January 8, 2014


Temperature: 31 degrees, cloudy, humid.

Captain Willard: [voiceover] “Saigon.. shit; I’m still only in Saigon.. Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. I’d wake up and there’d be nothing. I hardly said a word to my wife, until I said “yes” to a divorce. When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I’m here a week now… waiting for a mission… getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger. Each time I looked around the walls moved in a little tighter.”

I’m not too worried about getting soft in my hotel room like Captain Willard, as I will be across into Cambodia on my mission in just a couple of days. That said my hotel is a comfy place, and if I stayed a week like Willard, I might not want to get back on the rails (or go back to the jungle) ever again.

A couple of days of rehydration therapy and some ciprofloxacin has worked wonders on my stomach, and I’m almost back to normal. I wonder how long it would have taken without the drugs? Cipro is a bit of a wonder drug for some quite nasty bugs, so good to have a few days worth in your bag in these parts. (If you don’t bring any, it’s available from the Vietnamese pharmacy without a prescription). The only lasting symptom seems to be sore ribs – probably from using muscles to vomit that I haven’t had to use in decades!

Its proper hot out on the street and it feels like it only takes 20 minutes walking to take a couple of litres of fluids out of me. The traffic is mad, and even though I’m signed off by The Green Cross Man and a practising member of the Tufty Club in the UK, I still occasionally need help here – a Police bike stopped just past me once today and a one of the Cops got off and escorted me over the road – how embarrassing, just when I thought I could cross a road like the locals do. The trick is simply to close your eyes and pretend there is no traffic – and keep moving at a steady speed – everything moves round you, but its a huge leap of faith!

I’ve been doing some currency swaps today. The banks wouldn’t touch some of my money, so I have been doing some secondary trading on the street – Russian Roubles for Cambodian Riel and Chinese Yuan for Vietnam Dong. I can beat the bank rate, but the US Dollar really is the only universal currency in these parts..

Its evening now and an I have tracked down a German bar I remember vaguely from a past visit called “Gartenstadt” – genuine imported Krombacher Pils on draught and lots of sausage. I know its not in the spirit of local food, but on long trips you need to vary the diet a bit, and I’m just happy to have an appetite again (and almost fully functional bowels). I haven’t mentioned the war, but discover that their wifi password is “Heinkel”!

I’m in a reflective mood once more. I feel that I should share that Saigon is technically the furthest that a European can travel to in Asia by rail (for me, from Amsterdam). My journey over the next 48 hours will be by bus across Cambodia (in purple on the map). I understand that a tender is in place to rebuild the Khymer rail network, but as of today there is absolutely nothing. So I hope that you will understand I have no other overland alternative and allow me to keep going. If all goes well on Sunday lunchtime I shall catch the “Cambodian Express” from Arampathat on the Thai border to Bangkok. I’m then back on the rails for the rest of my journey South.. As you can see here, I’m actually going to travel North to get there. The reason for this is that there are only a few land border crossing points into Thailand, and in places it is a bit tense, owing to longstanding territorial disputes. My crossing point will be at Poipet, something that I think is specified in my Cambodian visa.

On the consular front, tomorrow will mark my sixth consecutive visa. Fingers crossed, like others it will all work well – one of the harder parts of this type of rail journey is to get all the visa dates and validity periods linking up.
Bye for now & hope to catch you on the other side of the border!

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