25 September – Saigon
Awake, but have no idea what time it is. And, not really wanting to know at this stage, I doze for a bit.
Eventually my interest in what time it actually is, gets the better of me. Partly because I suspect the morning is starting to get away from us. I don’t feel like I have to be up early, but at the same time I hate wasting too much time just laying in bed. And that’s exactly what I feel like I’m doing at the moment.
Clock is checked. It’s 7.00am.
Decision is quickly made that I am not actually wasting time in bed, so I remain where I am.
A little more dozing / listening / procrastinating, and we make the move to vertical just before 8.00am.
Downstairs, Markus and Eleanor are already in the kitchen, and a decision now needs to be made on what we’ll have for breakfast.
Lisa goes with her usual baguette and jam, but I’ve had enough. I’m sick of eating in the morning when I just don’t feel like eating. I’m sick of forcing myself to do it, for no other reason than that’s what you supposedly have to do when you wake up.
You know, it’s one of the three meals a day, thing. But who says you can’t just have two?
Anyway, foot is put down, and caphe sua da is the only thing that will pass my lips this morning.
Well, for the moment, at least.
Ahhhh, a nice feeling of contentment washes over me……
‘Breakfast’ done, we head out a bit after 9.00am. Lisa has already Googled picture frame places, and there is one not too far, but also not that close, to where we are.
She seems confident that we will find it, while I’m reasonably confident that we will only find it if it’s where Google maps actually says it is.
The end result of all that, is that I’m not terribly confident we’re going to find a picture frame today.
Out into our hems, and then onto the main road where we turn right, in the direction of yesterday’s restaurant. But before we reach that, we head off to the left.
It’s supposedly somewhere down on, or just off, this road, and while it’s not a terribly busy road, it’s far from being a quiet little hem.
And being a rather open road, the early morning heat is already having an impact. The lack of shade is a problem, and the fact that it’s a pretty boring and uninteresting road, means there’s not a lot to take your mind off how uncomfortable I’m starting to feel.
We come across a little stationery shop, and apparently needing to have a look at something, we head in.
Of course, they don’t do picture frames; that would be all too convenient….; but they do have some little art supply thing, that, apparently, is desperately required.
Purchase is made, and our walk continues in the sauna.
Still nothing much to look at, and still no sign of this elusive frame shop, and any confidence I had in finding it, is dripping away with each bead of perspiration.
We eventually get to a T-intersection, and the fact that there’s a canal, or river, on the other side of this much busier road, gives me some hope that there might be something to see down there.
Unfortunately, it appears not, and the lack of shade, and the fact that it seems even more open than the road we just walked along, puts paid to any attempt at a closer look.
My patience levels are dwindling, and I’ve pretty much had enough before our day has even started. Lisa is still determined to find this shop, so we turn around and walk back towards where we just came from.
I’m not really sure why we’re still looking, as it’s unlikely to have magically appeared in the time we spent looking across at the canal.
But we do.
Retracing our footsteps, and now the determined one wants to walk down a hem on the left. My belief is that there’s about as much point in doing that, as there is in patting a cat, but she wants to have a look.
I humour her, and we head down.
And there, just half a dozen doors down, is this bloody picture frame shop.
I find two things amazing about this; one, it’s actually here, and two, Lisa actually found it.
I’m stunned, flabbergasted, proud, and even a little annoyed. Who is this woman, and where has this hidden ability been for the last 25 years?
We head in, and as expected, our Vietnamese, and his English, collide. But that’s okay, we have a drawing on some paper, and he has frames that will fit that paper. It’s the quickest game of charades that’s ever been played.
Frame chosen, (45 000 Dong) and he even inserts the artwork for us. Service above and beyond, and he seemed like a really nice and friendly guy.
One and only job for the day completed, and the realisation hits that we have no other plans.
Back up towards the main-ish road, and we go through the ‘Well what do you want to do?’, routine.
We perhaps should have thought about this earlier, but then again, maybe we thought we’d just find something interesting to look at. You know, the kind of stuff that we always seem to find walking around Hanoi….
But so far, that hasn’t happened. And I’m not convinced we’re going to find anything in the nearby vicinity.
The fact that I’m hot, and I’ve not yet reached the point that my sweat soaked t-shirt no longer bothers me, is perhaps not helping.
Lisa pipes up with Cholon, Saigon’s China town, but for some reason I don’t want to. I’m not really sure why, and it suddenly dawns on me that I’m feeling rather pissed off.
And again, I don’t really know why.
Lisa pushes the Cholon option again, suggesting we grab a taxi which will give us an opportunity to cool down.
But I don’t want to get in a car. I want to walk. But it’s hot, and it just seems to take so long to walk anywhere in Saigon.
Yep, I’m like one of those annoying kids, that is just going to ‘poo poo’ every suggestion that comes my way.
And still, I stand here, and don’t know why…..
In the end we just walk. Back along the main-ish road, and up to the much busier road we crossed earlier, before turning down that. At least it has some shade, so it is a little cooler.
But again, there’s very little to see. Big wide footpath to walk along, along with big wide road with lots of traffic on it. And very little of interest to look at.
Clutching at straws to think of something to do, I decide we need to find a drink. And that drink, ideally, will be a caphe sua da. But where….???
Forgetting, but then remembering, that good stuff is usually down narrow laneways, we turn down the next one. And sure enough, just up ahead, is a café.
A little upmarket looking, but it doesn’t take too much convincing to take advantage of it.
We take a seat overlooking the laneway, and our drinks soon arrive. Real coffee, along with an ice filled glass, as well as a tra da (iced tea). It was much needed, and it was nice to relax and cool down. And while a little up market, the people watching was still pretty good.
There were a few in the restaurant / café across the lane, that may have been a part of the one we were sitting in, and the Bun Bo Hue cart lady seemed to have a few early lunch customers.
Or were they late breakfast ones…???
One of which had obviously added a fair bit of chilli to his bowl, so as our perspiration dissipated, his increased significantly.
But no problem, there were plenty of paper napkins on the table, which he made good use of on his sweating brow.
The very napkins that he then proceeded to throw on the ground, less than half a metre from the bin that had been, no doubt, strategically placed right there for that exact purpose.
Old habits, perhaps….
People watched, coffee savoured, as well as making use of the complimentary wifi. Partly so we didn’t need to talk to each other, and partly to try and work out where to go, and what to do, next.
An Dong market, according to the map, doesn’t look too far away, so bullet is bitten, and we now have a plan.
Coffee bill is paid, and at just over 100 000 Dong for two, it’s rather steep. But, all things considered, it was probably money well spent.
Back out onto the main road, and we’re back to a view of boredom and nothingness. But then, a shining beacon, but only in Lisa’s eyes, in the seemingly never-ending dullness; another stationery shop.
And this one is rather large.
We head in, and it even has a security guy. Lisa’s about to browse the aisles, while I contemplate why shops that sell pens and paper still exist, when the security guy approaches. He’s noticed the bag with the frame in it, that Lisa is carrying. Apparently you aren’t allowed to walk around the store with a bag, but never fear, they have lockers that you can put these tools of shoplifting in.
Lisa is now a little put out that this is a requirement, and while she’s not rude to the guy, I can tell she’s not happy.
This annoys me twofold, as one, I don’t understand why she’s annoyed at such an innocuous request, and two, that I can tell she’s annoyed by her little angry mannerisms.
We really have been married too long….
Motioning her with my eyes to do as the man says, while also wanting to suggest she build some sort of bridge to get over it all, she eventually complies.
We then walk around the shop for a few minutes, and then, as expected, walk out empty handed after re-visiting the security lockers.
Five minutes of my life I will never get back…..
Our walk continues, while checking Maps.me fairly regularly, so as to not prolong this walk any longer than it needs to be.
We turn right at an intersection, before turning left on the next main road. I’m pretty sure this is the road we need to be on. Up ahead there are two cages on the footpath, with some sort of animals in them. Turns out they are squirrels, and because we don’t have them in Australia, we stop for a look. There’s a woman sitting nearby, who appears to be the ‘owner’ of said squirrels, and I ask her if she minds if I take a photo.
She says, I think jokingly, I can for a dollar. I laugh, and shake my head. She smiles, and motions to me it’s fine to take a photo. It was actually a nice little moment, and I’m not sure she would have taken any money, even if I’d have offered it.
We keep walking and it seems we come to lingerie street. Lingerie street soon gives way to motorbike repair street, before it then changes to Porsche and other really expensive brand cars, street.
Another thing we’ve noticed on this walk is Grab food bikes. Two years ago Grab had become a thing that hadn’t been there on our previous trip. Well, if it had, we hadn’t really noticed it. And now, after not seeing it two years ago, Grab food seems to have exploded. There’s certainly a lot of food being driven around on the back of bikes in Saigon….
Another check of Maps.me, and finally, it seems we’re getting close. And when I say finally, I mean it’s really felt like it’s taken us ages to get to this point.
Turns out the map, as well as my ability to read it, is correct, and there, up ahead on the right, is An Dong market.
From the outside, it kind of reminds me a little of Dong Xuan market in Hanoi. But just not quite as busy.
We head in, and downstairs is the foods area, including a food court type of set up. Upstairs it’s shoes, so many shoes…., as well as cloth, and then up on the next level, it’s clothes.
There is just so much stuff, and it’s actually a bit difficult to walk around certain parts. But, like all markets here in Vietnam, it’s all very interesting.
We head back downstairs, with the thought that maybe, depending on what we find, we’ll get something for lunch.
As we walk into the food court part, a decision is made. But not by us.
A guy working at one of the stalls grabs us and directs us to one of his tables. It seems this is where we’re eating, but we just don’t know what it actually is that we’re going to eat, just yet.
Turns out it’s vermicelli noodles with spring rolls and beef, along with pickled veges and fish sauce.
Not really surprisingly, it’s good. Quite a cool and light kind of meal, and one that suits the day with all the heat and humidity we’ve been out walking in.
Our guy makes sure we know how to eat it the proper way; think we initially had confused looks on our faces; and he then returns with some tra da, (iced tea) which again, is greatly appreciated.
It’s a busy little stall, and while our guy seems to be doing a lot of running around, it’s his wife that is really running the show.
And I think he knows that.
So food good, people watching great, and location brilliant, the day finally seemed to be heading in the right direction.
Or maybe it was just my mood…..
Lunch done, all for the bargain price of 72 000 Dong, we headed back outside to begin our journey home.
Knowing that it was highly unlikely I’d be able to convince Lisa to walk all the way back, which essentially meant that it was going to be an impossibility, we started walking in the right direction while keeping a look out for either a Mai Linh or Vinasun taxi.
Every now and then we’d stop by the side of the road and wait, and when we did that, there wasn’t a taxi to be seen.
But once we started walking again, a taxi would invariably whiz by us. We did have one offer of a lift, but it was from a non-recommended brand, and as always, we’re very reluctant to take a chance there.
Finally, a Vinasun taxi heading the other way made eye contact with us, and he promptly made a U-turn in the standard Vietnamese driving manner, which means he just did it, and everyone else on the road at that particular moment just got out of his way.
Into the nicely air-conditioned car, and I show him a cinema, which is not far from our hem, on Google maps. I could have shown him the homestay address, but getting cars through the narrow hems is a bit slow, so I decided to make it easy for him.
He seems to know where it is, and we’re quickly on our way. And just a few minutes later, we’re there. Fare of 34 000 Dong is rounded up to 40 000, and while it was a rather short drive, it saved considerable walking time.
Not to mention heat stress, as well as wife stress…..
Back into our hems, and then home for a recovery session nap.
I’m knackered. Apart from a fairly decent walk, and a look around a market, we haven’t really done much. But I’m stuffed. It’s mainly the heat, and it really does sap your energy. And it’s something that a lot of people don’t seem to understand when they come up with crazy Vietnam itineraries that involve having most of their daylight hours accounted for with tours of tourist attractions.
Batteries, somewhat, recharged, we head back out around 3.00pm. No plans, just a short walk to see what happens. Turning left at the end of our hem, past the seafood restaurant, and we end up at a small communal type square. At the far end is a café, and seeing as we’ve now walked another 250 metres on top of our walk this morning, we decide it’s time for a rest and a drink.
But what to have?
It’s a little too early for a beer, so the default would normally would be a caphe sua da. But, worryingly, I don’t feel like one.
Lisa wants a tra da, and, again, worryingly, that’s what I feel like, too.
Really? Tra da? Again?
Two iced teas are ordered, and don’t tell anyone, but never before has an iced tea been so enjoyed.
We sit, and just generally do nothing, but at the same time, do so much. An old lady, selling those rice cracker things, walks past. It takes me back to our last trip to Saigon when we were staying with Tung, so I motion her over. I’m not sure she was expecting to get a sale from us, but she happily displays her range. Not even knowing what they’re actually called, makes the decision of which flavour to choose rather difficult.
The café owner, who is sitting at a table nearby, recommends the big sized one, so seeing as big is always better, we go with that.
15 000 Dong later, we have a car tyre sized rice cracker, as well as a lovely little interaction with our little old lady.
Our tra da is continually topped up while we snack on our fishy type flavoured cracker, which is actually really nice, and it’s just a really enjoyable hour of people watching and doing nothing.
Eventually it’s time to make a move, so I go to pay our friendly café guy. 5000 Dong, apparently, which feels a bit embarrassing.
A heartfelt cam on, and noticing he has a fridge inside as we go to leave, I ask him if he has beer.
He does, and the realisation that I may never set eyes on love bite girl again, fills me with happiness. I think I may have found my beer place.
I tell him I’ll be back in a few minutes, and we head off to complete our only remaining job of the day, which is to collect our laundry.
That done, and all for the total cost of 30 000 Dong, it, along with Lisa, is dropped back at the room.
Back outside, and up towards the café; almost skipping, as the world just seems to be a much better place all of a sudden; and I’m soon seated exactly where I was just 10 minutes ago.
Beer ordered, and beer duly arrives with glass and ice. Happy place?
I sit and do my thing, and while the beer is good, it’s the everything else going on around me that is the real highlight.
The woman sitting at a nearby table taking photos of her dog, and then showing me. The weird guy who pulls an eftpos machine from under his motorbike seat. Two other guys doing some sort of business deal, and then both signing what seems to be a contract. People using the fitness stations around the outside of the communal square, while kids play hacky sack, laughing and having fun like kids always used to.
And this is the light bulb moment. The moment, that essentially, I’ve been waiting for over the last five years.
An understanding of what Saigon is all about.
And an understanding of the differences between Hanoi and Saigon.
And why it is that I’ve always loved Hanoi, whereas my feelings on Saigon have varied from initially hating it, to then moving on to liking it. But never loving it the way I love Hanoi.
This, in front of me, is what it’s all about. It’s not about the tourist sites all clustered together, barely a kilometre away. Or the bars and tourists, in that very ordinary area that is the streets of Bui Vien, Pham Ngu Lao, et al.
It’s this. A bunch of real people, all part of the same community, going about their everyday lives. Lives, that quite possibly, have many days where they never see a tourist. And if they do, it’s just another human being, and unlike their counterparts just up the road, what’s in that particular tourist’s wallet, is of no concern.
And the other realisation of the differences between Saigon and Hanoi? Why I love walking the streets of Hanoi, but struggle doing the same in Saigon?
It’s what Hanoi has. Or maybe what Saigon doesn’t have.
Well, it does actually, but you just need to know where to look.
The streets of the Old Quarter are narrow. And as such, everything is bunched together. You don’t have to walk far for the scenery to change. And it’s ever changing.
It’s easy to walk; ignoring the obvious issues of dodging anything and everything that is cluttered on its footpaths; and it’s always interesting.
Whereas here, in Saigon, the roads are much wider. It takes a lot longer to get anywhere, and being a more modern city, it has nowhere near the interesting ‘sights’ that the Old quarter has.
Unless, of course, you venture off those big wide roads and go and explore its many hems.
A very different world from the one that the vast majority of tourists find, when they congregate in areas with countless others that are doing the exact same thing that they are doing.
Contrived and fake, it exists for just one thing.
Whereas here, it’s the complete opposite. It exists whether you are here, or not.
Beers, at 17 000 Dong each, done, I headed off, with life just feeling that little bit better. I had finally found my beer place, and I had now also, finally, worked out something that I’d been struggling to understand, for years.
I walk around the corner, and a young girl, a little surprised to see me, calls out ‘hello’. She then comes over and wants to give me a high five, which I do. I love it.
I know her friend wants to do the same, but being a bit shy, she doesn’t have the confidence. I make an effort, and that results in a second high five and a smile.
Yep, I love it, and it just confirms what a great area this is.
Drop into my take away beer guy from last night for some more supplies, and as I enter, he makes his way towards the fridge. Yep, we now have a relationship.
Back for a quick shower, and then we’re back out in search of dinner, before meeting up with Khoi from Water Buffalo Tours, to discuss tomorrow’s trip to Can Gio.
Lisa is in charge of food selection tonight, so we begin our walk. And unfortunately, we do a fair bit of that walking. Ending up near the dog restaurants, we make a hasty retreat, and then end up back at some sort of noodle soup cart at the beginning of the lane that Little Saigon Homestay is on.
We really could have saved considerable time if we’d just stopped here in the first place….
The lady finds us some seats, and we soon have our dinner in front of us. It’s a type of noodle soup, but it’s not your typical pho. The noodles are finer, and it has chicken and sausage pieces, along with a few vegetables. It’s all really nice, and the broth itself is just beautiful. And again, it’s just nice to be sitting on the side of the road with the locals.
Dinner done, and really enjoyed, I fix up the bill of 40 000 Dong for two bowls of soup. Yep, about $2.50 Australian.
Lisa heads back to the room for a quick toilet stop, so rather than just sit and twiddle my thumbs, I go over and see my beer mate. Beer purchased, I’m back to doing my favourite thing, but this time vertically.
I really do love it here, and I suspect the days of ever spending the night in the main tourist area of Saigon are quite possibly over for ever. While I think first time visitors to Saigon probably should stay somewhere around that area, the authenticness; hopefully it’s a word; of this place just has so much more appeal, now.
While contemplating my surroundings, and waiting patiently for Lisa to return, a familiar face is suddenly standing in front of me. It’s Khoi!
We were going to meet him out on the main road, but he’s come down our hems and actually found us.
It is just fantastic to see him again.
Lisa returns, and we head off to find a place to sit and chat. Finding a bar around the corner, we do exactly that, and it really is great to catch up with him.
He tells us a bit about Can Gio, and what we’ll be doing. While I had done a little prior research on the area, I still know very little about the place, and what to expect. But after talking to Khoi, his enthusiasm for the place now has me really excited.
Plans made, and instructions given, we unfortunately have to bid him farewell as he has another appointment.
We head back to our room via a Circle K for some supplies, before finishing the day doing the usual stuff on the bed.
A day that hadn’t really started out that well, but had finished up vastly different, by the end of it.
An interesting market found, realisations and understandings finally made, a long awaited catch up with Khoi, and a new, and much more enjoyable, beer place discovered.
Yep, it had been a pretty good day.
And now, tomorrow, we get to experience something completely new.
Something, now after talking to Khoi, I am really looking forward to.