Making do

The next day, Kate and I set out with a grand master plan.  Kate had been in Ho Chi Minh City a few months previous, and wasn’t very excited about being back.  I was still pretty ticked about being sent to the wrong city.  We were both looking forward to a calm, cool city with fascinating streets to wander down, peaceful beaches to check out, local food-stops to enjoy.  Ho Chi Minh has well, none of those things.  Its loud, a city with at least two motorbikes per capita.  The streets are covered in trash, and the city is stale with exhaust.  Nothing is easy to get to.  Besides, we wanted to be in Hanoi.  And when you want to be in one place, and are suddenly sent to another place, save Fiji, nothing is good enough.  As arrogant as that sounds.  (I’m really not that arrogant, I promise!) So, our grand master plan.  We were going to walk to the local train station, buy a day ticket to the closest cool location on the map (preferably some place with a beach) and enjoy the following day in some place other than Ho Chi Minh.  We chalked our first full day up to a loss, but had resigned to make up for it with lots of local fruits and a water puppet show that night.  Oh yes, I said water puppets.  So, grand master plan in place, we began the walk from the water puppet ticket purchasing window to the train station.  We walked.  And we walked.  And we walked.  The sun beat down on our white necks.  The exhaust filled our noses with black soot.  The motorbikes practically ran us down (on the sidewalk!!)  We had long passed the tasty little baguette stands (Vietnam was colonized by the French back in the day, and while pretty much everything else, save the architecture, has remained Asian, they have these delightful little sidewalk stands that sell baguettes with a tasty cheese spread and pickled veggies – so yummy!), the fruit vendors were no where to be found and our legs were turning to lead in the unbearable heat.  Two hours into our death march down the main drag, we plopped into what looked to be a cool and inviting coffee bar for a quick pick me up.  (Coffee is another thing that Vietnam has a strong handle on.  The rest of Asia is pretty fanatic about tea, but Vietnam has the kind of coffee you could eat.  Served with a “dollop” of condensed milk – don’t hate – its something to be craved.)  Having already 3 cups of coffee with breakfast, I decided to opt for a refreshing lemonade, while Kate gave into the coffee-craving.  Seeing as how we knew one word in Vietnamese between us and the waiter was worse off in the English department, we pointed to our drinks and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Then, two coffees arrived at our table.  I looked confused, motioned for a menu, and pointed the lemonade I had ordered. The waiter looked equally confused, but returned shortly with a lemonade of sorts.  The extra coffee remained on the table, and so I motioned the waiter over again, trying to insist through charades that he take the coffee with him, it wasn’t mine.  He seemed incredibly reluctant to do so, but eventually, the unwanted drink made its way back to its proper place, which wasn’t our table.  As Kate and I finally pulled ourselves together, properly refreshed and caffeinated, we asked for our bill.  The bill came.  One lemonade, two coffees.  After much commotion trying to figure out why they charged us for something I clearly did not order and even more clearly did not drink, we eventually put down money for what we did in fact order and consume and just left.  No one chased us down, so either it was okay or it could be possible I’m now a Vietnamese fugitive.  Which could be fun.

Onward with our not so grand but still master plan, we made it about another 100 yards before we saw the beautiful words printed so nicely on the road sign, “Brewery and Restaurant.”  We went in, and had a lovely meal of spring rolls and Chinese broccoli, some tasty and refreshing Chec beer (for which we were charged the exact right amount) and we left feeling a little better about ourselves and the world in general.  We decided to forgo the walking and flagged down of a couple of those menacing motorbikes to take us the rest of the way to the train station.  Wouldn’t you know it, three blocks later, the motorbike drivers snickered as they dropped us off and we paid them.  We went in with the excitement of the grand master plan renewed, a couple of locations already in mind, gathered from our handy travel book.  We waited our turn (which got skipped, twice!) and asked the sales lady how long a train ride to this beach was.  Ten hours.  Okay, how about that beach?  Seven hours.  Really?  Okay, well, how about this little town.  Four hours.  Kate and I had no desire to spend the majority of our day on a train, so we asked, “What’s within two hours of here.”  Bien Hoa.  Great, what’s in Bein Hoa?  Apparently, that question was beyond her English capabilities.  We figured anything, even Bien Hoa, must be better than Ho Chi Minh, so we bought our round trip tickets (US$1.25 a piece) and started to make our way back (via motorbikes of course – we had learned our lesson!) to the water puppet show.  We were excited at the thought of getting out of the city the next day and exploring our mystery Bien Hoa.  So excited that we didn’t even mind that, though the music was pretty cool, the water puppet show was kinda lame (who woulda thought? Large wooden puppets splashing around in a really decorated tub while dancing to strange music.  Seemed like a good idea.).  Bein Hoa.  Its gotta be cool, right?……

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