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Thursday, June 8, 2017

The ASEAN Tour: Vietnam

My one and only trip to Vietnam so far was easily my least organized trip, but it also turned out to be the most adventurous one. I remember checking some info on the internet. That, however, might be related to the fact finding of how to travel from Vietnam to Cambodia, with the Vietnam leg being badly neglected, haha. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that this trip was the first to involve multiple cities and countries crisscrossing, the granddaddy of many similar trips to come.

Come to think of it, perhaps the trip was so poorly planned because we thought we got some Vietnamese friends to rely on. Well, they were Vietnamese, alright, but they were actually from Hanoi. That was like more than 1500km from our destination, Ho Chi Minh City. When we got there, only then we realized that apart from the language advantage, they were just as clueless as us.

Setia and Markus, when we were approaching the famous Bến Thành Market.
Image credit: Endrico Richard.

There were three things that I learnt (from my then girlfriend) before I went to Ho Chi Minh City: stay in District 1, try the abundant Phở24 and go to Bến Thành Market. Other than that, I had no other preparation. I don't even remember how we ended up with the hotel we were staying at. It was this one star hotel in District 1, not very far from Bến Thành Market. There was also a Phở24 nearby, so it was a good as using up all I knew about Ho Chi Minh City on the first day of our trip. The rest was really up to our Vietnamese hosts.

In all fairness, the Hanoi chaps did try their best. They brought us to eat some local delicacies, which turned out be a rather bizarre culinary affair ranging from duck blood to grilled prawn covered with a mountain of salt. After that, we explored the city on foot without any clear direction. It was basically just a sightseeing and getting ourselves impressed by the number of motorbikes on the streets. It was extraordinary, I must say. I mean, being Indonesians, we are no strangers to this two-wheeled vehicle, but Vietnam really got more motorcycles than anywhere else on planet earth. Crossing the road was very challenging!

At the duck blood restaurant.

While we were there, we booked a coach trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. When we asked our so-called tour guides to join us, the reply was rather amusing. The guy called Hai, a Bruce Lee lookalike who wore sleeveless T-shirt the whole day, nonchalantly replied us, "I still treasure my life."

With such answer lingering in our mind, we began our six hours road trip on the following day. I fell a sleep not long after the ride began, so I can't really tell you how the view was like. We eventually stopped at this place called Mộc Bài, a border crossing.

Exploring the city on foot.
Image credit: Endrico Richard.

It was interesting to see how the whole process was conducted. It was like finding order within chaos. The immigration officer collected our passports and there we were, loitering around, waiting for our names to be called. And it's not exactly easy for the Vietnamese to pronounce Indonesian names, apparently. When it came to the name Setia Budiyono, the officer simply gave up. He lifted up the passport, hoping for the owner to notice his travel document.

That last bit above officially ended the first leg of our trip as we were off to the neighboring country, but we would fly back again few days later from Siem Reap. I couldn't remember the reason why, but we checked in to the same hotel again when we returned.

The return to Vietnam.
Image credit: Endrico Richard.

The hotel was memorable for few reasons. It could have been a shop house converted into a hotel, hence the one star. For us whom stayed downstairs, the room was quite spacious, big enough for four people to fit in comfortably. It also provided breakfast, which was actually ordered by the receptionist from the stall next door, once he took our orders. We figured this out when my friend Endrico tried to change what he had ordered to phở after seeing how tempting the food was. He was told off by the chubby receptionist guy in broken English (which made it even funnier, as it sounded like a very authoritative command) that not only he couldn't change it, but he also better ate his breakfast immediately.

Then of course it wasn't a Vietnam trip if we didn't try the roadside coffee. We sat on tiny stools, forming a circle on the pavement, talking while drinking coffee. A very surreal experience! It was a hell of a job to order a cup of coffee with milk, an attempt that involved many locals before we managed to get the message conveyed properly. And we signed off not long afterwards. Until we meet again, Saigon!

Setia, Nuryani and Hady, enjoying the roadside coffee.
Image credit: Endrico Richard. 


Tur ASEAN: Vietnam

Satu-satunya perjalanan saya ke Vietnam sampai sejauh ini adalah liburan saya yang paling buruk perencanaannya, tapi lumayan seru dan berkesan. Saya sempat membaca-baca di internet sebelum berangkat, tapi lebih pada topik bagaimana caranya menyeberang dari Vietnam ke Kamboja. Alhasil, liburan selama kita di Ho Chi Minh sama sekali tidak ditentukan rutenya, haha. Akan tetapi menarik untuk dikenang bahwa kunjungan ke Vietnam ini menjadi liburan pertama saya yang melibatkan beberapa kota dan negara, suatu hal yang kelak menjadi kebiasaan saya.

Mengabadikan keramaian di Ho Chi Minh.
Foto oleh Endrico Richard.

Kalau dipikirkan lagi, mungkin perencanaan yang buruk itu disebabkan karena kita mengira bahwa kita bisa mengandalkan beberapa teman dari Vietnam. Masalahnya adalah, meski mereka adalah orang Vietnam, tapi mereka sebenarnya berasal dari Hanoi. Ibukota Vietnam ini berjarak kira-kira 1500km dari tempat tujuan kita, Ho Chi Minh. Ketika kita berjumpa di sana, barulah kita sadari bahwa selain keunggulan dalam berbahasa Vietnam, mereka sama sekali tidak tahu apa-apa tentang Ho Chi Minh.

Ada tiga hal yang saya pelajari dari teman wanita saya tentang Ho Chi Minh: harus tinggal di District 1, coba makan di Phở24 dan pergi ke Bến Thành Market. Selain itu, saya tidak ada persiapan apa-apa lagi. Saya bahkan tidak ingat bagaimana kita bisa memilih hotel bintang satu yang berada di District 1 dan berada tidak jauh dari Bến Thành Market. Di dekat sana juga ada Phở24, jadi semua yang saya ketahui langsung terpakai habis di hari pertama. Sisa perjalanan kita bergantung sepenuhnya pada tuan rumah kita. 

Di depan toko phở.
Foto oleh Endrico Richard.

Saya rasa para pemuda dari Hanoi ini juga sudah berusaha semampunya. Mereka membawa kita menikmati makanan lokal seperti darah bebek dan sate udang yang ditutup dengan tumpukan garam. Setelah itu, kita berjalan kaki mengelilingi kota tanpa tujuan yang pasti. Bisa dikatakan kita hanya melihat-lihat dan sesekali terkagum-kagum dengan banyaknya jumlah motor di sana. Sebagai orang Indonesia, tentunya saya tidak asing dengan motor, tapi Vietnam benar-benar memiliki lebih banyak motor dibandingkan negara mana pun di planet ini! Menyeberang jalan adalah kegiatan yang sangat menantang!

Sewaktu berada di sana, kita memesan tiket bis dari Ho Chi Minh ke Phnom Penh. Ketika kita bertanya pada para pemandu wisata kita ini, jawaban mereka cukup mencengangkan. Pria yang berperawakan mirip Bruce Lee dan bernama Hai ini menjawab, "saya masih menghargai nyawa saya." 

Markus dan Hai, si Bruce Lee asal Vietnam.

Setelah mendapatkan jawaban seperti itu, kita pun memulai perjalanan darat selama enam jam pada keesokan harinya. Saya tertidur tidak lama setelah bis berjalan, jadi saya tidak bisa bercerita tentang pemandangan di sepanjang jalan. Kita lantas berhenti di perbatasan bernama Mộc Bài.

Proses imigrasi yang berlangsung di sini menarik untuk diceritakan. Suasananya terasa kacau-balau. Paspor kita semua dikumpulkan oleh petugas dan kita pun bebas ke sana kemari saat menunggu paspor dicap. Sesudah itu kita pun dipanggil satu persatu. Ternyata tidak mudah bagi lidah orang Vietnam untuk mengucapkan nama Indonesia. Ketika sampai pada nama Setia Budiyono, petugas itu menyerah dan mengangkat paspor tersebut, berharap bahwa pemiliknya melihat dan datang mengambil.

Setia dan Endrico, melepas lelah setelah berjalan kaki. 

Setelah paspor diambil, maka berakhirlah kunjungan kita di Vietnam dan kita pun memasuki Kamboja. Kendati begitu, beberapa hari kemudian kita terbang kembali ke Ho Chi Minh dari Siem Reap. Saya tidak ingat apa alasannya, namun kita lagi-lagi kembali ke hotel yang sama di District 1. 

Hotel tersebut unik karena beberapa alasan. Pertama, hotel ini mungkin dulunya adalah sebuah ruko yang kemudian beralih fungsi menjadi hotel, karena itu hanya satu bintangnya. Bagi kita yang tinggal di bawah, kamarnya cukup luas dan terasa leluasa untuk empat orang. Hotel tersebut juga menyediakan sarapan pagi yang sebenarnya dipesan oleh resepsionis dari toko sebelah setelah dia mencatat pesanan kita. Kita mengetahui hal ini karena Endrico mencoba mengganti pesanannya menjadi phở setelah melihat kita makan. Resepsionis tembem itu langsung menolaknya dengan bahasa Inggris yang terbata-bata dan mengingatkannya kembali untuk segera menyantap sarapannya.

Setia dan Darto di ruang makan hotel.
Foto oleh Endrico Richard.

Dan kunjungan ke Vietnam tentu saja tidak lengkap apabila kita tidak mencicipi kopi di tepi jalan. Kita duduk di bangku kecil dan membentuk lingkaran di trotoar, mengobrol sambil minum kopi seperti layaknya orang Vietnam lokal. Pengalaman yang unik! Tidak mudah untuk memesan secangkir kopi susu karena kendala bahasa. Kita bahkan harus meminta bantuan orang lokal untuk menjelaskan kepada ibu penyeduh kopi itu setelah ia gagal memahami bahasa isyarat kita. Sesudah itu, kita pun ke bandara untuk pulang ke Singapura. Sampai bertemu lagi, Saigon!


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