Sweltering in Saigon

It has been somewhat confusing just knowing what to call this place. On the map it is ‘Ho Chi Minh City’ but everyone calls it Saigon. I can’t remember who we spoke to but apparently the centre of the city is still officially called Saigon so we’re just going to call it that since the locals do too. HCMC is too long and hard to pronounce, according to the manager of our hotel.

We got off the train from Da Nang at 5am and caught a taxi to our hotel. Fortunately they were happy to let us in and give us a room for an extra half day so we could unpack and have a rest. We slept for a few hours and then caught a taxi to the river and planned to walk back via some site of interest.

Saigon is clearly a much wealthier city than Hanoi. There are top-end boutiques, huge gilt hotels and million-dong ($50) buffets advertised. In our walk we found a Myer-like department store where we saw our first proper supermarket in nearly a month. I love looking through supermarkets in other countries. We bought a small sharp knife with a plastic cover to use for making sandwiches and cutting fruit then wandered around the mall. We stopped for a food at a Highland Coffee shop which seem to be modeled on Starbucks. For the equivalent of $10 we had 2 baguettes and 2 iced shakes, which was probably extortionate for Vietnam but we chose it for the view over a busy intersection, hoping for a repeat of the Hanoi City View, where watching the streets was like some unending episode of Funniest Home Video traffic edition. Sadly that part of Saigon was quite tame and there was no crazy driving to watch apart from the odd person on a scooter texting on their mobile.

We meandered around in the 38 degree heat and stopped at one of the roadside cafes. I put some ice from my drink in my damp cotton scarf and ran it around my neck. It’s hard to convey in words just how unpleasant the heat here is, particularly combined with levels of pollution that are visible when you blow your nose. Urk.

We decided our last stop would be the War Remnants Museum. Mostly photos, it told stories from both sides of the Vietnam War. I was very conscious, walking around, that I knew very little about the war, my studies at school focused pretty much entirely on ancient history. The depiction of the war crimes perpetrated by both sides was horrific and so this morning I’ve been reading up on the causes of the war. It certainly is complicated. Some of the worst things were the pictures of people affected by Agent Orange and the devastation it caused. I can’t comprehend how a country goes through something like that and seems able to forgive and move on.

From there we headed back to the hotel. Or tried to. We got lost and our paper map and Luke’s phone couldn’t help us so we ended up jumping in a taxi when we reached the end of our combined tethers.

We bought sushi, salad and sandwiches from the local mini mart for a quiet dinner on the deserted rooftop terrace and decided on a tour for the following day. Luke had found an expensive but highly recommended tour on Trip Advisor that used a speedboat to take a small party up the Mekong and avoided using buses. Sounded ideal so we asked our hotel manager to book it.

There was some kind of confusion the next morning. We thought (as advertised) that the tour would pick us up but then the hotel called us a taxi and gave us an address so we jumped in and ended up at a travel agent who had us booked on a different, much cheaper ($14) tour. We weren’t getting on another stinkin’ bus so we asked her to call the tour we’d asked for but they’d already left for the day. Le sigh.

We caught a taxi back and talked to the manager who apologised for the confusion. Apparently when Luke had shown her pictures of the tour on his laptop she had not realised we wanted that exact tour and thought we just wanted to get to the Mekong. She agreed to take all the taxi fees off our booking and tried to see if we could fit on the next day’s tour but we’re flying out mid afternoon so it wasn’t going to work. So today we have the day to ourselves. Might see a movie then go on an evening river cruise. Quite disappointed as the tour we’d wanted looked pretty great. These things happen though, I guess.

No photos – for once I’m glad I didn’t take the camera out yesterday. It was just too hot to be carrying anything.