27 September – Can Gio – Saigon
As it was asked to do, the alarm does its thing at 5.00am. Lucky we were in bed early, although right now, it doesn’t really feel like it was that early.
I’ll blame the rice wine.
Slept alright, though. Well, I did when I was actually sleeping.
Had to get up to go to the toilet a couple of times during the night, which wasn’t much of an issue.
But finding my way back to the bed was the more difficult task to complete.
The toilet was outside, and around a couple of corners, and while finding it was relatively easy, it was the return trip that was problematic.
Actually got lost both times trying to get back.
I guess I’ll just blame the rice wine again……
And now, as I lay here in the haze that is the morning after, I once again reflect on our previous night. It helps to take my mind off the hardness of the bed, which I’m sure is little more than a low wooden table with a sheet covering it.
But that doesn’t matter, as I would have been prepared to sleep standing up, if that was required, to experience what we did yesterday and last night.
It was memorable then, and it’s just as memorable the day after.
We head outside and it’s already light. But the sun is not yet up. The light is a blue-ish grey, the air is crisp and refreshing, and the only sounds you can hear are of birds and running water.
Everyone else is still asleep in their hammocks, so we just walk around the paths beside the water, taking it all in.
It’s a magical time of day, and everywhere you turn, it’s postcard stuff. I just can’t believe we’ve been given the opportunity to experience it, and the pain of that 5.00am alarm has become a distant memory.
The tide is still out, but it is very much in the process of returning. And the speed at which it makes its way through various channels, really is impressive.
We head back to the house, and everyone else is now awake. We soon have a caphe sua da in front of us, and while I’ve had a lot of great sights in front of me while enjoying a coffee in Vietnam, I’m not sure I’ve had a better one than this.
Coffee done, and we quickly find ourselves in a boat with Mr Chinh and Long. And while we had a reasonable view from the boat that brought us here yesterday, the view now from a non-powered boat is just so much better.
So calm, so quiet, just so peaceful. The stillness of the water, the tangled roots of the mangroves, and the lush green foliage of the trees; it truly is stunning.
We make our way towards a very narrow creek; so narrow in fact, that it’s not much wider than our boat; and it’s at this point we get a feel for the strength of the water flow. The returning water is in a hurry, and as it’s racing down towards us, it makes it really hard going.
Mr Chinh decides it might be best to walk the rest of the way, so the boat is tied up and we set off on foot.
Incredibly strong tidal water overcome, we now have ridiculously sticky mud to deal with. And when I say sticky, I mean so sticky it’d rip your shoes right off, if they were not tied on securely enough.
We eventually reach a more open area, and while the mud has ceased to be a thing, we are left with dragging the extra couple of kilos still attached to our shoes. It was all rather funny, and I couldn’t help but think back to a customs officer in Melbourne, who asked us on our return a couple of years ago, whether we had been in any wilderness areas, and did we possibly have mud on our shoes.
I think this morning’s situation would have piqued his interest…..
The open area contains a small bamboo hut, sitting between a couple of dams filled with water. And when Long explains that Mr Chinh also owns this area, I immediately know that he’s also spent a fair bit of time here with his shovel.
With these dams, he has plans to eventually farm both fish and prawns.
We make our way back towards the boat, as well as the sticky mud, and we’re soon on our way. But this time using the flow of the water, rather than fighting it.
We’re quickly back out into the wider area, and all of a sudden we come to a stop. Seems we are stuck on the bottom, and it’s a little surprising that it’s happened now, and not when we initially headed up the narrow creek.
Maybe it’s the extra weight of the mud on our shoes…..
A little wriggling and poking of the bottom with the oar, and we’re soon on the move again. The sun is well and truly up now, and it’s really making its presence felt.
Back to the house and Mr Chinh takes on the role of shoe cleaner. Protesting is pointless, and it quickly becomes apparent that he has done this job more than once.
Shoes clean, and now drying in the sun, it’s time for breakfast of noodle soup with fish balls and morning glory. It’s really nice, but with it being breakfast, as well as it now being hot to the point that soup, in my eyes, shouldn’t really ever be an option, I struggle a bit.
Channeling my Vietnamese side, I manage to eat most of it, admittedly, with a little help from my three doggy friends. I suspect they now think far more of me, and are likely to miss me more than they thought they would, than when we first met yesterday.
The time is fast approaching, so we head back to our room to get organised. Bags packed, we reluctantly say goodbye to Mr Chinh’s family, as well as our little oasis for the past 20 hours or so.
Neither was easy to do.
We get on the boat around the corner; still not enough water where we were dropped yesterday; and manage to do that without falling in. Which for Lisa, looked like it could have been a real possibility.
Back out into the mangroves, taking in all of yesterday’s scenery once again, and trying really hard not to think about having to say goodbye to Mr Chinh, when get back to the car.
Again, it’s just stunning, and I’m in awe of the place.
The last of the mangroves gives way to our little village, and we pull up where we started yesterday. The time has come, and as is always the way with these scenarios, I can’t offer much more than a ‘cam on’.
Even if the Vietnamese language was something that was usable for me, I’m not sure I would have been able to express my gratitude appropriately, anyway.
I really do hope that the several heartfelt ‘cam ons’, as well as the handshake, were enough to tell him what I thought about him and the whole experience he and his family were able show us.
A truly lovely guy, and also incredibly generous, and again, the whole thing will be something that I’ll remember for a very long time.
Back in the car on those narrow roads, having to wait for a few minutes to find the guy who left his small truck in the middle of the road, and it’s not long before we’re back at the ferry terminal.
The car in front of us is the last to be allowed on, so we sit and wait for the next ferry. Ten minutes later, and we’re first on.
A final goodbye to Can Gio, and we’re soon back on the ‘mainland’. The late night that really wasn’t, along with the early morning start, catches up with me, so I give in to temptation and actually manage some sleep in the car.
The whole trip back seems to take nowhere near the time it did yesterday, and when I wake up, we’ve already returned to the very much built up areas of Saigon. Khoi has phoned Long to see how it all went, and he hands me the phone so I can tell him.
He’s very apologetic about the small mix up yesterday morning, but really, there’s nothing to apologise about. It’s all just part of the journey, and it is, after all, Vietnam. And over the years we’ve become acutely aware of the need to just go with the flow, when things don’t go exactly as you thought they would, as there really is no point in trying to fight it.
And that was once again proved yesterday, as the rest of the trip, along with the trip that he arranged for us two years earlier in the Mekong, couldn’t have panned out any better.
For the places we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, and the experiences he’s been able to show us, we will be eternally grateful.
We soon pull up outside our hem, and it’s now time for another goodbye. Both Long and Nhan, not only having been exceptional at what they do, have just been a lot of fun to be around. They really are lovely guys, with Long just so easy to talk to, and Nhan with a wicked sense of humour.
It was another difficult goodbye, and I really hope that we get an opportunity to meet up again one day.
Back into our hems, and while I already miss Can Gio, it is kind of nice to be home. We’re soon at Little Saigon Homestay, and because I actually forgot to give Markus and Eleanor the key back before we left, we’re able to get in.
Which was fortunate, as neither were home.
We drop our bags off, and fighting the temptation to lay down, we head back outside in search of a drink. It’s hot, and with something cold and refreshing required, we return to our nuoc mia da lady around the corner.
And just like a few days ago, they cost us the grand total of 10 000 Dong each.
We walk a few of the hems, trying to keep in the shade, and eventually find a small retaining wall to sit on, just up from the main road.
Being shaded, it’s as good a place as any to sit and watch the world go by, while cooling down with a cold sugar hit.
They’re actually digging up part of the road a little bit further down, and the earth moving equipment, along with various other obstacles, makes for interesting watching as some pretty ordinary drivers try to navigate their way around both it, and each other.
A guy on a scooter pulls up in front of us, and calls out ‘hello’!
He then gives us another ‘hello’, as he moves a little closer.
We reciprocate yet again. He seems to be more interested in Lisa than me, but I’m not sure where this is headed.
I don’t think it’s an English lesson, as ‘hello’ seems to be the extent of his vocabulary.
He gives us another ‘hello’, so I give him a third one, along with a ‘xin chao’.
Opening his wallet, my initial suspicion is that it’s going to be some sort of request for money. But instead, he pulls out a 100 000 Dong note and tries to hand it to us.
“No, no”, we protest, really not wanting to take his money. As well as being really confused as to why he’s trying to give it to us in the first place.
He’s pretty insistent, but we keep saying no while shaking our heads.
He then throws the note in our direction, and Lisa picks it up and tries to give it back to him.
“No”, he says, as he rides out towards the main road, leaving Lisa standing there with the note in her hand, and me sitting there totally and utterly confused at what just happened.
It’s most certainly something that has never happened to us before.
Nuoc mia da done, we make our way back to our room about 1.00pm, still scratching our heads. Markus and Eleanor have now returned, so we have a chat about Can Gio, as well as what just happened to us with the guy on the scooter.
Their only explanation is that they have occasionally heard reports of financially struggling backpackers looking for handouts from locals and other tourists, but they’ve never actually seen it happen.
They seemed as surprised as us, and it makes me think that perhaps we look a little worse for wear, after our early morning start.
It also makes me think that looking a little disheveled, while watching the world go by, might not be a bad idea if people are prepared to throw their money at us…..
Hmmm, maybe we should reduce our laundry visits as well, to help achieve a better disheveled look…..
We head upstairs for a recovery session, which was much needed, and then, leaving Lisa to do whatever Lisa does, I head outside and around the corner to my beer guy.
He sees me coming, and with a big smile on his face, yells out, “Tiger!?”
“Yes please”, I reply, with just as big a smile on my face.
Yep, we have a relationship now, and I’m pretty happy about that.
My warm can of Tiger, along with a glass filled with ice, quickly arrives, and I’m back doing my favourite thing while watching the locals do their thing.
The kids out in the square playing soccer, people using the fitness stations, and many just standing around chatting to friends.
My beer guy is sitting with a few mates at a nearby table, and judging by the number of empty cans on the ground, they’ve already been there for a while.
They also have various fruits, cut up on the table, and he comes over and hands me a piece. It’s like apple, but a little different, and while I’ve had it before, my fruit / food name recollection is never going to come good.
He then brings over another piece, but this time it has chilli salt on it. The whole salt / chilli salt on fruit is something I’ve never understood, and judging by the look on his face, he doesn’t really get it either.
He offers me some papaya, again with the dreaded salt, and then his wife, who has been looking after me with the beers, delivers a plate with several pieces of pineapple on it. But fortunately, minus the salt, as doing that to pineapple would have just been sacrilege, as far as I was concerned.
Seems my beer guy and his mates are running out of beer, as a younger guy on a scooter turns up with a bag full of more supplies.
Crisis averted, he comes over to me again and gives me a ‘Cheers’. I respond with a ‘Yo!’, which he seemed to like, as too did the guy who was sitting next me, who chuckled when he repeated my ‘Yo’.
My beer guy, with his limited English, but with still far more than I’m equipped with Vietnamese, asks my name and where I’m from. I tell him, and then find out his name is Yom. Well, that’s how it sounded, but I can’t be sure that’s how it’s spelt.
Beers: 17 000 Dong each; fruit: complimentary; people watching: free; all done and all enjoyed, and interaction absolutely loved; priceless; I headed back to the room.
Stopped off at my take away beer place for a few more supplies, as well as some chips to keep a certain other person happy, and while I’m waiting for my guy to serve someone else, another customer, not understanding the universal language that is beer, tries to help me with my ordering.
It was a nice gesture, but after however long I’ve now spent in Vietnam, it really wasn’t required, as me and my beer guy more than have it covered.
Back upstairs, and a quick phone call is made to Stefan, who, after first meeting him in both Hanoi and Saigon when we were both travelling Vietnam back in 2016, now lives here. We haven’t seen him since, although we have stayed in touch by WhatsApp and email, and a big part of the planning of this trip involved making sure we rectified that.
And as an added bonus, we would meet his fiancée for the first time.
A restaurant has been booked, and apparently it’s on the Saigon River. Hmmm, after yesterday, what could possibly go wrong…..
A quick shower, and we head out through the hems to the main road. A Vinasun taxi is flagged down, and when I show him the address that Stefan has texted to me, he seems to know where it is.
Confidence levels slightly higher than they were, we’re soon on our way.
And, just like yesterday, the traffic is horrendous.
Back up through all the tourist stuff, getting a really good look at everything, seeing as we’re really not going very quickly at all, and then out the other side of all that tourist stuff. I try to follow on Maps.me, but apart from once again heading out towards the zoo and the Vincom buildings, I really have no idea where we’re going.
It feels all very Groundhog Day, but just significantly darker than yesterday.
We continue, and it soon becomes apparent that I’m not the only one who doesn’t know where we’re going. Unfortunately, the guy in charge of the steering wheel seems to be afflicted with the same problem.
We pull over in a fairly narrow side street; not a river to be seen; and it seems this is as far as he’s going.
Having absolutely no idea where we are, and still not having a local sim card in my phone; because, well, I just don’t really need one…..; I’m really not prepared to just get out of the car and sort out our predicament as our lost driver heads off for his next fare.
Patience levels dwindling, while frustration levels rise…..
Managing, somehow, to maintain some degree of calmness, I notice we are parked outside a café. Knowing that most cafés offer wifi, and knowing that wifi will turn my currently useless little WhatsApp logo on the home screen of my phone, into an actual working and usable thing, I head into the café.
There’s only a couple of people in there, and making an assumption of who the owner is, I look forlornly at the young girl, while saying wifi?, in an almost pleading tone.
She takes my phone and inputs the password, as the taxi driver also enters the café. Phone call is made to Stefan, and fortunately he answers. Situation is explained, while trying not to think of nasty things I want to do to him for choosing a restaurant that is so far from where we’re staying, as well as one that, apparently, is also so difficult to find.
Realising that a discussion with the taxi driver is now required, he hands the phone to Thuy, his fiancée.
Having never met her, let alone spoken to her, it perhaps wasn’t the greatest of ways to first ‘meet’.
Phone is then handed to our driver, and it seems that he now appears to know where he needs to take us.
But probably more hope…..
Many heartfelt cam ons to the café owner; we owe her heaps; and we’re soon on our way again. Still clueless as to where we’re headed, but happy to actually be moving.
Down some narrow roads, including one that seemed to have a market set up along it, and that congested traffic continues to be a thing.
It’s still madness, and at one point, a guy on a motorbike with a trailer attached, scrapes past the shiny bodywork of our taxi.
It startles the driver, as well as us, but neither vehicle bothers stopping, which I was actually pretty happy about.
Narrow roads are soon replaced with wider, but much darker, roads, and finally, after what seemed like a really long time; because it was; we pull up at a rather large restaurant.
Taxi fare of around 250 000 Dong is paid, which is significantly steeper than yesterday, but right now, I’m just happy to have finally arrived.
We head in, and yep, it’s big. Noisy, too. But full of locals, so that’s a positive.
And as expected, right on the very river we were looking at yesterday.
It doesn’t take long to spot the German out of the crowd, and it really is great to see him again after all this time. He introduces us to Thuy, and she just seems lovely.
We sit and catch up, as well as get to know Thuy. And yep, first impressions are confirmed, and it makes you wonder how Stefan ended up with someone so nice…..
Thuy looks after the ordering part, and we soon have dishes of beef, prawns, beef salad, vegetables, and some fish cake things. Along with a few beers.
Was all really good, as it usually is, but it was all about who we were spending it with.
An added bonus was the continual flow of planes coming in to land at Tan Son Nhat airport, which judging by the low altitude they were flying at, wasn’t very far away at all. Darkness obviously hindered the view, so perhaps next time we’ll have to see about having lunch there.
I love seeing planes in the air, that you can almost touch….
It must have been a great night, as the first time I looked at the time, it was already 10.30pm. The whole thing had just flown.
Plans are made to catch up at some point tomorrow, but maybe somewhere a little closer to our homestay, than the Saigon River.
Rather than trying to find another taxi to return us home, a Grab car is called for us. Two bonuses with this scenario are that it’s only going to cost 130 000 Dong, and this guy actually knows where he needs to take us.
Goodbyes done, we begin the drive back. Saigon is very much winding down in the suburbs, and the ridiculous traffic of earlier, is no longer.
Back to our hems around 11.30pm, and then quickly upstairs for the bed thing. A beer is contemplated, but the realisation that I’m absolutely stuffed, washes over me. I just can’t stop yawning, and fighting it is pointless, so the pin is pulled.
It’s been a great day, albeit with a bit of a hiccup, but I’m more than happy with the way the majority of it panned out.
I’m also happy that we still have one more full day in Saigon, and although I’m looking forward to seeing Hanoi again, it can wait just a little bit longer.