Planes and Buses suck!
03.03.2008 - 07.03.2008 30 °C
After our journey on the bikes, we are relaxing at Whale Island resort near Nha Trang. It is a well-deserved quiet rest stop for a day and half after all the honking and swerving that takes place on Hwy 1. It is a peaceful paradise but quite cool and rained up until the time we checked in. It was very windy but enjoyed dry clothes and not having to get on a bike again the next morning, etc.
We tried to go in the ocean but the wind was very strong and cool. We went for a several km long walk on a very rugged trail around the island. It took us to a very beautiful lookout, a small local fishermen hammock rest stop and someone's front yard complete with puppies barking and chasing at our heels! Very diverse terrain. There was also lots of beutiful butterflies along the route too.
That night, after supper, we finally got Jen playing pool! We drank a few beers and I played our guides till they went to bed then Jen and I played 2 games! And she said she hates pool.
The next day, we boarded the boat at 10 am to head into Nha Trang to catch an afternoon flight to Saigon. On the bus ride to Nha Trang, we drove over some of the road we biked and the saddle sores ached just remembering the original journey. After a brief lunch in Nha Trang, we took the 45 min ride outside of town to the Nha Trang Airport which is located at the old Air Force Base used by the US in the Vietnam war. Very small airport but big huge runway and field area. Our flight to Saigon was very full and we were boarding a twin engined turbo-prop plane when we noticed a few mechanics staring at the large cargo bay door at the front of the plane. It looked like they were trying to close it and were examining the latch. We also noticed that a few tires looked very low and we joked about lending them our bike pump. It was at this time we all discussed the sketchy flight record of Vietnam Airlines. We boarded and before long, were taxiing down the runway. The plane climbed and I was catching a great view of the old airbase when the plane very suddenly dropped nose first and plunged at least 100 feet before recovering much lower in the sky. The cabin pressure had changed noticeably and there was also an odd burning smell entering the cabin. Shortly thereafter, the plane slowed down and was doing a really steep bank when the pilot came on saying there were "Technical difficulties and we had to go back to the airport. Sorry" We landed safely and were quite eager to get off the plane. As we disembarked, a crew was examining the large cargo bay door again. The announcement should of been more accurate like" Ladies and Gentlemen, the big huge door on the side of the plane popped open in mid-air and we are all very lucky to be alive. Have a nice day." The confusion of the english speaking passengers who could not understand the vietnamese instructions made the situation seem even more panicky as we slowly found out through word of mouth (no announcement) that the flight was cancelled and we would have to leave the next morning.
We boarded a city bus and and Adam, our tour leader, took us to a nicer hotel than where the airline put you up and we got back to the airport the next morning before the big rush. Once through security, we noticed that the plane with the door issue was the only one on the tarmac. We discussed quite seriously renting a car. Then, a newer Airbus A320 jet pulled up and we breathed a sigh of relief. We boarded the plane, taxied out to the end of the runway about to take-off when the pilots said, "We have to return to the airport we are having technical difficulties. Our apologies" We couldn't believe it. When we came back to a stop, the pilot said "We are checking out a hot brake indicator. We will check it out and might only be a few minutes delay." True to his word about 5 mins later"The good news is that the brakes are okay but we need a qaulified engineer to sign off that it was inspected before leaving. We require a fax from Hanoi and that could be 2 hours maybe more. Please wait in the airport". (Jen here: We all tried to convince Ted that he should offer his services as a "qualified engineer" but he said that "Agro" was not the same as "aero"!). So here we were again in Nha Trang airport, deboarded from 2 planes in less than 24 hours! After about an hour or so, the fax came through and we were on our way!
We arrived in Saigon and it is definitely the more "Western" city in Vietnam as it looks very commercial. Lots of new shops, signs, fancy clothiers, etc. In the afternoon, we were trying to book another flight on Vietnam Airlines (we thought about cancelling though) to Phu Quoc, an island SW of Vietnam, but found that flights were booked up until March 21. So we had to take the bus/ferry option b/c we needed to get away from the mass of motorbikes and honking horns. It was also very expensive in Saigon.
The next day, the bus ride took us from Saigon bus depot down a secondary highway for about 6 hours to the town of Rach Gia. Along the way there were a few close calls when the driver passed and lots of honking but the closest call was during some road construction. Our bus and another bus were trying to crowd each other off the temporary, one-lane bridge over top a swamp/river crossing in the Mekong Delta. Our driver was literally sitting out his window and screaming at the other driver in Vietnamese and gesticulating wildly. Had it not been for the fact that the other bus was so close, that the driver could not open his door, it would likely have come to fisticuffs or pushing the other bus right over and off the road. The buses actually smacked mirrors. As the bus went by us, the passengers in the other bus looked helplessly out their windows into our faces only inches away separated by 2 panes of glass and looking equally terrified of rolling over as we were. Again, luckily the buses passed without further incident.
The ferry ride to the island was much quieter and uneventful. Yesterday, we rented a motorbike from our hotel and took off to explore the island. We ventured to the market in town to get some picnic stuff before heading out to a beach. To explain, by motorbike, I mean a city scooter type of bike with street tires. As we headed out of town the road turned to gravel but no big deal as it was very wide. As we got further away, ther road got narrower, more cows wandered down the path, and parts of the road were littered with large rocks and potholes. We tried a few sideroads to a beach and found the resorts and beaches not ideal so we went in search of the large public beach up the road indicated on the map. The road became narrower, involved many narrow bridge crossings, then deteriorated into a single track, goat path through a swampland covered in deep puddles, small concrete culverts and lots of other lost tourists who had various issues controlling their bikes. After sometime, we were quite obviously NOT at the beach and the road signs were of no use as our Vietnamese is not that good. We headed back to town where we walked into the fanciest resort in town, sat on their beach and had a picnic with our food. On the way out, we waved and smiled at the staff before heading out with our bike loaded down, like a local, with groceries and beer to take back to our hotel.
We leave for Saigon on the 7th or March and say farwell to Vietnam on Saturday. We will be in Bangkok till March 18 when we leave for Myanmar. Not sure what internet will be like while in Myanmar but will try to keep the world posted. If you don't hear from us until April all is ok.