Saigon in the rain

I sat up really late the night before trying to get the wifi card working on my laptop (under Ubuntu – Windows works fine) but we still got up in the morning. We had breakfast in the 333 cafe over the street – a delicious array of fresh fruit and yoghurt.

While we were there, one of the old cyclo drivers came in and asked if we’d fancy a trip round the city for around 3 hours. He quoted us $7 for the trip which is moderately high, but it’s not busy for him right now and it’s not a lot of cash to us. So we found ourselves a short while later reclining on plasticcy cushions being pedalled through the insane traffic of Ho Chi Minh City. Something I’ve not done before, anyway.

The speeds weren’t great, but it’s a novelty and it makes a change to be on the front of a small vehicle. Our “host” was one of the soldiers on the losing side of the war who had been imprisoned and then effectively banished afterwards. Along with thousands of other skilled people, they were abandoned and shunned from the city and for many years refused even the likes of an electricity supply in their homes. With Vietnam becoming slightly more westernised (though still Communist), they found these rules relaxed although they can still not get work on a professional basis. As such, a lot have become cyclo drivers – and these are soon to be extinct as the local government removes them in favour of a more developed local transport network.

He and his compatriot (only one person per cyclo) first of all took us to the War Remnants Museum which I’d visited on my last trip. Leah, like myself, was hugely impressed with the children’s art which makes up the final exhibit. The rest of the museum is still pretty impressive, though. Even though it’s small, I do heartily recommend it to anyone who’s in Saigon. It’s only a buck and they do seem to be doing a good job of keeping the exhibits in good nick.

Next stop was a laquerware shop. I guarantee our drivers were on commission, but this stuff’s pretty cool anyway. I did see some being made (and in more detail) on my Cu Chi trip last time, but this time round I have someone who can carry things home for me… so I picked up an eggshell piece. Pretty cheap and a nice momento – and a similar design to one I wanted before.

We got snarled in a very impressive traffic jam and my driver had a right go at one of the rubbish collectors who’d dumped her bin-on-wheels in a really daft place. He and a moped driver shifted it then took turns kicking it rather hard! We made it through in one piece and were passing the Reunification Palace when the heavens opened. Lids popped up on our cyclos, but this was no ordinary rain and we ended up sheltering at a ferry dock for almost an hour a the rain positively hammered down.

The river seemed to rise as we watched it and the winds blew the water in swirls. Impressive if damp. It seems the river’s not safe for swimming in, either – during the floods, a couple of crocodile farms lost around 1500 livestock which floated from the outskirts and into this major artery. 400 were caught and returned or slaughtered. Which leaves over 1000 unaccounted for. Eek.

Eventually the rain ceased and our fella gave us a quick lesson on bonsai. There were a lot of trees and a little temple setting at the ferry terminal we were sat at and we were staggered to learn the ages of some of the trees on display – in excess of 300 years! On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at another shop – again I’m sure commission would have been involved – this one stocking old coins, and “souvenirs” left by the US Army when it left. Lighters, bullet casings, dog tags and the like battled for space on the shelves with bits of ivory and old lamps. Needless to say we didn’t buy anything from this one and shortly afterwards we were back at the Phi Long getting showered and changed for dinner.

Tonight we just walked over the road to “2 Go” and staggered up 8 flights of stairs to the rooftop BBQ. This isn’t cheap, but it’s a great experience. The menu consists of a lot of meats (I chose deer) with a variety of sauces and marinades. In the middle of each table is a small barbequeue plate and a gas cylinder sits at your feet. The staff light this and you put your own meat and veg onto the plate to cook to taste. Other pallettes are catered for – Leah had pre-cooked shrimp, for example – but the novelty does cost. It was the dearest meal we’d had since splashing out in Siem Reap, but the experience and quality of the food made it worthwhile. And it still came to around ten quid with drinks. Oh, and there’s a decent platter of fresh fruit for dessert that seems to be included with all meals – it didn’t appear on the bill.

We wandered around a bit and settled in the Long Phi bar (not to be confused with our hotel!) for a quick drink. Then back to the hotel where I’m typing this up and am about to call my mother on Skype. Tomorrow – Da Nang!

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