BY Nomad

07/01 Direct Link
Midnight. Saigon. A lone stranger in a strange land. Three weeks ago I was longing to travel, craving adventure, jealous of friends who were abroad. So I bought the cheapest ticket I could find to another country and left.

I haven’t spoken more than a few words to anyone in almost twenty-four hours. I’m tired and confused and I have no idea what awaits me on the other side of these doors…or if I’ll even get my visa allowing me to pass through them. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the process of obtaining a visa.
07/02 Direct Link

So, I shove my way to the front of the mass of people and push my passport and money through the window. It seems rude to me, but that’s what everyone else is doing. Fifteen minuets later I’m extremely surprised at how quickly and painlessly I got through immigration and I’m on my way to the hotel.

Lights out. Best night’s sleep I’ve had in a while...

I’ve never been so far away from home without knowing anyone in town. Anxiety begins to grip me. The first step is the hardest and crossing this tiny street proves quite an adventure.

07/03 Direct Link

I had read about the motorbikes and chaos of the streets in Saigon, but was definitely not prepared for this. Nobody stops… or even slows down. You just walk out into traffic and start dodging motorbikes. After a quick breakfast I decide to wander the streets and see what happens. I have a small map from my guidebook that, unbeknownst to me, lacks quite a few of the streets that actually exist. Within fifteen minutes I am completely lost in a back-alley-residential area and catching some pretty interesting looks from the people I pass. Clearly, I’m out of my element.

07/04 Direct Link

…Or am I? I came here in search of the unknown… and so far I’ve made it clear that I don’t know shit. But, eventually I get back on track and find my way to an area that seems to be what I was looking for on the map. It’s very hot, very noisy, very confusing and very exciting. I can’t take five steps without someone asking me if I want to a ride on their rickshaw. Eventually I find relief from the heat and a perch overlooking a busy intersection in an air-conditioned ice cream shop. Break time ended…

07/05 Direct Link
Back on the street, literally on the street, not the sidewalk, I am surrounded by motorbikes and the occasional truck or car. I walk head on into hundreds of potential "moments of my death." This is just how it's done here. You get used to it after a while, but it definitely wears on you even as you grow accustomed to it. After a very stressful day of wandering around in the heat and chaos that is Saigon, I reward myself with a drink at the top of the Sheraton overlooking the city. Nightfall approaches and so I head back.
07/06 Direct Link

The way back to the hotel was just as chaotic as my wanderings around the city in the daytime, even moreso. Not only did I not know where I was going and get lost multiple times, doing a circle around the same three blocks not once, nor twice, but thrice, but it was dark out. And of course, the freaks come out at night. Something about being alone in a country where not so long ago there was a war being waged by the USA... and no one, not even myself really knew where I was... Hmmm... fun / scary...

07/07 Direct Link

The heat, the several miles of walking, the always-being-on-my-guard because everything seemed so crazy around me. All of this led to me being completely exhausted when I finally got back to the hotel - Madam Cuc's. Luckily I was able to finally talk to some people that spoke English (It had been 48 hours). It just somehow made me feel better.

All things considered, it was a pretty good day. It was my first time travelling like this alone. I faced a lot of anxiety and found that I immediately felt better for having done so.

07/08 Direct Link
Day two in Nam found me learning a lot about the cultures of the city and the countryside. A two hour busride provided a look into the insanity that is called driving in this country and landed me and my fellow passengers at a port in the Mekong Delta. There wasn't much time for a proper trip on the Delta, but I did get to check out some pretty cool things, like a big ass snake, a honey bee hive and some various local eats and drinks. Rice wine and snake wine (rice wine with a dead cobra in it).
07/09 Direct Link
Instead of taking the bus back to the city, I opted for a boat ride down the Saigon River. There was quite a bit to see along the way. The most memorable thing I took from this trip was the contrast of rich and poor in certain sections of the river. People lived in little shanties that were built along the edge of the river. Many looked like they might collapse at any moment. In some areas you could see where the city was expanding and luxury condos were built right alongside the slums and pushing people out of homes.
07/10 Direct Link
I wanted to go to the Cu Chi tunnels or another similar place, mostly to shoot machine guns and throw hand grenades, but also for historical purposes. I decided to head for the central highlands, Dalat, and then through the mountains to the coastal town of Nha Trang and maybe a little further up the coast if I had time. Then I would haul ass back to Saigon, hopefully in time to shoot machine guns before I left. 

So, off for an eight hour bus ride. It was an all right trip.  I've had better, I've had worse. 
07/11 Direct Link
Of course we had a bit of a delay with a flat tire and of course there was a misunderstanding about the bill with the waiter at the bus stop. But these things are to be expected. The biggest worry was that there would be need for a bathroom break on that second leg of the trip. I made the mistake of not using the English menu to order because I thought I recognized one of the choices as something I liked. It wasn't and my last bite was of a pepper that made me pound my beer and go.
07/12 Direct Link
Made it to Dalat and asked someone if they knew where my hotel was. Of course he knew of a better hotel and encouraged me to come check it out... no pressure, no worries. The hotel I had asked about was right nearby and I could go there if I didn't like this one. Normally I would not think twice about it and demand to be taken to the hotel I already booked. But, what the Hell? Sure, take me to your hotel. It was everything the man said it would be and turned out to be a great decision.
07/13 Direct Link
Checked out my room and loved it and it was half the price of the place I originally booked. I for sure recommend the Pink House if you find yourself in Dalat.

Kind of took it easy that night... a good dinner and a couple of drinks at a karaoke bar, where there were definitely some people that took themselves way too serious.

The next morning was a motorbike tour around the outskirts of the town:  waterfalls, coffee farms, silk farms, markets with weird fruits and weird meats for sale (puppies), mushroom farms and minority hill people, Oh my!
07/14 Direct Link
We visited our guide's family farm and met with some women who were part of the minority hill tribes of the area. Their culture was quite an interesting one and quite different from most I've known. The men are sort of sold into marriage and kind of become the woman's bitch, so to speak. The women are definitely in charge in this society.

After the tour I discuss plans for the motorcycle trip down to the coast and getting back to Saigon. After that, dinner with guests of the hotel and a quick change of plans upon a chance meeting.
07/15 Direct Link
The second evening in Dalat several guests of the hotel went to dinner at a place our hotel manager knew.

I had previously discussed plans for a motorcycle tour to the coast and was just trying to decide between my options of which routes to take and how long to make the trip last. The motorcycle tour through the mountains was at the top of my list before I came here. But, at dinner I met two Swedish girls who invited me to come along with them to an island off the coast. Obviously, I had to change my plans.
07/16 Direct Link
The next morning I rented a motorbike and set out to explore Dalat on my own. I was off the map and completely lost within half an hour. Hmmm... why does this seem familiar. Eventually I found a cafe and, after a very long and difficult conversation in which neither participant spoke the other's language, I got directions back to Dalat. Basically I had to make one turn and ride for about five minutes. So I guess I wasn't too far off afterall. It did take up a lot of time, though. And that caused me to rethink my plans.
07/17 Direct Link
After I got back to the town, I drove around the lake a couple times and then I headed out in search of the Crazy House. The Crazy House was designed by the architect Hang Nga. She had designed other buildings that were demolished by the government because their unconventional style promoted free-thinking. This hotel, which is still being built, has become so popular that it is still standing. The architecture of the building is very unconventional and you can wander around the maze-like structure checking out the different rooms. Afterwards, I went back to the Pink House.
07/18 Direct Link
I took a quick nap and headed to a restaurant called Chocolate for lunch. I was the only customer in the place and spent about an hour talking with the waitress. We made plans to meet up later that evening if I was still going to be in town (I wasn't sure if I was leaving that evening or the next morning for Saigon and on to Phu Quoc). I met my new Swedish friends around 5 and found out we were taking a bus to Saigon that night. We went out for dinner and saw some last minute sights. 
07/19 Direct Link
We went straight to the airport once we arrived in Saigon. It was around 4 in the morning and the place didn't open until 6 or so. Buying a plane ticket was chaotic, much like most other things in Saigon. There were no lines and you had to pay in cash. I'm not sure, but I think we got the last three seats on the plane.

Upon arrival, we took a cab to meet up with a couple of girls that were already there. I wound up paying fifty dollars the first night due to misunderstanding the hotel worker's accent.
07/20 Direct Link
Phu Quoc was wonderful right from the start. Just chilling on the beach for a few minutes was enough to see that this place was going to be great. The beach was very nice and there was plenty of space to relax and just the right amount of people for a good atmosphere of fun and relaxation. After mistaking fifty for fifteen I had to find a new hotel for the rest of the week. Oh well, I found my own little bungalow right on the beach for sixteen dollars a night. Not bad for showing up with no plans.
07/21 Direct Link
The island is pretty small enough to see most of it in two days. You can walk from the hotel to an area with restaurants and shops. Mostly for tourists, but I see a lot of locals there too. Of course, they could just be vacationing from mainland Viet Nam. So they aren't really locals, but more than I am. 

After dinner we all head out to the Luna Bar. It's a nice little place with a friendly staff, a pool table, music, fun people and cheap drinks. We partied the night away. Some of us longer than others.
07/22 Direct Link
On the way home from the bar it started to storm. The two girls from Dalat and myself were walking down the beach. We started to run when the weather turned. Their hotel room was about 100 meters farther away than my bungalow. We were going to hang out there and see if the storm passed, maybe have another beer. 

When I got to the entrance of my place I planted my foot on the stone sidewalk to make the turn. My feet flew out from under me and I caught the corner of the steps right in the back.
07/23 Direct Link
I popped up quickly, rather embarrassed, and turned to face those who had just seen me make a fool of myself. As I turned I felt a pain in my ribs. There was about a six inch long gash slicing diagonally across the lower left side of my back. It probably would have been more painful had I not spent the previous five or six hours at a bar. I wasn't sure where this night was headed before, but it was more or less over now. My two friends helped me clean up the wound and headed to their room.
07/24 Direct Link
After a night of vicodin / flexeril / alcohol induced sleep I woke up feeling like shit.... and it wasn't because of the cocktail. I soon found out, as one of my travel companions was conveniently a doctor, that I had a couple of broken ribs. I was more worried about getting hep from the shower, or the ice from my drinks, than anything else, but the broken ribs sucked too.

I wasn't going to let this get me down, though. Straight to the beach... just stay out of the water for a couple of days. On with the adventure.
07/25 Direct Link
Toto, the guy in the yellow shades will get you whatever you want. He brings us beers from the bar on the beach, sets us up with fishing boats, tells us cool places to go. Most other people around here are friendly and helpful as well. The strangest, and coolest, thing is how trusting they all are. Just pay me later. We're closed, but go ahead and take it, bring it back tomorrow. There's no paperwork, no putting a credit card down for a deposit.

That would never work in America. Unfortunately, I doubt it lasts long in Phu Quoc.
07/26 Direct Link
It's always nice to step out your front door and be on a tropical beach. Some shady trees with a swing / chair, a handful of tiki bars and restaurants within a few minutes walk in either direction, a sunset view and good company. What more could I ask for? It seemed strange that I had traveled so far from one tropical paradise just to lie around and relax in another. There was definitely something more soothing about this place, though.

It wasn't all lying around being lazy. There were sights to see and fun things to do when we wanted.
07/27 Direct Link
I can't remember if it was $3 or $6, but either way, that's pretty cheap for an hour long massage while you lie on the beach. The fruit vendors were a bonus too. Pineapples brought to you, chopped up and prepared for less than a buck. 

Good restaurants, nobody hassling you, everyone is so friendly. I'm having a great time and it's only going to get better. Even with the broken ribs this is shaping up to be one of my best vacations. How could someone say there isn't enough money in the world to get them back here? 
07/28 Direct Link
We went fishing a couple of times, did a snorkel cruise, rented motorbikes and drove around a good chunk of the island and chilled on the beach during the day.

Nighttime was fun and usually consisted of going out for dinner, checking out the open air market and making a trip to the Luna Bar. We tried other places, but we always seemed to gravitate back to Luna. Some nights we were the only ones there, other nights there were big groups of travelers, pretty much every night we all wound up naked, skinny dipping in the Gulf of Thailand. 
07/29 Direct Link
I left Phu Quoc with one of my new friends and another tailing us on the next flight. Somehow he beat us to Saigon when our flight got delayed. That was weird...

As we were passing through security, my friend was stopped and asked to go through a door marked "For Authorized Personnel Only".

I followed her without really thinking much about it. When we passed through the door, we entered a kind of hangar area and saw her bags laying on a table. Some security personnel started asking questions about the bag and I began to think "Oh shit".
07/30 Direct Link
I had flashes of spending the rest of my short life in a Vietnamese prison for a crime I did not commit. I really had no idea who this girl was or what she had in her suitcase. Looking around the empty hangar area and at the security personnel, I could only think about how this was exactly how things went down on the show Locked Up Abroad. I was doomed, but I began to hatch my escape plan. Before I could flee, security pulled a bottle of fish sauce out of the suitcase and sent us on our way. 
07/31 Direct Link
I had to leave for the airport around 3, so I didn't really sleep except a short nap. I had seen so many people struggling to make ends meet and met so many people that were nice and helpful, I wanted to give something back. I wandered the streets for hours to find deserving people who needed money. Unfortunately, late at night I was having a hard time finding anyone who wasn't trying to sell me drugs or women. I eventually got rid of the money. A small sum for me, but a small fortune to many who received it.