On the Challenges of Travelling Alone

Brian Sun, 2017-03-19 21:09
Viet Nam, Phu Quoc, Superdong ferry dock, for tourists and Vietnamese with money.

When travelling alone, and making your own arrangements, you make your own mistakes. And you spend a lot of time you could otherwise be spending on the beach or eating fabulous seafood making those mistakes.

On Friday, 17 March, in Việt Nam, instead of enjoying being there I spent a very large portion of the day dealing with this problem: Now that I've got myself and my motorcycle to Phú Quốc, how exactly do I get it back to the mainland?

The problem was I didn't want to go back to Hà Tiên, I wanted to go to Rạch Giá, which was 90km closer to Cà Mau, the place I wanted to be the next day. Unfortunately, as I found out when I started looking at it, the company that brought me to Phú Quốc from Hà Tiên only went back to Hà Tiên, and had no boats to Rạch Giá. There's a fast boat that goes between Phú Quốc and Rạch Giá, but it's not a car ferry. Poop.

The whole thing was complicated by:

  • Tourist info, including the bumpf written by the companies providing ferry services, is not aimed at tourists on motos (or locals on motos, for that matter). It's aimed at tourists with the money to be travelling on tours.

  • The gal who manages the guest home I was staying in has difficulty with English (but not as much as I have with Vietnamese), and we had a hard time communicating without misunderstandings.

I determined that getting to Rạch Giá was hopeless, but I'd been told that in order to get a ticket on the car ferry back to Hà Tiên I had to drive 12km back to the dock at which I'd arrived in Phú Quốc, because that's the only place I'd get a ticket from that company. So off I went.

Easier said than done. Despite that I'd been over that route the day before, it can often be devilishly hard to retrace your "steps," when you've taken them on a moto. (Don't get me started on how different moto travel is versus the mythology--of freedom and shit.) Especially when you'd spent much of that route behind trucks raising dust. So I spent quite a bit of that drive off to the side of the road looking at Google Maps. Anyway, when I got to the terminal, the gal that was in the ticket window told me (I think) that I couldn't buy a ticket two days in advance, that I had to show up the day the ferry left and buy a ticket then. But she took my name from my passport and said (I think) that she'd reserved a space for me.

When I got back to my guesthouse I did some more searching on the internet, and found a guy with a web-log who said that the fast ferry to Rạch Giá does take some motorbikes, which it lashes to the front of the boat, but you have to reserve a space early, because the service is popular.

Popular? Who knew? How could it be popular when no one knows about it? (Canadian cowboy singer/songwriter Ian Tyson, on his fans in Nevada: "I'm pretty popular in places where there's no people.")

But it was good news, so I talked to the guesthouse gal again. She probably wasn't all that pleased about it, because she'd tried earlier that morning to draw a map for me to that company's ticket office in town, and I hadn't understood what she was talking about at all. Anyway, she directed me to the Superdong office again, and off I went.

(I'm not kidding. The name of the fast ferry company is Superdong. It most assuredly means something completely innocent in Vietnamese, But there's a tourist bus company named UniverseX, so who knows?)

When I got to the Superdong office, I talked to the first server who seemed interested, who told me there weren't any spaces for motos on Sunday. So I gave up. But on the way back to my guesthouse, I realized that maybe I should have asked about Monday. Sure, that would put my trip back a bit, but there are worse things than having to spend an extra day on Phú Quốc, so I went back. When I got there, I was directed to another gal, whose English turned out to be a lot better than the first gal's. I made all the arrangements to go to Rạch Giá on the Monday, and then thought, Why don't I ask about Sunday again? Turned out there were some reservations available--for Sunday afternoon.

So now I'll get to Rạch Giá, and have to stay the night, but worse things have happened, no?

* * * * *

As it turned out, the 2nd gal issued me a ticket to go to Hà Tiên. Since the first ticket she'd given me was to Rạch Giá, I didn't bother to check the destination on the second one she gave me. Jeez, isn't that just like me. As I've often said, When two people whose native language isn't the same speak to each other, it's a miracle if there's no misunderstanding resulting.

So tonight, two days after I started this epistle, I'm spending the night in Hà Tiên. It makes for a much longer drive to Cà Mau. Hopefully I'll drive off in the right direction.


Viet Nam, Phu Quoc, the dock for the OTHER ferry, the SLOW one, for the hoi polloi.