While we were in Cambodia we heard about sleeper busses - they're busses that have actual bunk-beds instead of seats! Amazing! So we made sure that the bus we booked from Cambodia to Vietnam was a sleeper one. However, if there is one thing that we have learned about South East Asia its that you can't guarantee anything! And, as we half expected, when we were picked up from our hostel we saw that the bus was just an ordinary one. We were a little disappointed but not that bothered as we'd got a good price and we knew there was nothing we could do about it anyway, but there was a group of six lads from Brazil who had paid almost double what we had each and were not happy to be getting on a seated bus, but like I said there's not much you can do so they had a little complain and then they had to just get on it :).
The journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh was by far our scariest one yet! - we were sat right at the front of the bus, meaning that we could see every single near miss - there were hundreds! There were no street-lights and the bus driver was crazy, he kept overtaking other cars on hills and on bends and at stupid times, meaning that he would only get back on the right side of the road within inches of an Arctic lorry! He also had to keep slamming his breaks on because most of the trucks driving in front of him didn't have back lights and so couldn't be seen until it was almost too late! We were trying to watch Grey's (as usual) but really couldn't concentrate! After about an hour we stopped the episode we were watching and said a little prayer that we would be safe! We felt much better afterwards :). We arrived in Phnom Penh at about midnight and changed busses to a really cramped one, we were a bit gutted about this but felt much better that we were no longer at the front of the bus. Although, every window on the new bus was smashed which kept reminding us that we weren't safe yet! :) lol.
We arrived in Saigon early in the morning (now officially known as Ho Chi Minh City - the first thing that was changed by the North Vietnamese when they won the war - but still called Saigon by most people), found the guest-house that we had emailed the day before, checked in and chilled out for the rest of the day. In the evening we went for dinner at a restaurant that was just around the corner called 'Hoa Mai', the food was cheap and very tasty and they gave us a loyalty card that gave you more off every meal. It was so good there that we filled our loyalty card up! :) The following morning we went up to the roof for breakfast. We met a couple there called Mark and Lisa. Mark was from Holland and Lisa was from Scotland but they had met and got together a few months earlier in Turkey where they were both working at a diving resort. They were really nice and as we were chatting we realised that they were paying $5 less than us for their room (we had air-con and they didn't, but still, its a big difference in a country as cheap as Vietnam). So, we went and asked the guy if he could lower the price of our room; he said that he could, but that we would have to move to a smaller one. We figured that if were going to move anyway we may as well see what the other guest-houses had to offer (there were at least 15 on the side road we were on and loads more on all the roads around it - its proper backpackerville). We found one on the same road for $12 a night, - a dollar less than Mark and Lisa were paying and it had air-con so we were buzzing :)
The previous day when we were just resting in the room and sorting a few jobs out we stumbled across something online informing us that we could get a free 60 day tourist visa for Thailand if we went directly to a Thai embassy. This was excellent news as otherwise our cheapest option would have been to either do two visa runs - probably in Burma - or to buy a 30 day visa (about £25 each) and then do 1 visa run to cover the remaining 5 days of our time in Thailand! - mission! The free 60day visa is something that is currently being implemented by the Thai government because tourism has fallen by 40% in the last 10yrs and is still falling! It probably has a lot to do with the rising cost of living there - it's really not as cheap as they say - and for us Brits, the exchange rate, which is also getting worse and worse. Team this with the Tsunami and the trouble in Bangkok, plus the fact that the south islands are getting far too built up, which is causing a lot of pollution (in and out of the sea), and its no wonder tourism is down! And if the building and pollution continues on the beautiful, tiny islands in the south, its going to get a whole lot worse!
Anyway, back to Vietnam! so... we went to the embassy and got our visas, only to find out that we needed to have our exit route from Vietnam already booked! The nice lady at the embassy said that if we booked our ticket and faxed it over to her within the next four hours she would sort it and they would be ready to collect the following day. So, we spent the rest of the afternoon, trying to decide what to do for the next few weeks and getting quotes for tickets! Originally, our plan was to go up to the north of Vietnam and across into Laos, but we had since been informed about the pink-eye epidemic from tubing in Laos and we were told by most of the travel shops, and by the owner of our guest-house that the floods were too bad for anybody to get to the north of Vietnam - some busses were still running but we figured that it would be dangerous and had heard from a lot of people that because the rain was still pretty much constant and the place was flooded, there wasn't much to do up there! Plus, the visa for Laos was £50 as opposed to £25 for Cambodia. So, we reluctantly decided to get back to Thailand via Cambodia. In our pressed for time decision making, we figured that we wanted to just get the journey done and get a direct ticket from Saigon to Bangkok. The journey was to take 36hrs but we just figured that that was the cheapest way to do it as it meant that we saved at least one night accommodation. We booked our ticket and faxed it over to the embassy. Job done.
The following day we had arranged to meet Mark and Lisa at 10am to go to the water park. It was so much fun! But being there felt a bit weird because certain parts of it were separated by race - us 'foreigners' had to sunbathe and keep our stuff in an area that was pretty far away from the locals! :) The slides were really big and scary and the health and safety was minimal - which always spices things up a little! :) We went on every slide and spent a good three or four hours there. One of the rides was a zip wire across a pool that we all had a go on. When Kieran had his turn he ended it with a back flip which looked pretty impressive except that the fall wasn't big enough so he landed straight on his back in the water! Ouch!
When we got back we arranged to meet up with Mark and Lisa again later, as it was Halloween and Lisa was very excited and wanted to dress up! but Villa-Blues was on and we couldn't guarantee that they would be playing it anywhere so we made it a late-one so we could watch it on the lap-top and then go out. Before all that though we had to go and collect our visas from the embassy - as we were quite restricted by time we decided to get a Cyclo. A Cyclo is a big chair that is pushed by a man on a really high-up bicycle! They're the traditional Vietnamese taxi-service - popular until the scooter taxi's (or moto's) came along and the government has since been gradually phasing them out. Most of the Cyclo drivers are Saigon army war veterans (they fought for South Vietnam). Our two drivers were really nice, mine was called Jim, they had both fought for Saigon and had been Cyclo drivers for about 20yrs! They took us to the embassy and back and didn't rip us off too badly :) and Kieran got a really cool photo with them! Jealous!
When we got back to the hostel Ki got set up for the game and I got ready to go out. Villa-Blues was awful! Firstly Ki was frustrated because the website he was streaming from kept stopping and taking ages to buffer! And then because the game itself was crap! A proper anti-climax :) (if you look at the pics you can see Ki being gutted when he's watching it!). When it was over I was pretty much ready but we still had a good hour before the guys came around so I suggested that Kieran put vampire make-up on too! I thought he'd just say 'no way' but he didn't! In fact, he was well up for it! Ha! And it looked really good!
When we went out, we found a really cool roof-top bar - too many stairs though! We sat and had a drink there for a while and then all of a sudden we heard loads of horns beeping so we looked down onto the road and saw lots of scooters all congregated together and more and more coming every second! It looked like there was going to be a race but then we realised that all that had happened was that a group of people in Halloween costumes had gone into the road and stopped the traffic! With this knowledge it really showed us the sheer volume of scooters in Vietnam! (officially its 5 million!) As if just stopping the traffic on a road that wasn't even a major one, at midnight, could cause such a build up in a matter of seconds! After finishing our drinks we moved on to a bar that was giving a free cocktail to anyone who was dressed up - it was horrible but strong so it was all good! As we were leaving and settling the bill, there was a bit of a cuffuffle; Mark was paying for half of his share in dollars and, after already trying to skank us twice, firstly, by adding 5% for no reason and then by charging us the inflated-by-20%-after-two-o'clock price for drinks we had gotten before two o'clock, they tried to tell us that the exchange rate on the dollar was much lower than we knew it was! The woman was getting so angry she couldn't hit the buttons on the calculator properly! Crazy woman! In the end I took the calculator and worked it out and showed her and her manager that we were right. And we left the bar to the sound of the little crazy woman screaming 'f*** you!, f*** you!'. Funnyness! :)
A couple of days later we left Saigon and moved as far up north as the weather would allow us, to a little beach resort called Mui Ne.