It was something of a shock to be woken up by one of the overnight train conductors, yelling loudly in Vietnamese and banging his hand on my bunk bed. Once again we had been duped by the timetable, but this time it was all on us. For some reason we had read the time 5:00 and thought 5PM – when the rest of the timetable was in 24hr time, so it was clearly 5AM. Although a bit dazed at being woken up so early, I was certainly very happy to have arrived at our destination a full 12 hours earlier than expected.
We got to the hotel, but as we were very early we figured we would wait until they were properly open before going in (they shut their main gate overnight). However some random Vietnamese guy saw us standing outside with all our bags and “helpfully” pointed out that there was a bell by the gate, which he then pushed. There was no point trying to convey that we had seen the bell and had chosen not to push it. At any rate it woke up one of the hotel workers and he ushered us in and got the owner.
The hotel I’d chosen had received some good reviews due to the lady who owned it being very helpful to foreign tourists, and indeed we were very grateful for that straight off the bat as she was very welcoming, even at such an early hour. She said we could leave our bags there or just hang out at the restaurant until check-in time, or we could pay slightly more for a better room and check-in early, which we did. She also chatted with us for a while and we were surprised to find her quite well traveled – a first for us when conversing with native Vietnamese. She gave us some warnings about the pickpockets in Saigon, and some suggestions of what to do during our stay.
After a short nap to catch up on sleep, we headed out to see the city. Although it was witheringly hot we covered a bit of ground, starting at the Saigon river and working our way back through the city past a few highlights, such as the Opera House and Dong Khoi markets. The city is extremely Westernised. It almost feels like the Surfer’s Paradise of Vietnam. Lots of glitzy hotels and big malls.
Our main stop was at the war museum. I didn’t take any footage because I felt it would be inappropriate. Besides which, it’s one of those places where the feeling you get from being there sinks in slowly. Every photo you see adds to the sick feeling you get at realising these people were put through this situation, adds weight to the question of why it happened at all. Very much an eye-opener, and I’m glad I went. Hopefully it’s memorials like these that will ensure future generations are firmly anti-war.
The hotel owner had mentioned that a trip down the Mekong would be worthwhile, but she couldn’t advise me on which company or tour to go with. Instead she said I should find one but that she would assist in making the booking. I did some research and found an expensive but very highly praised operator, and took my laptop down to show her exactly what it was I wanted, and the number she could call. It was after business hours and getting on in to the evening, and I asked if she thought we may have left it too late, but she said that tour operators usually open late on business days. Still, I asked if she could let me know when it was booked. I didn’t hear from her, so I went down later to ask her if everything was sorted, and she assured me it was and that we should be in the lobby to take a 7:45am taxi. That was a bit strange, since the tour’s timetable said they left at 7:30am, but I figured maybe that’s when they started doing the rounds of the hotels and picking people up to take to the docks.
In the morning we were given a piece of paper with an address on it, and had to pay a taxi to take us there. It was some random travel agency, which had extremely cheap Mekong tours. Not what we’d signed up for. It was also the second time someone had pointed out what we wanted was really expensive, and theirs was really cheap – as if cheaper was better. Basically the opposite of what we normally expect.
Extremely disappointed, we took a taxi back to the hotel where the owner was very apologetic for the misunderstanding. I still don’t quite know what happened – whether she’d tried to book the tour we wanted but couldn’t, or just saw the photos of the Mekong River and found an operator who would take tours… but then why ask us to source our own? She did at least agree to take the amount we’d paid for taxis off our final hotel bill, which was a nice gesture. Lesson learned though – sometimes it’s just better to book yourself.
Instead we spent the day working on HCTP, then down at a nearby mall in the air-con for lunch and a movie (Oz The Great And Powerful – a bit over the top and melodramatic, but still entertaining).
After spending so much time in Vietnam, I was well and truly keen to move on, and very much looking forward to Cambodia. 🙂