I had a date with the Colonel next. Come on, I’ve not had a KFC since I arrived in Auckland all those months ago. I’d found it by looking on a website the night before, and walked past it on the way to the embassy. I had to take a break from the heat, and also the Reunification Palace is shut until 1pm for lunch. A regular burger meal is 35,000d (a shade over a pound). I ordered a Zinger meal (nobody outside the UK seems to get Towers – grr), said that “yes” I did want cheese and, go on, large it. Which came to 48,000d. Quite a jump. I think that was the cheese more than anything else.
In fairness, the burger was better than the ones I had in Thailand where the chicken was rather chewy. The chips were good, and the Pepsi was lovely and cold, but was on the losing side of a 1:5 ratio against more ice than I’ve ever seen crammed into a glass. I am happy to say, though, that I have had a KFC in every country I have visited recently. Sad, but it’s a hobby.
Outside the window I could see the Municipal Theatre, a gaudy tan building (not pink as LP has it – not in my opinion anyway) and the Caravelle Hotel, possibly one of the most expensive in HCM City. Advertised prices range from $220 to $1200, and it stand on the site of the old Catholic Diocese. So one huge, money-grabbing, ostentacious, self-obsessed, greedy organisation replaces another. Such is life.
Back in the heat, I walked up to the Reunification Palace. One word of warning – Lonely Planet features this on their “7 hour walk around HCM City” and shows the route as going in the west gate (Huyan Tran Cong Chua) and out the east (D Nam Ky Khoi Nghia). You cannot do this, as I discovered the hard way. I walked round the south, up to the west and got told to walk round the top. Which I did. Ten minutes later, I got to the east, main, gate and bought my ticket. I’d walked about 50 yards away from here when I was heading past the south fencing. Tickets are still 15,000d and I coughed up and wandered onto the grounds of this very impressive, though somewhat 70’s-looking, building.
Over to the right are two tanks, of the same models as the first ones to crash through the gates when the war ended and the president arrested. I took a couple of snaps then headed to the main building (watching a tourguide drop one of his charge’s cameras and smash it. Whoops) and had my ticket checked, then was told to join a group. It sees the ticket price includes a guide, which is pretty good value.
The trip round the building took around an hour and a half, including a rest break on the top floor as even the guide was tiring in the heat! It was interesting and I got a few good snaps, but mainly it’s just a posh building with some cool “war rooms” in the basement.
One thing that tickled me were the signs on the lifts, all of which were various sizes. The two I spotted were for “5 people or 300 kilo” and “8 people or 500 kilo”. Do the maths – these were not designed with western folk in mind!
After the tour ended, I walked outside and watched two local teams play football on a field in the grounds. The pitch was small and the goals barely 6′ x 5′ so scoring was hard. Great way to waste 15 minutes or so.
Then I walked home. I was “accosted” by a very polite cyclo driver. It seems (reading LP) that many of these are “second class” citizens and legally shouldn’t even be in HCM City at all. They supported the Americans during the war and were stripped of their citizenship, as a result of which they cannot own land or property. This particular guy – his English was pretty good – showed me a scrapbook he has with pictures and recommendations from many tourists. Kind of like a cyclo-CV. He seemed like such a nice bloke, but I really have no need for a cyclo traipse around HCM City.
Instead, I popped back out and picked up a “day bag” – a small rucksack just to hold a waterproof, some drinking water… that kind of thing. Got a doody little one that’ll fold up and fit into my big rucksack for when I’m travelling. Bargain at 90,000d. I could probably have shaved 5000d off, but I couldn’t be bothered with the whole “walking away, getting called back” bit.
Next, I needed some drinkies. I was desperately thirsty (bad thing to be over here) so I popped into a little shop round the corner. Not quite as cheap as a supermarket, but the little old lady who ran the place looked so sweet! And the smile on her face when I grabbed can after can from the fridge was worth it! I ended up with about 9 cans of various drinks, 3 milk drinks and a load of water for a shade over £3 – a good price. Then I bought some fresh pineapple outside for 3000d. Luverly to munch on the balcony as the world goes by (noisily) beneath me.
My last “task” of the day was to sort out the next one. There are far too many tour companies round here to go nitpicking between them, so I walked straight over the road to TM Cafe and booked a one-day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple. A staggering $5 for a 10-hour day. I’ll let you know how it went soon.
After spending far too long online and typing this mammoth entry up, I walked the vast distance of two doors down to the “333” bar. This is “haa-haa-haa” in Vietnamese and is also the name of one of the local beers. Be careful how you pronounce it, as “haa” can mean “three”, “old” or “women”! I opted for a dragonfruit shake (yum), frid rice with beef (very yum and a large serving, too) and a mixed fruit shake (also yum). 50,000d in total. Superb. I think I may have found my regular eatery.