About a week ago, I signed up for a cruise down the Mekong River from Saigon. The 3-day, 2-night excursion ends with a boat and bus trip that drops you in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The trip was a little rough around the edges but packed in a lot of sites in a little time.
I bought my Mekong cruise trip from a small store-front agency called TSK Travel. After I paid my for the 3-day trip ($47), I got an inkling of what was to come: The office advertises free Internet service to all customers. When I went in to use the computer, one of the staffers said "Internet not working. Boss not pay the bill." Hmmm.
The trip also required that we be up at 6:00 everyday because of our full itinerary. The night before we left, I went out at 11:00 pm looking for a bowl of soup. I walked down to a place around the corner from my hotel. (I was still in the nice 3-star hotel). All the tables had people, but a young Vietnames guy motioned for me to sit with him. We ordered. We spoke a little. Our food came. He reached out and grabbed some greens in a condiment dish. He added some to his soup. Then he added some to my soup and said "good, good." I smiled, but wondered where his hands had been before eating. Then he grabbed some bean sprouts and threw them in my soup and smiled. I didn't want to offend him, so I ate and I'm still here to talk about it. The Vietnamese guy grabbed another passerby, a 50-something French guy dressed for Halloween. We were up till around 1:00.
- First day of Mekong trip: we were ferried around some islands in various size power boats and by canoe. At a stop called Unicorn Island, we drank rice wine, banana wine, and snake wine, the latter supposedly offered a virility boost for men. I didn't notice any effects. But the bottles of wine had cobras and scorpions in them and would have made nice coffee table ornaments. I was ready to buy some when my guide said that I wouldn't be able to bring them in to Australia, a country with some of the strictest animal import regulations. Apparently, importing deadly but dead snakes and insects is verboten.(Australia is my next stop and I wasn't about to mail a bunch of bottles)
- Then came unpleasant surprise #2:
I had signed up for a trip that included 3 meals. As we sat down for lunch, I was seated at the table with people who had to buy their own lunch. I asked our guide what was up. He said that my original tour didn't get enough people so I was switched to a different tour. I felt like I was being traded like a sub-prime mortgage. I had also prepaid for a private room with air-conditioning. I became an ugly American and demanded that our guide verify my room arrangements. Good thing I had kept my receipt and had asked the tour operator to write all details on the receipt. Things were a little tense, but I got my room. (It was still kind of a pit) We spent the night in a Vietnamese town called Can Tho.
- Best Reason for Taking Around the World Trip
On the trip I met a big, overweight Brit who was in his late 20's. His fiancee had recently dumped him for another guy and his parents had just moved to Spain. Sounds like his once full life was now feeling empty. He waited 6 months to get over his girlfriend, then he quit his job, and is now traveling. He had an eye-brow ring and was planning on trying sky diving. Still he always wore preppy, conservative clothes. I'm guessing he was trying a new, more daring persona that hadn't fully developed yet.
- the next two days we visited a bunch of touristy sites, including a candy making facility, a fish farm, and a villageof indigenous people. We spent the second night in a town called Chau Doc at another divey guest house. The locals were friendly. I was out looking for a bar, when it started to rain. An old woman stepped off her porch and motioned for me to sit on her porch until the rain stopped. A woman on our trip was walking around and passed by a wedding celebration. They invited her in and she drank rice wine with them all night.
New and Improved Gross Outs
- Snake Heart: For $30, you can eat a still-beating cobra heart. The "chef" grabs a live snake, aggravates it to get it's hear rate up, then he guts the snake except for the heart. He drains the blood, removes the heart. And tells you to wait 2 minutes. Then he returns with a shot glass filled with blood and a little heart that is still beating. You drink up. Down the hatch... (source: hearsay)
- Pig Toilets: In India, there are squat toilets that are just a hole. When you move your bowels, you can hear pigs grunting below you as they eat your waste. Yum. (source: hearsay)
- Picking Teeth vs Picking Nose: In Cambodia, people try to cover up their mouths when they are cleaning their teeth with a tooth pick. On the other hand, walking down the street people will flagrantly root around in their noses for a booger.
- Clipping Toe Nails in a Food Stall: The other day, I was eating soup in a food stall. I heard a familiar clipping sound behind me. A guy was working away on his toe nails.
- Rat in the Hotel Lobby: TSK Travel strikes again. At the end of my 3-day Mekong Delta trip, we got dropped off at a guest house called The King Guest House in Phnom Penh. How convenient. Obviously, the guest house director, Mr. Jerry, has some kind of arrangement with the travel companies. I was determined not to be taken, so I walked around the block to check other hotels. They were all full. Why was the King the only place with lots of rooms? I went out for dinner and came back to the hotel to get some money. In the lobby of the hotel, a large half-bald rat was running around in the lobby.