Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 3 of 3: Hate/Love Relationship

Read Ba Dong Ka Donk – Part 1 of 3: Are We There Yet? and Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 2 of 3: gettin’ our hate on first!

Cast in lime tones, giant paddies had sewn SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCtheir wild oats amongst the coconuts and palms, all crafted with Mother Nature’s erotic precision. Along a winding dirt road, where gravel gets chewed and spit with the spin of the tire, we passed timeless homes that each backed out onto the coffee-tinted Mekong Delta. Each home giving birth to a floating vessel, you could just imagine the pruned fingers. As we passed at a snails pace to capture it all, we had peeped a lady of leisure on her front porch, waving & giggling her little gum tooth smiling head off, as well as a man with a furry sun kissed baby duck on a makeshift fishing pole. Clueless as to what kind of catch he was fixing to hook. Amazed by the flow of life…we carried on our journey and reached the ferry.

The ferry ride was peaceful thanks to the travel vietnam mekong delta 2bus full of nuns (perhaps you are more familiar with the term, nun-truck) that was perched perfectly at the front, almost by the hand of GOD…or perhaps just by coincidence. Anyways, we didn’t sink- so some of you would consider the ride uneventful. When we exited the other side we carried on to the bustling town of Ben Tre. A city famed for its coconut candies.

We pulled into Ben Tre around nine pm, it had just started to sprinkle outside, we had been riding all day, we didn’t have a room booked for the night…and to poop on us when were down, it just sank in that it was annoyingly difficult to get a room without our passports. We pulled into a hotel, walked in, and just as quickly walked out, loathing that cursed word and the receptionist’s smug look. She shoo’d us in the direction of another hotel- saying they would take us. I doubted it.

Along the Delta, we tried a new hotel. It was big and classy, just how I like my women. And it came with an American breakfast buffet- so the fatty in me was praying. We told them from the start we didn’t have our passports, but that we had ID and we knew our passport numbers. It didn’t work. Beside the front desk was a computer. We thought we were saved! In each of our emails we have our visa documents stating we are welcome in the country until October 23rd, 2013. The receptionist seemed on board so we dug up the visa’s and printed them. So far so good…then, not so much. They said they wanted our pictures on the visa documentation, which isn’t part of the visa they e-mail you. The official visa is glued to the inside of our passport á la safe box. There was nothing the receptionists could do, so they said. With Katie almost in tears (KT Edit: I just kept thinking, imagine my father was here, seeing these horrid creatures turn his youngest daughter out into the cold, wet, dark, foreign night, with no where to sleep! The tears were also my way of trying to guilt the receptionists. It didn’t work…) we flipped through our copy of Lonely Planet: Vietnam and found a cheap motel that would hopefully not ask any questions. We drove over, slapped on a couple of the darndest fucking smiles you could travel vietnam mekong delta 3ever imagine with attempts to butter the owner up as much as possible and get ourselves a bed for the night. I’ll cut out all the details, but we were standing in the room and I was forking over money and giving her the ol’ I bet you were something before electricity line, before she could even get the word “passport” out. But, then she did. Oh that trifling word. We explained we only have our driver’s license to give her, and she could NOT have cared less in the world. We thanked her so much. She will never know the weight of her acceptance. I think we even cried a little, I faintly remember being moist.

Anyways it was nighttime. We were hungry. We’d been on our bikes around eight hours and we finally landed a room. We found a restaurant to celebrate- we think it was pork, but I swear it looked like chicken. KT Edit: It was also the ONLY place open to eat in Ben Tre. 

That night we planned to wake up early and find a boat to go for a cruise up The Delta, since I highly doubt we’ll be back to this part of the earth, it was something that basically had to be done. After looking in The Lonely Planet, it read that you could purchase tickets at the tourist office, which happened to be just up the street from our hotel. We grabbed a coffee, Vietnamese style (KT Edit: which meant we sat at a cafe facing the street for 10 minutes while our coffee dripped, before we could carry on), and biked over to where the office was located on the map. Not one building had English, so with our heads darting back and forth I did a U-E the same time a guy shouted over at us “Boat ride?”. I suspect it was the miraculous work of those nuns… bless that nun-truck! “Yes!” we shouted back. We pulled over, discussed the fine print, and met him an hour later along the shores to board his boat.

travel vietnam mekong delta 4Hopping over a barrier, walking along a two-by-four walkway out and onto his twenty-foot outboard-motored boat, equipped with three wicker backyard chairs. Above our heads hung a tarp that would come off after it poured while we floated down the swampy Mekong.

 

 

travel vietnam mekong delta 7After making some headway along the larger channel, we snuck into a tributary where its width at times was almost an arms length wide. Cutting the motor at times, we grabbed onto hanging limbs and ushered the vessel along its watery path. Our trip eventually led to an island in the middle of it all, and trusting our guide, we docked and walked a path on the land donned, Coconut Island. And like its name, there were coconuts a plenty. Leaving our packs and bags on board he maneuvered his craft downstream to meet us at the other end. We uneasily joked about how our captain could just be chugging down stream laughing at a couple of trusting tourists who are going to be eating coconuts and bananas until they grow old- instead, we see him docked with a machete in one hand and a freshly picked coconut in the other and he’s hacking away at the top. He even brought straws. What a fucking guy.

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On the float home, we ended up making a pit stop at his family’s plantation of sorts. Pulling up, you could see about eight-thousand coconut husks. And after hopping onto land, we travel vietnam mekong delta 12bore witness to this little operation he had kicking. His wife, along with a staff member, who could have been his mother, were wrapping up a wack of coconut tchotchkes. Trolling us through his property, he brought us over to a group of workers, aged twenty years, slicing out the chunks of coconut meat. To their right were several giant vats of coconut milk that had recently been drained, think nine-person hot tub big. We hung travel vietnam mekong delta 6around drinking coconut & banana liquor and staving off the rain before Nam’s wife jumped on board on our way home. Before we had even pushed off, she took her days garbage, neatly confined in a plastic bag, and tossed it into the Mekong, like you would a Whiska’s treat to a fluffy kitten. And like magic, the garbage was gone. Katie and I both looked over at each other with the same it is what it is look on our faces. We docked, paid Nam, and picked up our bags from the hotel for our four-ott hour journey back to Ho Chi Minh City. This time, opting for the straightforward AH1, destination, end-of-the-line.  And like afternoon clockwork during Vietnam’s four month long monsoon season- it starting raining… again. Bring it on Vietnam.

travel vietnam mekong delta 14Home safe!

Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 2 of 3: Gettin’ our hate on!

Read Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 1 of 3: Are We There Yet? first!

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Middle of nowhere hotel!

The next morning we showered and dressed like most do, and crossed our fingers that Katie’s bike would work. We paid for the night, I think to the tune of $8, and got our health card & driver’s license in return. Putting the keys into her ignition the engine turned over and we were soon on the road- but only for a minute. The bike died in front of a mechanic, which seemed to be a wonderful running theme. He pulled the bike in, took off the gas cap and pointed to an empty tank, turning around he got his laugh on at our expense, then pointed to a petrol station a hundred meters up the road.

The rest of the trip was as straightforward as Dien said. All the arrows pointed to Ba Dong SAMSUNG CSCBeach, which legitimized that we weren’t crazy, and that Vietnamese suck at local geography. Yeah that’s right- generalization baby. Being of the breakfast hour, my eyes darted as we made headway. Upon the descent of a small bridge, I noticed a riverside market full of produce and photographs alike. We parked and navigated the weaving wards of the market to gawking eyes and incredulous sales people. We passed through veggie alley, then a woman on a mound ofSAMSUNG CSC freshly picked tobacco and presumably within arms reach of rolling papers, past the chopping blocks of hacked skulls and stubborn limbs of the meat market, then onto the livestock which ran along the shore into the fish and quite-lively skinless & headless frog market and eventually into a backstreet fruit department which led to a coffee shop where we sat down and enjoyed an ice coffee along (ca phe da) with our purchases of grapes, lychees and a baguette.

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After a while the owner came and sat at our table and ate a few grapes at our offering, and brought his shy son along to ultimately practice his English. The four of us shared a bunch of laughs, which is to say that we understood what the other was saying to some extent, but who says that communication is only linguistically deep. We finished our coffees, said our farewell’s and returned to our bikes, which were parked in front of yet another mechanic. Having the limited vision of but one mirror, the mechanic fixed my bike with a set of new mirrors for $1.50. From there it was a straight shot.

Pulling into the Ba Dong Beach parking lot we were greeted by a single toothed lot SAMSUNG CSCattendant and a dull looking beach in the framework. The man was sweet as pie and pointed to the bungalows on the beach where we could get a room, so we walked on over. We followed a winding path with sprouting grass in between the concrete slabs towards the front desk. Looking around, garbage littered the area, and a large concrete embankment separated us from the beach, that at one time might have been nice, but had been reduced to rubble. On the far side of the bungalows, a handful of towering cranes were being manned, and it is hard to tell if they were building or destroying- and I left the beach wondering the same thing, although the question left my thoughts until the recount of this story.
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Behind a comically pregnant woman was a posted sign. It read the nightly charges for the different rooms, of which I correctly assumed that the cheapest rooms would not be SAMSUNG CSCavailable. After settling on a price point at this barren wasteland of a beach, she would mutter one word that would soon replace itself as the most loathsome word that has ever blessed my ears. Out of all hateful words that have been spelled against me, out of all the words that have been cast down in the form of racism or overweight remarks- this word will be the demarcation of my sanity. What is the word you ask? It is difficult for me to bring the words to print, ahhh, but alas, I will for stories sake, the word, the despicable word, spit, is passport.

Having not thought to bring our passports along our travels, assuming they would be much more secure locked up in our room’s safe box, we had seeded the birth of our downfall. Throwing money, ID’s, and motorbike registrations had no affect on this stubborn bursting woman- she just kept repeating the word passport, spit! Knowing my passport number, I gave it to her alongside all my other information, but it was no use. We begged and pleaded and more, and yet she kept repeating her one word, with a sadistic grin on her face.

Explaining to her that we were not leaving, I asked her to call the owner/manager anyone above her head to please quell this cookie cutter problem. After a sea of rolling eyes, clenched fists and ill wishes- she finally called someone and they agreed to let us stay. Yippee-fucking-yay!

She brought us to our shithole and we unpacked our bags and walked to the lackluster beach. We swam, strolled, prodded jellyfish and were ignored by coastal canines…travel vietnam roadtrip 8you know, took in the sites. When we returned they were at our door within a few minutes escorting us to another room for some reason- this one though was connected to the only other bungalow that was rented for the day, out of the ten bungalows lined up in a row. Which is just plain ign’ant and something that escapes me entirely, whoever trained the staff, or perhaps the owner him/herself has no clue about the concept of privacy, nor romance, nor simple addition, nor that their country is trying to create a friendly image of travel and tourism. Bahhh! Anyways, I went for an afternoon nap, which is not like me at all, no joke, and woke up to knocking on the door. Katie opened the door to travel vietnam roadtrip 9a sheep of a man running commands from head office. “Motorcycle phone number.”  Now what the fuck? We had already given them our passport numbers, along with our ID’s and now they want a motorcycle phone number. After playing dumb, he left. Katie looked over at me and we just shook our heads. No more than one minute went by before we got another set of knocks on our door. It was another guy this time. “Motorcycle phone number” he said in broken English. “No… No number… Go away. You have passport number.” We said without accepting him as a human. He walked off without achieving his goal.

I know why they wanted our motorcycle phone number. Our names weren’t on our bike registration we handed to them-which I accidentally threw at them in a fit trying to assure us the room. We bought our bikes off a couple of travelers in town, who had their motorcycle papers handed down to them, and so on. The original names on our unregistered bikes were of a couple of Vietnamese people who we know nothing about. So after she read that- I wasn’t sure if she wanted to call in our bikes to see if they were stolen or not- so it was best for us to just play dumb. That was the last knock of the night and I ended up going back to sleep.

mmmm fries! ...with sugar & butter?

mmmm fries! …with sugar & butter?

I am fully aware this all sounds like a shit-storm of complaints, while I’m vacationing the countryside of Vietnam on my leisure, without a job or a care in the world. Its kind of like complaining about a free meal, or something of that sort, but I honestly don’t care at this point- these people need a harsh realization of their ign’ant actions and the only way for me to vent is through writing… it’s therapeutic. I’m feeling better already…. Breathe!

We woke up, which is always pleasant, dressed & packed and went over to the restaurant to grab a quick bite of french fries with a side of butter and sugar. Sitting in a couple of reclining Muskoka chairs travel vietnam roadtrip 11we ate, read and relaxed before reaching a quick swim. Under a roof of torn sheet metal, rested a wiry cage that was erected with the sloppiest of craftsmanship- something you wouldn’t even consider putting your tools in back home out of fear of scratching the shit out of them. Inside sat a monkey on a little blanky, beside a couple of torn plastic bottles. He was picking something from his fur without fully acknowledging me. It appeared that, aside from his horrible living SAMSUNG CSCconditions, he was fed well and regularly by the busses of tourists whom exploit the beach for the hour or weekend. I grabbed the remaining grapes and lychees and rolled them one by one under his cage, where his little arm would reach through a triangle of caged steel, grip them with his human-like fingers, and peel them before bringing it to his mouth. The monkey was my last sight. We jumped on our bikes and said peace to this Oprah-sized-shit-stain-of-a-beach.

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The ride leaving the beach was nice. We knew the route. The sun was shining and we had lots of it left. We had no destination except in the direction of home. And the ferry ride we’d be able to visibly enjoy this time around. Well, it didn’t take me long to make a wrong turn at a fork in the road and instead of skirting a city we entered it and it threw us off track. At least that was how it was dressed. After chatting with a few laid-back locals and scouring Katie’s GPS we were once again enroute, and it turned out that my mistake turned out to be a blessing, for the night before when we drove along the Mekong and palm trees it was solely lit up by our headlights. And thanks to my shotty directions, we had once again discovered the back road dreams are made of. KT Edit: Little did we know that before the day was over I would shed tears & be contemplating sleeping on the street… Part 3 coming soon!

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Read Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 3 of 3: Love/Hate Relationship here!

Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 1 of 3: Are We There Yet?

Google Maps said it would take three and a half hours on the TP Ho Chi Minh (AH1) ,

Our supposed route.

Our supposed route.

a highway we were dreadfully trying to avoid after hearing nightmare stories of traffic, pollution and just pure chaos. The alternate route ran at about four and a half, cutting through the countryside and small towns; Vietnam’s take on small towns that is. Having nothing but time on our hands and brand new motorbikes for our butts, we obviously chose the latter- perhaps the small town in us had a little play in it as well.

Our destination was a beach called Ba Dong, a landmark we would soon find out didn’t register on anyone’s radar. It doesn’t even register on Google maps, because a connecting bridge had not been erected when the eye-in-the-sky snapped this shot, so the directions stop about ten minutes short of the South China Sea, where our beach happens to reside. So with a hand sketched map, a genuine map, our pack strapped to my bike, and two full tanks of gas we set out on an adventure- looking to get lost and to see another side of Vietnam, one that didn’t consist of concrete.

Let’s just say that it took us a good hour or two to get out of the city after battling foreign street signs, the on and off bouts of rain, and a variety of mechanical problems. After travel vietnam motorcyclebreaking down the first time in front of a mechanic, I had to switch from my automatic start to using the kick-start, which eventually proved to be a huge fucking pain in the ass, because every time I came to a stop the bike would need to be restarted, and the worst part was that if I held in the clutch to coast the bike would also die- try kick starting a bike 30-40 times in the matter of an hour when you’re trying to enjoy the ride… you get the picture so I’ll stop bitchin’. I obviously knew it needed a new battery, so when I broke down in front of another mechanic I had it replaced while Katie and I ordered a couple of beers and Banh Mi sandwiches.  A crusty baguette filled with shredded carrots and some suspicious meat that turned out to be unbelievable- probably dog or cat or something domestic.

We loved this Banh Mi lady!

We loved this Banh Mi lady!

With a new battery that ran me $13 that included labour, full bellies, and knowledge that we currently were on the AH1, we continued on our journey that we’d already put in 3 hours of travel time. Unfortunately, minutes later we were lost again and were on the side of the road looking at the GPS on Katie’s tablet, which came to our savior countless times along our trip.

So far the countryside had been nothing spectacular, we swapped paved roads for a mixSAMSUNG CSC of dirt and gravel and then back again, high rises for low rises, and each district we drove through housed the same shops, in what seemed to be, in the same order. And as much as I am a lover of adventure, I was looking forward to getting out of this area and off the newly found AH1. KT Edit: The huge trucks and speeding busses were making the NEW motorbike rider in me tremble as I gripped my handlebars with one hand while constantly trying to dig the dirt out of my eyes with the other…in the rain. 

In a stretch of luck and constant countryside inquiries we ended up swapping our current mode of direction to one that would make the trip run a lot smoother. Since no one had heard of Ba Dong, we began asking people about the town Tra Vinh that sat beside it, and taking one step even further back, we started looking for the town of Ben Tre that connected to Tra Vinh. Now that we had gained a sense of direction by being able to follow road signs, not only did it boost our energy, but it also succeeded in creating a flow to our journey rather than having to pull up every few miles and re-check the map.

We cruised through the town of My Tho and over its brand new bridge that connected it to its neighbour Ben Tre, and then across another bridge that eventually led us to a ferry that crossed over into Tra Vinh.

By now it was dark and we had been on the road for at least five hours, thanks to being lost, although the traffic definitely came into play, but when we pulled up to the port, the ferry was pulling in at the exact time and saved us a good 30 minutes from having to cross, unload and come back.

The ferry, much like everything else in Vietnam, was cheap. Each ticket cost 7500 Dong, SAMSUNG CSCso for a pair it rang in at 70 cents. They packed the ship with trucks and cars either full of loads, or empty from hauling loads to the mainland, and then they crammed motorbikes into all the nooks and crannies that remained. We got a spot amongst 30+ bikes at the front and set off for a flicker that shone from the other side of the river.

Whilst snapping photos, a guy who introduced himself as Dien asked us where we were heading. Being a native of Tra Vinh, and the sole person that had heard of Ba Dong Beach, he said that we could follow him as far as he was going and then we could carry on up the road for 40-60 km towards the beach. With the sun long asleep, we just wanted to end this journey, so we delightfully accepted his offer and turned off our thinking caps.

When the boat docked we all herded off the ship and past the gate and caught up to Dien who had slowed down for us. Cruising up next to him, I pointed to my empty tank and he SAMSUNG CSCmotioned his understanding. We followed him to a random shanty house on a random dirt road. It had to be around 10 at night, and Dien is outside yelling in at them, something to the effect of “I’ve got a couple of foreigners who need a fill- charge them whatever you like, it’s late and an inconvenience.” I could care less at the cost of a litre of gas when that litre is our salvation. He filled our tanks at a little over double the pump price and we carried on along the dirt road. KT Edit: Louis so lovingly left out the part where I almost rear ended him & Dien when they stopped to pull over while I was trailing behind, lost in my own world. 

The glaze of our headlights lit up palm trees along the sides of the roads and blips of water through breaks in the tropical brush- it was the Mekong Delta. Having put away our maps, we hadn’t a clue which direction we were heading, he could have driven us down a dark alley and sodomized and robbed us- we’re happy he didn’t. After crossing a rickety bridge, then down furthering dirt roads, we eventually reached a town, and then we drove right through it.

Back on a quiet country road with nothing but our headlights glued to the dotted line and tropical wind slapping our dopey grins, the three of us were cruising along. With Dien leading the way and myself trailing a handful of meters behind, I looked in my mirror and saw Katie’s lights growing further and further distant until it was dark as The Delta. Shouting up to Dien, I spun my bike around and started cooking until I spotted flickering lights that eventually hadn’t the strength to shine bright.  Dien caught up and pointed out a random hotel about ¼ of a km down the road. We thanked him and he sped off in pursuit of his own bed. KT Edit: I’d like to add that as the boys kept speeding down the road while my bike sputtered and died at the side of the street, I had a mini panic over the fact that it was pitch black, I was alone, & I could only assume alligators and snakes were coming to consume me. 

With the moon hidden, we pushed on for the hotel when three bikes pulled up to our SAMSUNG CSChaunches. I think four guys all together, all in their 20’s, jumped off their bikes to lend a hand. Insisting Katie sit on her bike instead of pushing, she climbed on and the guy saddled his bike with his foot on her back peg and the six of us cruised down the road and into the hotel, where we parked our bikes indoors. KT Edit: I laughed the whole way. 

We greeted the owners as they swung in hammocks chilling out; the bikers passed on a few words about how they found us broken down on the side of the road, and after passing on our ID’s the guys left and we were guided to a perfectly simple room.  All ten channels on the TV flickered or spouted nonsense, the bed was hard, and gecko’s screamed us to sleep- a perfect end to a long day on the road.

Next up: Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 2 of 3: gettin’ our hate on!