Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Down the mighty Mekong...

Instead of taking an air-conditioned bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam, I decided to take a five hour boat trip down the Mekong River to Chou Doc. After that, I planned to get a bus or van up to the city. Our covered "speedboat" held about 20 people...most of whom were western tourists. There was a group of 10 German travelers, a couple from the UK who were traveling with their two daughters ages 9 & 5, and another young couple from the UK (Grant and Cathy) who were on their extended honeymoon. The Mekong River is very impressive, and, at times, it appeared to be at least several miles across. Before we arrived in Chou Doc, however, the boat pulled into the shore where we had to surrender our passports and go through immigration to leave Cambodia. Thirty minutes later, we got back onto the boat, traveled about a quarter of a mile, and pulled in again to the shore to be looked at by the Viet Nam authorities at their checkpoint. This time, they kept us waiting for over an hour in the blazing heat of the afternoon. I found out later that the boat captain had to bribe the Vietnamese officials in order for him to expedite our entry. It seems that we could have easily been kept there for several more hours. Once we all got back in the boat, however, we still had to travel another 30 minutes. Eventually we turned off into a narrower part of a tributary of the Mekong. As we got closer to Chou Doc, both sides of the river became lined with run-down, delapidated shanties...most of them up on stilts. Sometimes, there were single rooms that had been built on floating to entire families. The narrower channel was filled with motorized barges which sometimes looked like miniature arks. A lot of them used an outboard-type motor with a drive shaft up to 10-15 feet long which was angled down into the water at 45 degrees. Most of the boats had a red "face" with black eyes painted on their bow. Grant, Cathy and I decided to hook up at to share a van ride up to the city. It was almost 3 P.M. by the time we had arrived in Chou Doc and, since it was a day of travel anyway, we decided to tough it through another 5-hour van trip to Ho Chi Minh. The van ride up to the city was pretty rough. For the first half, we all got bounced around on a highway that was still under construction. Lots of bumps and dips. Two hours from HCMC, they stopped at a restaurant for dinner and we ordered a traditional Vietnamese soup. We phoned ahead for reservations at the 4-star Rex Hotel....a place where many of the foreign journalists worked during the Viet Nam war. Although the three of us were pretty exhausted by the time we arrived at the Rex(10 P.M.), we still had enough energy to have a few drinks at the Garden Terrace restaurant on the top roof. Live music and very decadent atmosphere. The next day, Grant, Cathy and I met for breakfast and became to plan our day. We first walked over to the "Reunification Palace,"...made famous at the place where the last helicopters left the rooftop when the U.S. was pulling out of Viet Nam. Some readers will remember seeing pictures of the rush at the gate back in the early 70's and the desperate look on the faces of those trying to escape before the country descended into chaos. From there, the three of us went to the War Remnants Museum and saw, as expected, a very one-sided viewpoint of their version of the war. They were many examples of captured American weapons including several jets, helicopters, small planes, rifles, machine guns, artillary, morters, etc. etc. Lots of pictures and documentation about how they were "right" and how everybody else (including the French) was "wrong." We then walked over to a famous Chinese temple pagoda and paid our respects to some of the images inside. Finally, we went to the central marketplace a few blocks from the Rex Hotel. It's a huge warehouse structure that's home to many hundreds of little booths selling absolutely everything you can, clothing, souveniers, wood carvings, shoes, luggage, flowers, etc. A paradise for those who like sensory overload. We went back to the hotel and arranged to use the gift certificate that the hotel had given us each for a massage. It's hot (over 90) and with 85% humidity. Grant and Cathy are leaving tomorrow morning but we'll probably hook up again when I fly up to Hanoi on Tuesday. More later...


Blogger Justine said...

Hi Dad,

I've really enjoyed finally being able to catch up on your blog and imagining what you're seeing. Kev will also really enjoy reading it too since we'll be visiting Vietnam and India in the future as well. Grace saw your photo today on my computer, smiled at you and gave her "Grandpa Chuck" sign.
Glad to hear how much you're enjoying yourself. Love, Justine

12:08 AM  
Blogger Corrupted said...

Hi, Chuck,

Directions miraculously appeared on the blog form as to how many characters to submit as password, etc. Now I am allowed to write to you in an easy way. I can't believe my luck has changed, although somehow I have been "forced" to open a blog myself, which I may regret. Nevertheless, it has been an interesting experience. As must have been your talking to those Vietnam vets right there where they experienced so much so long ago. Don't quite understand exchange rates as comparing rupees to Cambods to dollars doesn't quite work unless you know what 45 rupees buys vs. what a dollar buys in U.S. -- definitely not equal. Oh, well, one can't know everything.

Happy trails,

6:15 AM  

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