Welcome to Vietnam
Ha Tien Travel Blog› entry 46 of 94 › view all entries
Ha Tien was much larger than I would have expected, bigger than Kampot or Sihanoukville. I had the moto driver bring me to the dock from which the boat leaves for Phu Quoc tomorrow morning; before exploring the town, I needed to know where to go to get out of it. Since the driver asked no money for hidden fees for the two hour ride from Kampot, I had him recommend a hotel even though there were several in the immediate vicinity - the Hoa Mai being closest. He would receive a small commission from any proprietor for taking me to their establishment so gladly brought me to the Thien Long Hotel.
The beaming hotel manager made a call then quickly handed me the phone. A woman's voice in perfect English stated that the rooms were 100,000 Ðong with air-conditioning and 80,000 with fan.
The Thien Long Hotel was an easy 250-yard walk to the dock area, either along the waterfront or along Tran Hua, a main street lined with eateries, hotels, stores, and shops. I set out looking for a bank to get Vietnamese currency, wanting to change some dollars to see exactly what the exchange rate was but only found an ATM machine.
With cash in my pocket, I took a fine meal of shrimp and rice at the Me Trang, a floating barge converted into a coffee shop-restaurant. My waterside open-air table was a nice perch to watch fishing boats motoring to and from the sea, others setting nearby nets, and taxi boats shuttling passengers across the river. I took a few photos then retreated to the hotel to settle in for a couple of hours.
I strolled Tran Hua again later in the afternoon toward the dock area then beyond - where it opens up to a park along the riverfront.
Young teens entered the park to fly kites and they all shouted with shy giggles "Hello!" and "What is your name?" or "Where are you from?" to practice English they learn in school. Most of the post-war generation, their parents, spoke little or no English. Those few that did approached to ask where I was staying, for how long, and where I was going.
By early evening, tent shelters, folding tables, and display cases were being set up for the daily night market. Burlap bundles and cardboard cartons of clothing, shoes, toys, seashell decorations, and even jewelry were being unpacked and sorted into neat colorful arrangements along the river side of Tran Hua Street. White smoke drifted from food venders who were already opened for business.
I crossed the street to the display case of a full-time sidewalk vender, pointed to a Saigon Beer, then took one of the red plastic chairs at a low table. The bottle was warm but served with a heavy glass mug filled with ice. At last I was able to relax unnoticed; no longer an attraction but finally the observer. An even further relief was spotting two foreign couples browsing the market. Like me earlier, they were being closely eyed by the Vietnamese.
While most of the merchants patiently watched shoppers browse their goods, hoping for a sale, the food venders seemed to remain busy with a steady flow of customers. Their meals were priced lower than those of the local eateries and restaurants.
After two beers and a tasty light snack, I strolled to the far end of the night market then doubled back to return to my hotel. The manager and his family were sitting at dinner when I entered the lobby. They gestured me to join them but I signaled that I had already eaten by patting my belly with both hands then holding them outward in thanks. I didn't know the Vietnamese word for bat.