I suppose at this point, I should tell you a) How I came to be here and b) How I got here.
I lived in Bangkok between November 2008 and March of this year. I had various business interests in Bangkok and to cut a long, boring story very short, they ended about a year ago. After I had serious spinal surgery in February 2012, I really took stock of my life and re-evaluated the things that are important to me. I have two great sons back in England, I don’t see them often enough, but I have no other reason to really ever want to go back. I made a living as a singer/songwriter for 20-odd years and here I was in Bangkok, not really sure of what I wanted to do.
A friend mentioned that he was setting up a writing project and I intimated that I was really interested. I enjoy writing, whether it be articles, prose, songs or poetry. It’s what I do, it’s what I have done for years. Here I was buggering about in Bangkok, doing things that I really had no passion for, but that simply paid the bills. This was not why I left the UK.
Out of the blue, the friend contacted me and asked if I fancied doing some writing. Yeah! Of course I did. So I started writing some travel stuff and some other stuff and somewhere along the road, I found myself on holiday in Siem Reap with my elder son, Jack and his delightful girlfriend, Yvy. Whilst there I was offered something more permanent. I jumped at the chance and moved to Siem Reap in a heart beat. It is after all one of the best places on the planet. As soon as I arrived, things changed again and I needed to move to Saigon. What the hell! Another day another country! And so I agreed to come. I travelled overland, as I had computer gear, musical instruments and luggage, too much for the baggage allowance to fly.
I caught the Mekong Express bus from Siem Reap. Collected from my favourite watering hole, Rosy Guesthouse at 7.00am, I was soon sitting on the “Deluxe” bus waiting to depart. The travel agent who booked the ticket for me very kindly asked if I wanted to reserve the front seat. Yes, of course I did, that would give me a great view and more leg room, right? Wrong! Due to the stupid design of these buses the front seats give you LESS room. As soon as we left Siem Reap I realised that this was going to be a long uncomfortable journey. The route they take makes it 350 miles. Not too Bad? Wrong!
It really is a God awful trip. Sixteen hours from door to door! How? How is 350 miles, two thirds of a full day? Well, it’s a combination of Asian driving, shocking roads, the obligatory ‘food’ stops and the vagaries of bus travel. The bit through Cambodia is for the most part fairly unattractive. In my stupidity I had assumed that we would be taking a scenic route down the side of the Tonlé Sap. Nothing doing! It is for the most part, uninteresting roads passing through, not an awful lot. We arrived at Phnom Penh in good time and I stupidly thought that we would possibly be early getting into Saigon. Somehow it just doesn’t pan out that way.
The bus from Phnom Penh was a little better in that it was half empty and I had no-one sitting next to me, affording me some desperately needed extra leg room. What of course I didn’t take into account were things like the ferry over the Mekong and the ubiquitous stop just before the border, to try and sell you something, anything. We stopped about 3 miles from the border, it was really frustrating knowing that Vietnam was just down the road but we all had to make a stop that literally nobody on the bus wanted. The place where they stop is incredibly useless. It is a café-cum-restaurant that sells everything from noodles to noodles. It’s a café that doesn’t sell coffee and a shop that does sell anything!
Eventually the bus pulled into Saigon at about 9.00 pm. I was tired, and not in the best of moods. I still needed to get a taxi to get to the hotel. Now I have travelled, a lot! I have been all over the world and am well used to travelling alone. I know the score, I don’t get scammed. Five minutes after arriving in town, I got scammed. I jumped in a taxi and insisted that he put the meter on. He did! The fare that I later found out should have been 100,000VND was 300,000VND. I now of course know that there are taxis and taxis. This was a taxi.
As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I checked in and went out to eat. The Hard Rock Café was close by and I fancied a few drinks and a burger. Great stuff, the food would be good and the music would be right up my street…… err, no, see my soon, to be appearing review!