23 September – Saigon
Wake up about 6.30am, in our dark and quiet room.
I guess that’s one of the advantages, or disadvantages, depending on how you look at it, of not having a window.
Regardless, I feel good, which is always a nice surprise.
Well, I did, until the chilli reminded me that I had eaten it the day before….
We head outside a bit after 7.00am, bypassing breakfast for the moment, to begin our day by me playing tour guide to Lisa.
Two years ago, and not too far from the actual day, I made my way up to Tao Dan Park early one morning, to see something that we never got the chance to see in 2016. The bird café, and all the birds that come along with their owners to ‘interact’ with each other.
While still in their cages, of course….
While I wouldn’t say it was an absolute must see, nor an incredible highlight, it was still really good to see it at the time.
While enjoying a caphe sua da, which always makes stuff better.
But because Lisa wasn’t with me at the time, I now had an opportunity to drag her out of bed a little earlier than usual, and introduce her to the birds.
Fortunately, the incentive of an early morning caphe sua da helped with the convincing.
Up through the narrow lane towards the park, and past the school on the corner. The kids are already there, and Saigon is well and truly awake.
Over the road, and the woman I saw two years ago selling crickets, and other bugs, from polystyrene boxes and stainless steel bowls on the footpath, is still there doing her thing.
And she’s busy!
Soon up to the park, and our first ‘wow’ moment of the day. But it’s not a good wow.
There are no birds!
They’re gone. The metal frames that they were hung from, are gone as well.
And the café, the very café that was going to makes us two caphe sua da’s this morning, isn’t even there.
Everything is gone!
I’m stunned. And a bit annoyed.
We continue our walk through the park, and further up, there’s plenty of people out and about. As well as lots of people just walking, there’s others playing badminton, doing aerobics, working at those fitness stations, while some just like to stand in one spot and swing their arms.
The walkers are all walking in an anti-clockwise direction; same thing happens around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, too; so we do the same so as to not upset some sort of equilibrium type thing.
I take a note of the park rules on the nearby sign, and make sure I resist the temptation of kicking over the bins, while also making a concerted effort to keep off the grass at all times.
I also refrain from doing any hunting with my rifle and hunting dog, but that urge becomes difficult to control, as I see a rat scamper past.
Around the park, and back to where the bird café used to be, before heading back towards the hotel the same way we came.
We get to the bug lady again, and there’s two youngish teenagers there with their mother. They’re buying bugs, and when they see us, they’re interested in having a chat with us.
No problem, so we stop for a minute while watching the bug buying process. Lisa asks what they’re buying the bugs for, and they explain that they are going to set them free. Apparently they are Buddhists, and as they love animals, they want to let these poor ‘animals’ go.
I guess animals are animals are animals….
One of them encourages us to purchase some bugs as well, but I have to regretfully explain that all my bug purchasing money has already been allocated for this month.
We get back to the hotel, and head in for breakfast. And just like two years ago, it all looks good.
I decide that eggs and spring rolls might be a good option, and as I’m grabbing a plate, our always smiling and happy breakfast / door guy, with the incredible memory, appears next to me.
“Would you like some chicken and vegetable soup?’, he asks, with a look on his face that says he really, really wants me to say yes.
I don’t really feel like soup, but he is just so passionate about his food, as well as his job, that I have no choice but to give in.
And really, I still think I owe him from 2016, when I let him down by only having a piece of toast.
I’m soon sitting at the table with my soup, and as I expected it to be, it’s pretty good.
He walks past a few minutes later, and when he notices that I’ve finished it all, he looks pleased.
“Would you like some more?”, he asks, with that smile that seems to be a permanent feature.
Unfortunately, I’m full; which I don’t really understand seeing as it’s just soup; so I politely decline.
I think he’s okay with that, and I’m glad I gave in to his initial request.
Hopefully I can now move on from 2016….
Back upstairs to get sorted, and then out for a bit of aimless walking before we have to check out later.
Up to Tao Dan Park again, and then through to another smaller park over the road. We get to the next road, and it seems to be sporting goods and apparel street.
More aimless walking, with the occasional glance at Maps.me, and then manage to find a café for our first caphe sua da of the day.
Maps.me says we’re close to Notre Dame Cathedral, and seeing as in three previous visits we’ve never actually seen it, it seems now is as good a time as any, to tick that box.
We soon find it, and even though it currently has scaffolding around it, it is a rather impressive looking church.
It doesn’t quite have the same effect on me as St Joseph’s in Hanoi, but it’s still pretty good.
We play tourist for a few minutes with lots of photos and a few selfies. It’s certainly good to see it, but yeah, one of the problems with visiting these ‘sites’, is having to put up with every other person, who is just like you, doing the exact same thing.
Church done, we turn our attention to the Post Office over the road. It’s handy, as it’s a bit of killing two birds with one stone, type of thing. And I’m not sure I even knew that the church and post office were actually next to each other.
Confirmation I guess, that I’m more a ‘sights’ person, than a ‘sites’ one.
Into the Post Office, and there in front, under the watchful gaze of Ho Chi Minh, is a ridiculous number of tourists, doing what tourists do.
Again, impressive building, and very happy to have finally seen it, but probably a bit embarrassed that it’s taken four visits to actually get here.
Two boxes that I’d forgotten about, ticked, we head off in the general direction of the hotel. Past a park that I’m pretty sure is the 30/4 park, and up ahead is a familiar looking building.
It’s the Independence Palace!
Yep, another site that has only taken four visits to actually see.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we don’t have time to have a look inside. But that’s okay, as I think we’ve done more than enough touristy stuff for one day.
I actually feel a little weird….
Back to the hotel for the final pack up and check out. That done, we leave our bags at reception and head out to find something for lunch. No plans, just some place that does food.
Around the block, and no luck yet. Past where bug lady sits – she’s gone home – and across that wide and busy road just up from that big scary roundabout. Down a side street, and realising that all the good stuff is normally down the narrower streets and lanes, that’s what we do.
We find a cart on the corner of two lanes, and seeing that there are quite a few people that don’t look anything like us, eating whatever this cart does, my interest is piqued.
It turns out that it’s com tam, which after Chau Doc, we now know is broken rice, and it comes with grilled chicken.
Seeing our interest in their food, a table is quickly arranged for us. Bui Vien, or one of its nearby side streets, it is not, and I am very pleased about that.
Our lunch soon arrives, and it also comes with a vegetable soup. Simple food, but very good. But once again, it’s more about where we are. Or perhaps, where we are not.
Watching the world go by, including the construction, or maybe more destruction, of a building on the other side of the lane. And everything that goes with that, including manoeuvring a truck into the tight space, and then watching a car attempting to get around that.
It then starts to rain, and that just adds to the whole scene.
Food done, rain easing, we make a move to get back to the Thien Hai to begin Saigon Part two. Lunch bill of 72 000 Dong paid – Lisa used one of those wet wipes, that appear to be complimentary but are not – which I think accounted for the extra 2000 Dong.
Prefer it if she just licked her fingers, next time….
Unsuccessfully trying to avoid the last of the rain, along with dripping trees and shop awnings, we get back to the hotel after stopping for tissues and bandaids – someone’s shoes are causing issues – at the local Circle K store.
Bags retrieved; and somewhat sad to be leaving the Thien Hai; and a Vinasun taxi is called for us. Minutes, or quite possibly seconds, later, it arrives. I show the driver a screenshot of the address of the Little Saigon Homestay, and we’re quickly on our way. Our driver actually has some English, which is a little unusual, so we’re able to have a bit of a chat.
Back down the street near where we just had lunch, and while I knew roughly where the Homestay was, I didn’t realise we were actually that close. Probably could have walked, but carrying bags while dealing with all the associated hazards of Saigon’s roads and footpaths would have made it a rather unpleasant experience.
We’re soon turning off the main road, and now in some very narrow hems (lanes). It’s not long before we get to a point where I would struggle to find our way back.
He pulls up, and apparently, we’re here. I can’t see any Little Saigon Homestay signs, but we’ll worry about that in a minute.
52 000 Dong taxi fare is rounded up to 60 000 Dong, and we bid farewell to our friendly driver.
Now standing on the side of this narrow street, we set about working out where we need to be. Obviously looking a bit lost and confused, a local juice cart vendor tries to help. That doesn’t go far, so with Maps.me utilised, we begin walking so we can actually work out which way we’re headed.
Around the block, and it becomes apparent that we were actually not that far away to begin with. And having to carry the bag in the process, it quickly confirms that getting a taxi was a very good idea.
Back onto the road that we started on, and only a few metres from where we were dropped off, we find out where we need to be. Down a very narrow lane, and right at the end, the sign we’ve been looking for; Little Saigon Homestay!
We head in and meet Markus and Eleanor, the owners. First impressions are good, and after chatting for a few minutes, they seem really nice. They met three years ago, and only started the homestay about six months ago.
We’re shown to our room upstairs, and again, I’m very pleased with our accommodation choice.
A quick unpack, and we head out to explore our ‘home’ for the next few days. Back around in the area that we’ve just walked, and we find a girl with a nuoc mia da cart.
She seems a bit surprised to see us, but is very happy when we order two from her.
Sweet, cold, and very refreshing, it’s always welcome, especially in the heat and humidity of Saigon. And, as an added bonus, they came in some of the biggest cups I’ve ever seen. All for the bargain price of 10 000 Dong each.
More lane walking, lots of smiles and hellos, and even stopped to watch a couple of guys playing tennis, for a few minutes.
We come across a small pharmacy, which is little more than a hole in the wall, and with Lisa needing some antiseptic for her leg grazes, we use a little charades to get our point across.
Success achieved, and 7000 Dong bill is paid.
“Is that like 5 cents?”, the one who actually taught me an easy way to work out the whole currency conversion thing, way back in 2014, asks.
“No, it’s a bit under 50 cents”, I explain, with significant eye rolling and head shaking.
Yep, there’s a reason why she doesn’t look after the money here…..
A bit more aimless hem wandering, and then with the help of Maps.me, we eventually find our way back home. It all feels a bit rabbit warren-ish, but I like it. It’s very local, and it has a great feel about it.
Back for a bit of relaxing, as well as checking out our surroundings from the balcony. A couple of the neighbours seem to be in the pho business, with lots of cooking going on, and several of the carts that you see out on the street. It’s interesting to watch.
Beer o’clock arrives, so leaving Lisa behind, I head off to see what I can find. Down a few more lanes, and I don’t seem to have too many options. There is a very large ‘outdoor-ish’, but undercover, seafood restaurant nearby that sells beer, but that’s not really the type of place I’m looking for. A bit more walking, including down one lane, with at least one restaurant that seems to specialise in a particular meat, that most people would prefer to walk on a lead, as opposed to eat.
I’ll give that one a miss….
Finally, without success, I give up and head back to the seafood restaurant.
A young guy finds me a seat, and he has no problem with me not ordering food. In fact, he seems to go out of his way to look after me, continually checking that I have a beer in front of me. As well as enough ice in my glass.
And even though the Tiger beers are cold, ice is still supplied. And while I never do it at home, when it’s offered here, I invariably live by the ‘when in Rome’ motto.
It’s still reasonably early, but there’s a few already around ordering dinner. It’s a huge space, and there seems to be a lot of people working here, including a young girl whose neck is covered in love bites. It’s such a classy look…..
While sitting there, and just after one very heavy, but short lived, downpour, five girls all wearing the same uniform walk in. Turns out they work for Amstel beer, and they’re here doing some sort of promotion.
Not sure about any free samples being offered, and if there was, I’m not sure I would be on the receiving end. They seemed to keep away from me…..
Time to do something about dinner, so bill of 60 000 Dong for three beers is paid, and I make my way back to get ready.
Shower done, and with no real plans or preferences, we head out to see what’s available close by.
The seafood restaurant is obviously a no, due to a certain person’s dislike of anything that calls water its home, so we make our way in the other direction.
Starting to get a bit more of an idea of how the lanes work, and where we actually are, we end up in the lane with the dog restaurant, before finding our way out onto the main road.
And right across that road in front of us, is a pho restaurant.
It’s a slightly larger restaurant than we normally look for, and it seems it might be one of a chain, but our lack of success elsewhere means that we don’t have a lot of other options at the moment.
Decision made, we head over. One positive is that it’s full of locals, so things are looking up.
Pho, and beers of course, are quickly ordered, and we soon discover why it’s full of locals. It’s good!
Like last night, it is a little on the high side at 70 000 Dong, but they are really big bowls, and by the time we finish it, there isn’t much room for anything else.
Well, apart from a few beers, which at 20 000 Dong, aren’t too bad.
Dinner done, we head outside, noticing a ‘No Dogs’, sign on the window, as we do.
Knowing what is served just one street away, I’m not sure if the sign is there to keep man’s best friend out, or whether it’s advising people that their pho is strictly beef and chicken…..
We drop into a Circle K on the way back for some supplies, and then head off down our hems. Interestingly, it seems a bit busier now, which is a little surprising.
Back to the house, and seeing Markus on the way up to our room, he asks what time we’d like to have breakfast in the morning, which I’d completely forgotten was included.
Not too early, is my response, which he’s very happy about as they have new guests arriving at 1.00am.
Breakfast is then duly pencilled in for 9.00am.
Up to our room for the usual beers and Trip Advisor stuff on the bed.
It’s been a bit of a nothing sort of day, but at the same time, I feel like we’ve achieved a fair bit after seeing some things that we haven’t seen before.
And now, for the second time; first time was 2017; we’re seeing an area of Saigon that most tourists don’t see.
And I like it.
While the hems felt like a bit of a rabbit warren when we first arrived, it now feels a lot more familiar.
It seems like a really nice little community, and I’m looking forward to spending our next few days here.