Having spent ten hours on a bus from Nha Trang, we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), did the customary hotel hunt around Pham Ngu Lao (the backpacker area) and were immediately won over by the bright lights, smell of grilled meat from street vendors and bustling streets and alleyways. We quickly learned during our time here that it’s these alleyways you head into for beer, food and rooms at less than half the price of the Main Street!
We were hungry after traveling and found one of the aforementioned alleyways to eat in a little plastic chair filled place, selling fried noodles or rice for about one dollar. Result. Then, we were enticed into a small bar by a pair of Aussies who had decided to act as unofficial promoters for the Vietnamese owner and were rapidly doing a great job of hoiking in any passing backpacker. The owner looked liked all his Christmases had come at once,cheering everyone and shouting loudly and excitedly in Vietnamese. We ended up touring the bars of Bui Vien with the Aussies, a Kiwi, a Russian, three Belgians, two Cantonese, some ubiquitous Germans and eventually a group of football mad Brazilians. We attempted to haggle on beers in a nightclub, got yelled at by a old lady who owns a bar for drinking too slow and staggered into bed at about 3am. Hello HCMC, think we like it here!
One of the main things that heavy beer sessions tend to discourage is walking around a city being an enthusiastic tourist, and it was two fairly lethargic and light sensitive travelers who stumbled towards the tourist centres of Saigon the next day. We very slowly dragged ourselves around the, fairly poor, Ho Chi Minh City Museum, then, with several stops for coffee, sugar drinks and roadside snacks, managed to reach the Notre Dame cathedral, beautiful post office building, Saigon mosque and a few other random sights, statues and boulevards.
We also met a group of Vietnamese students keen to practice their Englishman nzd give us some local tips on where to go, which was a pretty enjoyable hour of chatting and learning some local customs.
There is, known to man, one cure for a hangover. A curry. So we found an Indian restaurant and had a surprisingly good Tikka to blow away the final cobwebs, before finding a cinema and watching Spectre complete with Vietnamese subtitles.
Determined to be more efficient sightseers the next day, we failed and got up too late to get into the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants museum (both close for lunch at 11.30 to 1.30) but made it to the Pagoda of the Jade Emperor, our first (but don’t worry, not our last) Taoist temple, a stunning and intricate building, filled with statues, iconography and rituals that we didn’t fully understand, but tried our best to!
We were then able to get to the War Remnants Museum, and spent a few hours being given the history of the Vietnam War where the Americans are in fact the bad guys, as opposed to the Hollywood version. The images of the affected (particularly the victims of the Agent Orange chemical weapons dropped) are harrowing and not soon forgotten. In fact, they were all pretty horrible to each other, there were no good guys.
Fortunately, we had something to lift our spirits that night and met up with our old mates James and Lois, out here on holiday. We went for a lovely meal, couple of beers and a good catch up (we hadn’t seen them in about 18 months) and made plans to see them again on Phu Quoc in a few days.
But for us, we had an early bus so had to head to bed. We went against our principles and all common sense and booked ourselves into a tour of the Mekong Delta (partly as a cheap and theoretically easy way to get there). All will be revealed………..