20 September – Can Tho – Soc Trang
I actually get woken up by the alarm, which doesn’t tend to happen that often.
It’s kind of nice, as it usually means that I had a good night’s sleep, which in this case, was exactly what happened.
I only got up once during the night, and it was around that time that Lisa said she could smell smoke. Not noticing it myself, I would normally just tell her to go back to sleep, but with the way things have been going over the last week and a bit, our hut bursting into flames could be a real possibility.
Of course, it all turned out to be nothing.
And now, after the alarm has actually done the job I asked it to do last night, how do I feel?
Well, like yesterday, really good. It’s a nice, but also slightly surprising, feeling.
Life is pretty good at the moment.
Up for breakfast before 8.00am, and while feeling good, food just isn’t a priority this morning.
While Lisa goes with eggs on toast again, I keep it simple with just a piece of toast with marmalade, along with the usual fruits of banana, orange and dragon fruit.
Sit and take it all in, and try not to think about the goodbye that is fast approaching. Nana the cat may even be aware that we’re leaving, as she’s even being friendly to me today.
Maybe, somewhere deep down, she’s going to miss me….
Head back to the room one final time to grab our things, and then back up to the communal area to await the inevitable.
More sitting, and more taking in of the surrounds. Along with contemplation of our time here, as well as trying to work out where all our time actually went.
It just seemed to go so fast….
Last chats with Thy, Hanh, Cammy and Lieu, along with some photos, and then as the taxi that’s taking us to the bus station pulls up, final hugs and goodbyes.
Yep, was as hard as it always is, and as I expected it would be, so I was at pains to make it more a ‘see you later’, rather than the more final sounding, goodbye.
Back up the driveway, and past that sign, we’re soon out on the main roads. We then find ourselves on an even busier road, with a familiar looking intersection. Yep, it’s the intersection I couldn’t bring myself to cross yesterday.
Every time we come here, I feel like I put another piece or two to the jigsaw puzzle that is the layout of this area.
My knowledge, however, is still woefully inadequate….
We get to the bus station about 9.30am – taxi fare came to 150 000 Dong – and head inside to find out where we need to be.
There’s a couple of counters to pick from, and of course when I only have one of two to pick, I get it wrong.
That rectified, we pay our 105 000 Dong fare for each ticket, and take a seat in the waiting area. There’s a screen in front of us that indicates there are 10.00am buses to Chau Doc, Rach Gia, and Ca Mau, but no Soc Trang.
Using my powers of deductibility, along with a vague recollection of a map in my mind, I know we don’t want the Chau Doc one.
Rach Gia is perhaps a maybe, but I’m pretty sure it’s likely to be the Ca Mau one.
We sit for a bit, slightly nervously, and wait to see how it all works out.
A young local guy sits next to us and asks where we’re from. It turns out he’s not a local, and he actually lives in Boston in the United States. He’s spending six months here looking around his old ‘home’, holidaying and catching up with family.
We chat for a bit and he confirms that the bus we want is in fact the one that goes to Ca Mau. He’s a really nice guy, and it was certainly good to have him there when we needed a bit of help.
Soon, it’s time to board, so we head outside to find our bus. We do that pretty easily, and then have one of those moments where you realise you’re about to experience something you’ve never done before.
And it’s a moment where you’re both concerned, and slightly interested, at the same time. But with concern being the stronger of the emotions.
We are about to board our first ever sleeper bus. The very type of bus that just about everyone on Trip Advisor advises people against using. While that’s mainly at night, even during the day time they’re probably not ideal.
Our main bag goes underneath, while we hang onto our backpacks, and as we board, we’re given a plastic bag to store our shoes.
Up one of the two narrow aisles, and try to find our ‘beds’, which are A10 and A11. Turns out the A’s are the bottom ‘beds’, and the B’s are the top bunk.
As we walk along, I wonder how easy, or perhaps how difficult, it will be to get into these ‘beds’. As I’d read before, there’s certainly no excess of room.
We soon find where we need to be, only to discover an older guy in Lisa’s spot. He should actually be in the upper berth. The bus attendant soon rectifies that, much to the annoyance of the older guy.
I contort myself and squeeze into my ‘bed’, while dealing with both my backpack and my shoes. It’s a bit of a struggle, but I eventually get in. It’s actually reasonably comfortable, even if it is so tight that it’s almost impossible to move.
I have a feeling that getting out will be more difficult than actually getting in, but I’ll worry about that later.
And therein lies one of the main issues with these buses; the ability to actually get out of them if you’re involved in an accident. It’s hard enough when everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be, but if it’s a jumbled mess of twisted metal, it’s likely to be a whole different story.
We’re on our way a few minutes after 10.00am, and water bottles and those wet hand wipes are handed out.
One of the attendants then walks the bus aisles asking each passenger a question, while taking notes. He gets to me, and not having any idea of what he’s actually asking, I tell him Soc Trang, and then hand him the note that Cammy wrote for us last night with the bus station name on it.
He nods and smiles, which gives me considerable confidence that all will work out well.
Soon out in the countryside, and I spend the next hour either watching the world outside go by, or actually dozing in my cocoon / coffin like bed. It is quite comfortable, and it does seem to make you feel like you want to go to sleep.
During the trip I notice the seatbelts that each berth has, which I find a little amusing. I’m not sure a seatbelt could make me feel any more secure in my ‘bed’, than I do right now. I think the only way I could be extricated from this position, was if I actually tried to get out myself.
And even then, there’s a fair chance I’ll need some help.
Around 11.00am the attendant comes up to tell us we’re coming into Soc Trang. The extrication process begins, and we’re once again vertical as the bus pulls up. Shoes reattached, bag retrieved from luggage hold, and the bus continues its journey without us.
Looking around I realise we’re just standing on the side of the road. The bus station is actually on the other side.
A guy sitting on a motorbike near us; probably a xe om; (motorbike taxi) says something to us, which I assume was the offer of a lift.
Even if a lift was required, the fact that I don’t know exactly where we are, as well as not really knowing the exact location of where we need to get to, is a bit of a problem.
A split second doubt that we may have been dropped at the wrong spot crosses my mind. But as soon as that happens, a voice yells out from over the road. It’s Quang and his Dad, and at that instant, the world seems a slightly better place.
They head over on their bikes, a quick hello, and we’re soon on our way. A few minutes later we pull up at a very familiar house. It’s great to see the place that holds one of my most special Vietnam memories, again.
And like Green Village, I can’t believe it’s been two years.
We head inside and meet up with Quang’s mum again. It really is lovely to see her. We also meet Quang’s younger brother, Phu, who we never got the opportunity to see last time.
We sit and chat for a bit over coconut water / juice / milk, (covering all bases as I can’t be bothered Googling it), moon cake and tea.
It’s all feels a bit surreal, and I’m just rapt to be back here again.
We get ourselves sorted and then sit down for lunch of prawns, fish, lotus root and rice. You’ll never be hungry here, and you’ll never be disappointed with what you’re eating.
Quang explains that his mum has become a vegan since we were last here. It’s mainly to save the animals, which I think Quang finds a little amusing. I doubt he and his dad will follow mum’s lead.
Lunch done, we sit around relaxing, partly because I’m incapable of moving due to the amount I’ve just eaten, and partly because it’s raining.
And it’s typical Mekong rain, where it comes down hard. It does stop reasonably quickly, but today we seem to be getting several rain bands, one after the other.
Quang’s brother Quy, who lives in Can Tho, arrives a bit later, so we sit and chat with him while Mother Nature does her thing.
He’s a lovely guy, and very easy to talk to, but that was probably always going to be the case, considering what the rest of the family are like.
Our big lunch, coupled with the fact that we’ve done very little today, catches up with us, so we have a mid-afternoon recovery session.
About 3.30pm, and with the rain now seemingly done for the time being, we head off to the market in town, on the back of bikes with Quang and his dad.
Excluding beer and caphe sua da, it’s two of my favourite things. And after a bit of rain, there’s the added cooling effect with the wind in your face.
We saw virtually nothing of Soc Trang last time, due to the time we arrived and the early morning departure the next day, so it was nice to actually see a little bit of it. We soon get to the market and it’s everything I hoped it would be.
So authentic, so vibrant, so real. And absolutely no one else here that looks like us. And by the way we were acknowledged by many of the locals, I don’t think they see too many tourists down here.
There’s so much food, both the stuff that used to be growing in nearby fields, as well as the stuff that was either running around said fields, or perhaps swimming in various waterways. And with a fair chunk of it, of both varieties, completely foreign to me.
I’ve said before that seeing markets with live animals in them was something that I was a little wary about, prior to our first trip. While there are sometimes things that can be a little hard to see, from day one I have always found them fascinating. And now, on trip number four, and countless markets later, I still find them just as fascinating as I did back in 2014.
Quang’s dad is looking for prawns for dinner, but when asked, Lisa says she’s not a huge fan of seafood.
No problem at all apparently, we’ll have chicken.
He heads over to a vendor who sells chicken, and of course, this guy’s chicken is of the very much alive variety.
Chosen chicken quickly goes from scales to plastic bag, and Lisa has a horrified look on her face.
“Well what did you expect?”, I say, both surprised and amused by her reaction.
Yep, amused, seeing as after all the markets we’ve seen, she hadn’t really thought about what the lack of refrigeration in these markets means. Without it, it means the middle man that does the dirty work; that you never see back home; is actually the guy that purchases it.
We walk around the market a bit more, and it’s just great to be a part of it. Especially seeing as we were essentially a local shopper.
I loved it.
We get back to the bikes, and on the way out, Quang stops to buy two small bags of tofu milk. He goes to hang them on the little hooks that most bikes have, but in the process, pops one of the bags on something sharp. They say there’s no point crying over spilt milk, and there’s probably less point when it’s of the tofu variety, so I didn’t.
The best I could do was giggle as Quang tried to get his feet out of the way of the dripping bag.
Finally on our way with a replacement bag, and a few minutes later we pull up next to a young kid sitting behind his mum on their bike. He’s very interested to see me, so I put my hand up to give him a high five.
I think I may have scared him, as he left me hanging.
Perhaps it was a bit of a karma thing for laughing at Quang and his broken bag of milk…..
Soon back at the house, and we discover that the water has been turned off. We’d experienced the power being turned off from time to time down here, but we hadn’t experienced it happening with the water. But apparently it does happen occasionally.
While Quang and his dad sort out dinner, I head across the road to tick a box that I’ve never been able to tick on our previous trips. And that is to actually buy a box.
But one that is full of beer.
There’s a couple of reasons why I’ve not been able to achieve that before. One, I’ve rarely seen beers packaged like that for sale in a ‘store’, when I may have been so inclined to buy that many, and two, it’s not too often we’ve stayed in the one spot long enough to actually get through the whole slab / carton / box before we’ve had to move.
Yes, hard to believe, I know…..
So anyway, walked the fifteen steps across the road, and sure enough, there’s a box sitting there. But only one, and while 24 beers used to live in this box, only 19 remain.
While 19 isn’t as good as 24, it’s still better than 18, so the remaining beers are purchased.
190 000 Dong later; I’m not 100% sure, but I reckon if the box was full the price would have been 240 000 Dong; I begin my long journey back over the road.
Beer finally being bought in a box, but box not really ticked. Oh well, will have to wait a bit longer….
Dinner is soon ready, and just like two years ago, we have dinner in the front room, on the floor. As I’ve said before, it was an incredibly special and memorable night in 2017, and now that we’re doing it again, albeit with slightly fewer people, it means just as much to me now, as it did back then.
We just sit and chat over dinner with Quang, Quy, and their dad. Unfortunately, Quang’s mum couldn’t join us, as she had to go off and care for a sick relative. And as usual, the food is both ridiculously plentiful, and also really good. Including, thanks to Lisa, a lovely chicken dish.
Although a touch of guilt may have impacted her total enjoyment of it, somewhat….
Great food, several of those beers from that box, and brilliant company. Again, all rather surreal that we’re actually back here.
The rain then returns with a vengeance, and while that was of no concern to us, it was a problem for thousands of tiny little bugs flying around outside. They needed shelter, and they needed it fast. And seeing as we had some of that shelter, they decided, en masse, to join us.
The geckos on the wall couldn’t believe their luck, but they could have done with a few extra mates.
Eventually it was time to call it a night, and as we headed off to get ready, I noticed something move on the floor. Seems something else had either come in to escape the rain; unlikely; or had come in to help with the bug problem. It was a small frog, and not really knowing the protocol of what to do with inside frogs (I tend to just deal with spiders and the occasional cockroach at home), I called out to Quang.
There are probably several ways to handle them, but Quang’s method involved a broom. Fortunately for the frog, it was used in a sweeping motion, as opposed to a whacking one, which was more than a little amusing to see.
Frog returned to where frogs should live, and it was lights out at 10.30pm.
Moving days and rain can impact your day a bit, but the way it had finished had made it a memorable one. Yep, more often than not, it’s the little things that just make it. And that was certainly the case today.
Oh, and as an added bonus, I felt good for the entire day.
It was a nice little milestone.