Ho Chi Minh City
After arriving last night on a late flight, after which I couldn’t sleep until 1am I decided to make the most of the very basic hotel room I had until check out time to try to get a bit of rest.
I watched some TV and then managed to design my own little walking tour based on the most popular sights.
I left the hotel and walked through the park to the Reunification Palace which was completely surrounded by jungle so I really didn’t see it.I then walked through some small markets, torture for me who loves shopping as I had run out of cash and was desperate for an ATM, who has markets with no way to get money?
I left the markets and managed to find an ATM, on the way to the Bixtexco Tower, the tallest building in the city, I stopped for lunch on the way in the big western shopping centre in Saigon Square.Well not just for lunch, but to get a break from the heat and humidity.Sweating seems to be a way of life here.I went down to the bottom level to visit the food court, managed to resist the urge to get McDonalds and be on my way.I ate at a lovely little cafeteria serving local food and had lime juice with lemongrass and a chicken soup with rice noodles.
The shopping centre was full of places selling all kinds of cakes and macarons, no idea how I managed to resist those.After lunch I forced myself to go back out into the heat, next stop on the list is the Bixtexco tower and it’s 49th floor Sky Deck.I paid 200,000 dong to go in and had a look around at the view point.I could see the river and clusters of white apartment buildings all built on top of each other.
From the tower I moved onto the Miriammar Hindu temple which was a nice intimate little place, built for the small population of Hindu’s in the area.I was getting pretty tired by this point so I decided to stop for a half hour foot massage, which my poor feet sorely needed.The spa was upstairs, which usually means it’s a little seedy and dodgy, bit this one was actually really nice.Wish I’d found it last night instead of the dump I ended up in on Bui Vien street, with a small Vietnamese guy climbing all over me, leaving me feeling somewhat violated and in the morning like I had been beaten up.I hate those kinds of massages, if I want a work out I’ll go to the gym.
My feet feeling slightly better I headed off to the furthest point on my journey, the Jade Pagoda Temple.I had to cross possibly one of the biggest round abouts I have ever seen and weave through more motorbikes than I had definitely ever seen to get to it.Not sure why it has the name “Jade Pagoda” there wasn’t really a pagoda to be seen.It too was a small temple, the most interesting thing were the turtles and albino cat fish swimming in the acrid waters of the temple ponds.
From the pagoda I started to make my way back to the hotel, via some other sights of course.I visited the Notre Dame de Saigon and went in and had a look at the Saigon Central Post Office, next to the Post Office was a kind of book alley with all different book shops and coffee shops.I suppose most people would think it criminal that I stopped for coffee at the Starbucks at the Intercontinental for a rest.It was one of the best Mocha Java chip Frappacino’s I’d ever had.I sat outside and it started to rain a little, which cooled things down and at least made it tolerable.
My final stop for the day turned out to be the best stop – the War Remnants Museum, which cost all of 40 000 dong to get into.It had a great exhibit on the Vietnam war and next to it an old prison including “Tiger Cages” which were literally low cages made from barbed wire, in which a POW could only either lie down or stoop but not stand.
By far the best thing was a collection of old war machines left behind by the US, there were tanks, helicopters, including a Huey and a few planes and a Chinook!I’d always wanted to see a Chinook and now that’s something I can cross off the bucket list, now if only I could find a way to get a ride in one!
I walked back to the hotel, however it was still too early to get to the station, so I walked past the hotel and around the corner to a café and sat upstairs and had a Tiger beer. I usually don’t drink beer, but when I get really thirsty these days that seems to be exactly what I want. I basically collapsed into a chair and slammed it.
I sat there for a while, I tried to order some food but was just told “No” for some reason, not even “Is finish” like in Africa, just “no”.I then needed to try to find dinner, I managed to find a Family Mart convenience store and just like in Japan they had the wonderful egg sandwiches, not a bad dinner for just under $2.00, I also stocked up on snacks and water for the train.
I got back to the hotel and collected my luggage and was told it was a bit early to go to the station, so I sat around for another half an hour, painfully aware of how sweaty and disgusting I was from a day of hardcore sightseeing in the 30 degree humidity.I don’t know what’s happening to be, I once went 12 days in 50 degree heat in Sudan with no shower and I didn’t feel as disgusting as I did sitting on that couch in the hotel lobby.
I managed to get a taxi to the station, although apparently still too early as when I tried to exchange my voucher for a ticket I was told to come back at 8pm, which I felt was cutting it a bit close for an 8:30pm train (my tour leader instincts kicking in, had to remind myself that the only person I needed to board was me!).I sat and waited with all my stuff and then went back to the information counter at about 3 minutes early, sure enough the lady said “You wait 3 minutes”.Turns out the only English speaking person turned up at 8pm, who seemed to be a janitor and who told the ladies at the counter they needed to give me my ticket.
A ticket was finally produced, and I made my way onto track 2 to board the “Saigon Golden Train”. Sounds magical doesn’t it?Fact is, there was very little that was magical at all.It was actually quite similar to the Russian carriages I travel on the Trans Siberian, except there is no door at each end of the carriage.The function of this door blocks out the outside world, most importantly sounds.The ride was also very bumpy and I was on the bottom bunk, which is always a lot worse of a ride.I was sharing with three locals only one of which spoke English.
When the time came to turn out the light and go to bed, none of them could seem to figure it out.I had already long put my head down for the night in the hope that they would take the hint.The cabin had two lights, a glaring over head light which they managed to turn off and a not so bright night light.I assumed, as I could hear a lot of switches going on and off that the light was some how stuck in the on position and that I was just going to have to deal with it.At 11pm I decided I could no longer deal with it, and what do you know the foreigner managed to turn the light off! By pressing the button with a light bulb on it.Who’d have thought it?
Even with the light off the bed was uncomfortable, the ride bumpy and I felt clammy and dirty from walking around all day in the heat.Sleep continued to allude me all night….