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End of the Line (again!)

sunny 35 °C

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04:38, Tuesday 25th February and train SE3 arrives into Saigon (tickets, timetables, station signage all use the old name) station bang on time and the Reunification Line comes to an abrupt(ish) end. This was the original end point when I started planning the trip and would have been the end of an epic 8,000approx mile train journey, had it not been for the virus (I won't mention it again I promise!) So I was thinking I would have a nice photo of some buffers to show the end of the line. But it appears I have found the only terminus station in the world without any buffers, so this fuzzy photo of the tracks disappearing into the darkness will have to do.

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We were relieved to find the small hotel we were booked in at had someone on duty 24hrs a day and, after initially looking like he wanted to murder us he did remarkably well at hiding his annoyance at being woken up before 5am! A couple of hours in bed, then breakfast.

We started at The War Remnants Museum, previously called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. While we didn't expect it to be easy, we weren't prepared for large amount of extremely graphic reports and photos on display. There is even a room on the horrific effects of agent orange including 2 still born babies preserved in a tank at low level I assume to look like a grave, I didn't even read the text. Like a big exhibit in the Maison Centrale in Hanoi, they are keen to show their determination for forgiveness, friendship and peace, especially with America. On the ground floor the first thing visitors see is a large exhibit about the anti-war protests all over the world, particularly in the US itself and among the US forces, followed by a big piece about the work done more recently to build bridges with America. Yoko Ono's Imagine plays on a continuous loop. That took some getting over but in the afternoon we visited a few temples and even a fully in tact Notre Dame Cathedral, built during colonial times and quite a bit smaller than the more famous one. Finally we visited the impressive central post office! Yesterday we were all templed out and the constant cacophony of noise from the scooter horns that HCMC is so famous for was started to grate! So we just had a day round the pool at a much more expensive hotel than our own and paid a very small amount for the priveledge! At 35C today, it's a ridiculous 57C warmer than Ulaanbaatar was a couple of weeks ago!

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Today we set off for the Cambodian border. I normally hate using tour agencies and prefer to do things myself if possible, but we had been warned about the soul destroying bus journey from HCMC to Phnom Penh so I was pleased to find a tour company that offered a two day one night tour by bus and boat along the Mekong. This morning we used their bus from HCMC to Cái Bé, about 3 hours West. We were treated to a boat tour of a floating market and local factory, some fantastic food and some local music. Then unfortunately the boat that we were due to use on the journey North suffered a "technical problem" which I suspect had more to do with the lack of uptake on the tour that day rather than anything to do with a boat! We were ushered into a car and driven about 100km to Châu Dôc near the border. This was sad and if I had known this would happen we would much rather have got the bus ourselves and paid a tenth of the price! We are promised a boat in the morning howevernso hopefully they can redeem themselves. I'm writing this from our hotel room (provided by them) which looks like it has come straight out of the 70s with free entertainment of a couple of little lizards running round on the wall! I'm sticking with myf not using tour companies policy in the future!

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Got a bit of bad news yesterday. The trickiest bit of planning this trip was getting to and from Australia without flying as there are absolutely no scheduled ferry services. I thought I had struck gold last year when I booked myself onto the container ship CMA CGM MOZART from Port Kelang near Kuala Lumpur to Freemantle. Unfortunately however, as you may know I got an email from them in November to tell me there had been a change in vessel and the replacement will not accept a passenger. They left the door tantalisingly ajar though by saying that these things change regularly and they would let me know nearer the time. Sadly nothing has changed. Frustratingly they can offer me an arrival in Freemantle just a day after our train to Sydney. The next train is a week later, and it's fully booked. That's the next one they can offer me so even missing out Singapore and going earlier isn't an option. So baring a miracle I will have to take another short flight to get me to Western Australia in time to meet Emma. The fun will be finding the shortest flying route though so I'm on with that now. I'm not giving up on the cargo ship. There are about 10 journeys a week between SE Asia and Freemantle. I have been trying to get hold of other companies for months without much success but I will keep trying! If you are interested in travelling on a cargo ship, I was booked with French company CMA CGM who actually have a dedicated member of staff to arrange these bookings. Journeys cost from around $110 a day including all meals and a high standard of accommodation. You eat with the crew and, within reason have the run of the ship. You have to complete a load of medical forms before you can book and, as I have found out, good travel insurance and being able to be flexible is useful! There's more info here.

Posted by around129 09:02 Archived in Vietnam

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Another excellent read …. hope things sort themselves out for your journey to Australia. I like the idea of travelling on a cargo ship. Elizabeth doesn't, though she would have no objection to me being on one!

by RayEliz

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