any other we have experienced as yet, and disappointingly we had some rather bland and repetitive scenery. The things that at first that seem quite cute and humbling soon change in your opinion after you have seen a 100 small river side villages and the kids bathing in the river for mile after mile, it gets more and more tempting to stay focused on your book.
Chau Doc sits at the junction of a tributary linking the Bassac River and the Mekong River. Its an incredibly friendly and bustling little city, and certainly has a colour scheme to match its ambience, with bright pastel hues of green, blue and purple adorning many of the shop fronts and homes. Chau Doc is also the closest large town to the Vietnamese/Cambodian river border crossing hence why we came here on our speedboat. The border crossing itself was, again, easy and pain free much to our tour leaders surprise as he reckoned we would have been waiting all day to get our passports processed. We were told that the Chau Doc locals are known for being very warm and approachable and this seemed to be the case for us, even the Tuk Tuk and Moto drivers, as pestering as they are, are friendly and helpful. English is spoken in most of the foreigner targeted hotels and restaurants, much in the same way as the rest of Asia thus far making doing everything pretty easy for us.
As our stay in Chau Doc was more of a stopover than anything else, none of us expected to see or do much, we did however have a good evening in the city which started when the gang of us were told to hop on the back of some local motorbikes. Our guide had told us we were all going for a beer and some food at a nice little bar that was full of hammocks to relax in which we all agreed sounded great. Before going on and telling this story I would like to insert some text that is written in a big red box in our lonely planet guide book, "WARNING: Motorcycle accidents are brutally common (tourists and locals alike), and many consider transportation of this sort to be inherently hazardous. Motorcycle taxis in the city should generally be avoided except as a last resort."
For the un-faint of heart (Mark), a wild moto ride provides a fantastic rush. Imagine weaving through rows of stationary vehicles at 40 miles per hour with mere centimeters to spare on each side, dodging pedestrians, other motorbikes, Tuk Tuks, stray dogs and the occasional elephant while the driver blithely ignores all traffic laws and defies even some laws of physics. Now, do the same ride while facing backwards on the bike and balancing a large television on your lap then you can qualify as a local as hopefully you will see in some of our photos. The law requires that both driver and passenger must wear a helmet in most of South east Asia, something that most locals don't seem to care about, the police either; we however on this particular ride were given some lovely helmets to wear which probably wouldn't help in the event of a crash anyway, regardless, we blasted away from the hotel into the night.
The bikes, as mentioned weaved their way through the narrow streets heading out of the main hustle and bustle of town and toward the horizon. Pretty soon we were climbing the hill that previously stretched out in front of us. When the bikes eventually stopped we were half way up the side of a mountain and were greeted by the best sun set we have seen so far, the view over the city was amazing and the backdrop was the greatest mix of red's purple's and blue's. We stayed here until the sun was totally set and the insects had well and truly started on their supper, us. It was nice to be able to sit on the rocks on the edge of the cliff face or just swing in a hammock after so many days and nights where we are trying to cram activities into every last second of the day, and just as we got settled it seemed, we were off again, down the mountain and out to dinner.
All of our drivers (well, Our two and Alistair's) were intent on racing to wherever it is we were going so when we got back to the restaurant we arrived miles in front of everyone else. We ate where our boat had dropped us off earlier in the day and the food was average but pretty cheap. We thought the night was over when the moto's stopped at the hotel doors a couple of hours later, little did we know the next 4 hours would be spent in a couple of different karaoke bars in town where the beer is dirty cheap just to give people the courage to up and sing, which we all did and were absolutely horrendous, no wonder we got put in our own room to sing the night away.