Boy oh boy were we ever excited to experience the Mekong Delta! And it was a good thing we brought so much enthusiasm with us, because our upbeat moods left us laughing rather than spouting expletives in response to the convoluted transportation of our travel day.
The proprietor of our Saigon homestay kindly pre-booked our bus tickets for the 4-hour trip to the city of Can Tho where we’d overnight before our Mekong Delta boat tour. She also very thoughtfully gave us two explanatory notes written in Vietnamese to ensure we’d travel smoothly (and to the correct destination!): one for our taxi to the bus station and the other for the bus station attendant. How nice is that?!
Our taxi driver sorta took us to the bus station. He stopped along the northbound side of a highway, pointed at the bus station on the southbound side across a metal road barrier, and indicated we should get out now. We unloaded our two suitcases, three backpacks, and Whole Foods tote bag from his trunk (it’s the black tote bag with yellow bananas for those of you who also have a collection), then proceeded to lurch several blocks to an opening where we could cross to the other side. There were no traffic lights at this 4-lane highway intersection, so we had to bury our survival instincts and walk directly into oncoming traffic, awkward bundles of luggage in tow. We doubt our successful street crossings in Vietnam will ever cease to astonish us.
At the bus station, Mark watched the luggage while Robin navigated the ticket line. Reaching the teller took longer than we would have expected because locals repeatedly cut in front of her (and for those of you that know Robin, she may be polite, but she is also aggressive, so you know that would never fly back in the States. Vietnam is either making us more patient or more apathetic).
Once our tickets were finally claimed (Robin fended off her fourth and final ticket-line hijacker), we were rushed into a minivan. Robin was given the last seat in the van, and a tiny, unsecured stool was procured for Mark so he could sit in the foot bed of the van’s doorway. Wide-eyed and worried for Mark’s safety, Robin’s fears were soon assuaged when we realized that this wasn’t the actual bus to Can Tho, it was a shuttle! In fewer than three confusingly short minutes, we were shoved (literally) out of the van to our next destination: another terminal, exactly across the street from the first, where our taxi driver had dropped us off in the first place. We were then immediately ushered to a slightly plusher mini bus, but Robin resisted because it was clear that all of the seats were filled. Ignoring her resistance, the bus staff manhandled us inside anyway…into the luggage compartment behind the driver’s seat. We were plopped on top of the other passengers’ luggage and our own luggage was piled on top of us. The other riders (all locals in cozy traditional seats) thought this was hilarious. And at this point, we couldn’t help but laugh along with them!
After a 30-minute bumpy ride, the seating arrangement became much less amusing, so it was with surprise and relief that we learned we’d been on yet another shuttle when we were delivered to a massive bus terminal station south of Saigon (with the loudest loudspeakers the world has ever known (the bus arrival announcements literally shake your bones!). We rejoiced in finding the correct Long Phuong bus to climb on to, but the celebration was cut short when we discovered another passenger in one of our pre-reserved seats. We showed her our legitimate ticket for seat #19, and she showed us her legitimate ticket for seat #19. Thankfully, this woman was extremely kind and went with us to the bus driver where she spoke in Vietnamese on our behalf to sort things out. Amazingly, they resolved the seating so that we could still be together for the 4-hour journey ahead, and they gave us real seats, and complimentary water, and the bus was air conditioned! We were pumped!
About 3 hours into the trip the bus let us out for a 20-minute break at a massive commercial rest stop where there were decent (and free) bathrooms plus beverage, food, and souvenir vendors. Mark of course beelined for an iced café sua da (traditional Vietnamese coffee blended with sweetened condensed milk) and we tried our first (of what have since become many) banh bao: fluffy dry dumplings that are filled with tasty stuff. We went for a large traditional banh bao filled with ground pork and a quail egg, plus a smaller purple-hued bao bun filled with taro jam. They’re the perfect on-the-go food: cheap, filling, and no need for utensils. We also had to mime our order to the cashier since we didn’t know the names for any of the food we were trying to order, so we’d like to use this opportunity to thank our friends at ComedySportz Philadelphia for our pre-travel improv class. The things we learned through improv come in handy all the time now that we need to communicate without the English language!
The remainder of the ride took us through an ever-worsening monsoon rain, but we arrived on schedule to Can Tho’s bus terminal. Knowing our bus tickets entitled us to a free shuttle directly to our lodging, we fought through the hordes of taxi drivers that immediately descended upon us and squeezed into the back of another minivan, this time not even bothering to care if there weren’t enough seats (see, we’re learning), and hoped the driver would shout something when we reached our guesthouse. We were indeed signaled by lots of yelling by the driver and various passengers when it was time to haul ourselves out of the sardine-can van and into the monsoon!
Was a 1-taxi, 3-shuttle, 1-bus, 6-total-hour journey from Saigon to Can Tho fun? It kind of was! We had new experiences, ate new foods, read our books for a few hours (Mark is reading a 30lb biography on Napoleon Bonaparte and Robin is reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (one of the many great recommendations from Cindy and Steve—thank you!!), and at just $7 per person for the trip, we think it was a pretty good deal.
And now we’ll sign off with this brief video of us in the shuttle bus luggage compartment: