Friday we got up at 6.45am, finished packing, grabbed some baguettes & checked out.
We got to Singh Café ten minutes later as the bus waited but it didn’t set off till 8am.
There was a break at 10.30am, we stopped for lunch at 11.15am where we had noodle soup & Cantonese rice for 55,000 dong & one more stop for snacks at 1.45pm.
I killed the time listening to my audio book until we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at 3.30pm.
The bus dropped us all off outside the Singh Café & I left Vicky there with our stuff as I was taken across the road & shown a guesthouse with a nice room. Put off by the maze of back streets we had taken to get there & by the racket coming from other buildings nearby, I met Vicky & the two of us walked round the corner down Pham Ngo Lao (the backpackers’ area). We found a decent place down a side street called Lin Phuong at $10 a night with free Internet, fridge, breakfast & T.V – plus the usual.
We had dinner at Backpackers Guesthouse two doors down – spaghetti bolognaise & penne carbonara – but the cheap meals didn’t taste nice (as we had noticed with many western dishes cooked in South East Asia). To fill me up I bought a ban bao, a thick, white, doughy pastry pie with egg & minced beef, which seemed to do the trick, at 10,000 dong.
Saturday we were up 9ish & had our free breakfast at the guesthouse, choosing egg baguettes with coffee & tea from the selection (it was either that or noodle soup or jam baguettes).
At 11am we set off on a walking tour. Saigon seemed less hectic than Hanoi – at least in the area we were staying of backpacker guesthouses, internet cafes, tourist clothe shops & across the road a strip of parkland that expanded into a decent-sized park.
We reached Ben Tham Market, the popular ‘famous’ indoor market mentioned in our Lonely Planet, & decided to visit the museums & skip chaos there would no doubt be inside Ben Tham.
We reached the Museum of Fine Arts early afternoon & took an hour wandering the three floors of exhibits. The ground floor consisted of only mildly interesting things – ceramics, such as vases & ornaments. The first floor took the most of our time, drawing us into the amazing paintings & sketches of war scenes, the sorts that made you aware of the grim realities whilst at the same time being picturesque. The second floor contained more ceramics as well as statues, furniture inlaid with mother of pearl & traditional art.
From the museum, we followed our huge city map bought in Dalat & found the beautiful theatre building (which we couldn’t go into as it was closed). From there to the Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the late 1800s where a wedding was taking place at the far end (a popular place for weddings – we saw 3 that day). Across the road was the Ho Chi Minh Post Office, a massive traditional French building seemingly designed as a railway station similar to the Cremaillere in Dalat. Old French maps were engraved into the wall paneling & Uncle Ho himself watching over us from a huge portrait.
We walked past the People’s Committee building, another architectural marvel & ate lunch at a kitchen canteen.
After lunch we checked out the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, took a long walk till we reached an incredibly busy roadway in one of the further away districts (the city is split into about 21 districts) which, after crossing & doubling back on ourselves, led us to the hidden away Jade Pagoda, an early 1900 Chinese-style temple made of teak & filled with colourful statues of deities & heroes & engravings of battle scenes.
Ten minutes from leaving the Pagoda we became lost (not hard in such a big city), walking further away from our destination, through the business districts & ending up at market smaller than Ben Tham. We managed to get instructions from a friendly young Vietnamese guy & retraced our steps, struggling as the night drew in to make out familiar landmarks.
We finally got back to our road round 7pm & upon checking our email found a message from Brianna (from the Nha Trang Island boat trip) suggesting a rendezvous with her & her friend Tom.
The meet was at New Delhi Indian Restaurant, on the main road below, two minutes from us. Brianna & Tom had eaten there several times already this week so highly recommended it. We were not disappointed enjoying the various dishes including a spicy chicken buryani, whilst catching up with our friend who had been in Saigon nearly a week already. It turned out she had been the unfortunate victim of a theft at the Sail Club the night we had left her at Why Not, losing not just a significant amount of cash but also her passport. That was why she was stuck in Saigon - waiting for a new one. Luckily, her friend Tom was able to put her up at his place on the other side of the city. We agreed to meet again the next night & after a ban bao we went back.
Sunday we were up 9ish again & had jam baguettes for our free breakfast.
We set off for the museums slightly earlier this time, at 10.30am, lazily catching a cyclo to the Post Office to send a parcel to Mum & Dad.
In the Post Office I sorted the parcel whilst Vicky got chatting to two Wakefield girls (hurrah more northern people) called Phillippa & Steph which turned into an hour long conversation as heavy rain prevented us from moving on.
When the rain eased off the four of us set off for the War Remnants Museum, where we parted with our new friends after telling them where we were staying.
The museum was huge an open plan modern structure with glass dividing sections. We had been warned about the place but were still unprepared for what we saw. The photos & descriptions provided a fascinatingly sick interpretation of the Vietnam War, painting a picture of the twisted behaviour & methodology of the Americans & her allies during that time. It was too much for Vicky & even for me, especially a photograph of three small children gunned down by Americans as they ran & the story of how psychotic soldiers wiped out an entire village, burning it to the ground & disemboweling six year old children.
We were glad when we got to the first floor. It was much easier on the eye & mind, detailing the origins of the war & statistical analysis of weapons used, quantities of ammo & comparisons of expenditure compared to other conflicts.
From the museum we headed back, towards the Reunification Palace, our next stop after picking up surprisingly delicious cold fried macaroni with sweet chilli from a street stall.
The Palace now served as a museum & a place for functions but originally was the command centre of the US until two tanks crashed through the ground walls, signaling the end to the Vietnam War.
We were impressed by the place with all its elegance, wealth & refinery. The rooms were all beautifully decorated with plush carpets & carved oak & teak furniture invalid with mother of pearl. We saw pretty much everything from the conference rooms to the former private quarters, to the old underground bunker. We could even go onto the roof & see a replica of the chopper used to evacuate American forces from the building when the walls fell.
It was interesting but everything became too similar after a while so we didn’t stay too long.
We headed back after this (not getting lost), side tracked a little as we bumped into Ken & Brenda from our Nha Trang boat trip, & caught up whilst drinking beer with them down the side street by their hotel. An hour later we left them, agreeing to meet later & dashed back to our guesthouse to wait for Brianna’s email. She turned up at our place & the three of us joined Ken & Brenda at a cheap kitchen called Thanh Hai, eating delicious chicken curry with rice & drinking even cheaper beers.
Afterwards we walked up the road to Go To Bar & sat on the top floor drinking & playing cards then headed back at 12.30pm. Once again we found ourselves locked out a guesthouse & had to knock to wake up the girls sleeping in reception.
We got up 8ish on Monday, had jam baguettes & went to find Ken & Brenda at their hotel Saigon Comfort but they weren’t there. Instead, we met them back at our guesthouse.
I grabbed a ban bao & the four of us caught a local bus from Ben Tham marketplace to Dam Sen at 11am.
A five-minute walk & we arrived at Dam Sen Waterpark. We paid the 3,000 dong each entry & were led through the main entrance past the lockers & changing rooms to a section up some stone steps beneath one of the water slides. This was the ‘western’ area. We didn’t know whether to feel special or diseased. Why couldn’t we have just been allowed to sit in one of the many empty chairs by the pools instead of half a mile away uphill?
We dumped our stuff in lockers & Ken & Brenda braved the worst slide straight away – the Kamikaze, an almost vertical drop, without even realising. Vicky & me were too cowardly for that so opted for the two slides next to each other, similar in height to the Kamikaze but more gradually sloped. Even so the speed we shot down the slides & burst out into the pool was quite terrifying.
Next we had a bit of a swim in the main pool & both of us dared brave the zip slide, launching off a platform slower than expected & letting go over the dizzying heights, dropping like a stone into the pool. It was fun & we felt exhilarated as we had lunch at 2pm at the restaurant, spending 55,000 on cobs & chips & a coke.
After lunch we headed up to the far end of the complex & went on several slides that used rubber inflatables. They were fun but not as exciting as our previous experiences at waterparks on the Greek islands, the Crazy River in particular.
We chilled out on the Lazy River that wound it’s way round most of the complex & took another ride each on the zip slide, ending with two other slides.
We left the waterpark at 5pml, caught the bus back & bumped into Steph & Phillippa, agreeing to meet them for drinks at Go To Bar in the evening round 9ish.
We got back to our guesthouse & I went on a mission to burn a DVD & try to find a camera repair shop where I could get an engineers report for our old, broken Sony, whilst Vix got her hair cut. As usual they didn't understand what I wanted offering to repair the camera.
8pm we joined up with Ken & Brenda & ate another dinner of chicken curry & this time tried meatballs with rice at Thanh Hai. Again the food was tasty & the 9,000 dong bottles of beer refreshing.
Our late start to dinner meant that we were running late with our rendezvous, but luckily, at 9.10pm Steph & Phillippa were still waiting. The six of us all went upstairs to the top floor of Go To Bar & drank & chatted till midnight. Again we were locked out our guesthouse & had to go wake the owners up.
Tuesday we were up for 9am, had a quick breakfast at the guesthouse & met Ken & Brenda at their hotel.
The four of us walked to Ben Tham Market with our own mental lists of things to get. Mine were reasonably easy: a Vietnam cap & vest top, whilst Ken was after a laser pen. By the time we got inside the place was heaving with western tourists & stall owners, each selling the ‘same same’ items, wooden toys & ornaments, various clothing garments, etc. I managed to find what I was after quite quickly, getting the top for 50,000 & the cap for 60,000, though I think I may have been ripped off! With the constant hassling from very aggressive sellers (grabbing & holding on to us) we were quick to leave, especially as that red glow in Vicky’s eyes meant there would soon be blood!
Our next task to book our onward journey through the Mekong changed from a 3 day to 2 day Mekong Delta trip (due to cost), ending with us crossing the border into Cambodia. It cost us $33 each.
We scanned our passports, statements & insurance documents onto our memory stick at an internet café & did 2 exchanges. Our Vietnam Lonely Planet & a novel were swapped for a new Cambodia copy & then we had fun trying to convert 2,200,000 with one bank closed & the other with no dollar or Riel. Instead we had to go to a tour agency with their inflated rates & came away with $115.
We met Ken & Brenda at 5pm for tea & being their last day we ate more like kings at a more expensive place than we were used to. Spring rolls, chicken & coconut rice, crispy noodles & pancakes went down a treat especially when washed down with many beers. To our gracious surprise Ken & Brenda paid the 200,000 bill as their treat. Bless them. We felt so appreciative – then they gave us the remains of their washbag supplies & a couple of books! We suggested to meet them in the morning to see them off which was the least we could do, & headed back, buying a T-shirt & Vicky a vest top for 60,000 total. We picked up baguettes & snacks from some street stalls & stuck them in our fridge for the next day.
Wednesday we had breakfast & met Ken & Brenda in at their hotel. An hour later we helped them load up & said goodbye for now agreeing to meet them sometime in Oz.
The rest of the day was just spent bumming around as it was too hot to really do much!