28 September – Saigon
No alarm required this morning, which is always nice, and my first observation is that it’s light.
But it feels late.
Time checked, and it’s just 7.15am.
Good, not unhappy about laying here a little longer. And really, not having any plans for the day means there’s not much point getting up too early, anyway.
Another 45 minutes is eeked out in the dozing / sleeping department, before slowly beginning our plan-less day.
And it’s a day that is going to include a fair few lasts. Which is never much fun…..
Downstairs about 8.45am, and Lisa has the usual baguette and jam, while my new found confidence in not having breakfast when I don’t want breakfast, means it’s just a caphe sua da. But this time in a phin, which is nice.
We sit and chat with Markus and Eleanor for a while, before heading out just before 10.00am to do nothing.
Back out through our hems, and it’s the usual early-ish sights. Plenty happening, and plenty of smiles and hellos. There aren’t too many of this particular walk left, and I already know I’m going to miss it greatly.
Soon out onto the main road and we walk. No plans, just seeing where we end up. We walk in the rough direction of Bui Vien, and the other crappy streets that make up that area, but don’t have any desire to actually see them. We’ll do our best to skirt around them.
We turn left not too far up from our hem, and it turns out to be sign street.
Yep, if you need a sign, and I mean pretty much any type of sign, this is probably the street you need to be in. And, as is the Vietnamese way, you can choose from any of the vendors in this street, as they all do signs.
We turn right out of sign street, and continue on. Still no plan, just aimless walking. A few sights then become familiar, and the realisation hits us that we know exactly where we are.
Through the next roundabout, and we’ll be back at the Thien Hai hotel.
“I never knew we were that close!”, the direction and map challenged one exclaims.
“Yeah, nah it’s not that far from where we’re staying”, I reply, suppressing my surprise that it is, in fact, as close as it is.
Maybe we could have walked the other day…..
We walk past the Thien Hai; I still miss it; and then end up around the block in the 23/9 Park.
A group of young kids are up ahead, and I suspect we’ll be soon practicing English.
Sure enough, as we get closer, we’re spotted, and yep, we now have something to do today.
There’s about ten of them, mostly girls, and we’re soon separated, with Lisa getting the majority for some reason.
If only they knew that most of her schooling was done in South Australia….
Victorians will get that.
They’re all university students, as they usually are, and a lot of them seem to be studying law, which makes me feel like the pressure is on to try and at least sound intelligent.
We talk about lots of things, including where we’ve been on this trip, and where else are we going. You’d think this would be quite easy, however my pronunciation of some of the places we’ve seen; take Can Gio, for example, or even Can Tho; is very different to the actual correct Vietnamese pronunciation. The Western assumption on the way it’s written, is often not correct.
We do eventually get there, but it can be a bit messy.
An hour later, and while it’s been a lot of fun, I’ve run out of things to talk about. But before we’re allowed to leave, we need to do the photo thing.
They were really lovely kids, and by the end of it, even the shy ones were really getting into it. The whole learning English thing is something that I always feel privileged to do, whenever we’re approached and asked.
Photos done, we start to head off. One of the guys comes after us, and shows me a 100 Cambodian Riel note.
He explains that he likes to collect small things from around the world, and this is something he brought back from a short visit to Cambodia. And now, he would like to give it to me.
I don’t really understand why, and I tell him that I actually already have one of my own, and that he should keep it. But he is quite insistent.
Not feeling very comfortable about taking the note, and knowing that it is obviously rather important to him, I again politely decline.
But he won’t take no for an answer, and in the end, I think he’s going to be quite hurt if I don’t accept it.
Feeling really bad, I reluctantly take it. He now seems very happy about that.
He then asks if I have any coins, or something else small, from Australia, that I could give him. Checking my wallet, and my pockets, I have nothing. I know I have a few coins back in the room, but that’s not really going to work.
Racking my brain for something that I can give him, I come up with nothing. And if I felt bad before about taking his note off him, I now feel really bad. Like really, really bad.
Apologising profusely, I again try and convince him to keep his note. But he won’t hear of it.
Realising I’m not going to win this, I have no other choice but to give him the biggest and most sincere cam on, I can muster.
That done, and still not feeling great about the whole situation, we head off, trying to think of an appropriate way to display my new souvenir, when we get home in a couple of weeks.
On to Pham Ngu Lao, and we’re quickly back into the area where everyone else is. With the Citibank ATM just over the road, the opportunity to make my wallet fatter is taken up. And if you’re going to fatten up a wallet, you might as well make it worthwhile.
Once again, 8 million Dong is withdrawn – 7 million in 500 000 Dong notes, and 1 million in 100 000 and 200 000 Dong notes dispensed – and it seems the Aussie dollar has fallen since our last withdrawal as our 8 million has cost 30 cents more than it did six days ago.
Wallet bulging, and senses of our surroundings at a slightly heightened level, we continue down Pham Ngu Lao street. But only because I know that it will take us in the general direction of Little Saigon Homestay. The minor details of exactly which streets we need can be sorted out later, if nothing becomes recognisable.
We stop briefly to watch a guy hanging off a ladder, which was hanging off the side of a building, which is probably all very ho hum, mundane, and nothing to see here, in Vietnam, but because you never see stuff like that in Australia anymore, I always find that sort of thing fascinating.
The two street food vendors nearby, on the other hand, thought that my interest in the precariously hanging man was all rather amusing.
Our walk continues, and we stumble across dog restaurant street, which was more fluke, than good planning.
Back into our hems, and then over to my beer place / café. My beer guy isn’t there, but his wife is, and we’re quickly sipping caphe sua da’s, along with complimentary tra da’s, while watching the world do its thing.
It’s so peaceful, and it’s just nice to sit there and relax and do very little. But at the same time, do and see so much. I suspect Lisa has now also found the same love, and understanding, that I have managed to find for Saigon, this trip.
Sipping, savouring, and watching done, we make our way back towards our room. Passing a couple, who have just gotten out of a taxi, with the same confused looks on their faces that we had a few days ago, we stop to try and help.
They have directions to their B & B, but none of it seems to make sense. Not being able to help much, we give them a few tips of what’s in this particular area. Including where the dog restaurants are, which they are rather horrified about.
Good deed only partly done, we head back to do some cooling down, as well as check in for tomorrow’s flight to Hanoi.
Remembering we are yet to have lunch, and realising it’s now 1.30pm, it’s time to get that out of the way. Back out into the hems, and around the block. Nothing terribly appealing is found.
We then end up at our noodle soup lady from Wednesday night, and once again, most of that walking could have been saved.
She finds us a table in the shade, which is very much both required and appreciated. It’s hot, and with only the occasional slight breeze, there’s not much respite from it.
We soon have our lunch in front of us, and while, just like the other night, it’s really good, the temperature of the thing is not really helping with ambient temperature we’re dealing with.
Sweating profusely, tonight’s shower will be much needed…..
Lunch done, and 40 000 Dong bill paid, and I can’t help but feel we’ve come such a long way since those first nervous few days we spent in Saigon, all the way back in 2014.
It’s been an amazing journey.
Round the corner, and we find a lady doing fresh juices. Something cold after a hot bowl of soup seems like a really good idea, so a couple of orange juices are promptly ordered.
And, because it seems to be a thing in Vietnam, a little sugar is added to help with the sweetness. It sounds strange, but it does actually make it better.
And good it is; still tart despite the sugar, and oh so refreshing, as well as cooling.
And at 15 000 Dong each, I’m sure I’ve paid much more than that for juice in Cambodia.
Yep, still hanging on to that…..
Back to the room for a recovery session, as well as watch some of the biggest and blackest clouds I think I’ve ever seen, roll in. Certainly impressive looking, while the constant claps of thunder just added to the whole thing.
But unfortunately, it misses us.
A quick nap, and then at 4.00pm, it’s out to see my beer guy, Yom. While that is a good thing, the fact that it’s the last time, isn’t. Oh how I dread these ‘lasts’……
Outside, around the corner, and I’m soon sitting in my usual spot. He seems happy to see me, although he does seem a little subdued. Maybe he’s a little hungover from last night’s proceedings???
I quickly have a beer in front of me, and once again back doing my most favourite thing.
Being a Saturday afternoon, there’s plenty about, including about ten kids, mostly barefoot, playing a pretty serious game of soccer.
They’re having a great time, and I’m having a great time just watching them. I love it.
I manage to get wifi, surprisingly, so message a few people on WhatsApp to let them know we’re still alive. Plans are also made with Stefan, about what we’ll be doing tonight. And fortunately, we’ll be meeting somewhere much closer than the Saigon River…..
Eventually, and unfortunately, the time comes to make a move. Paying my beer tab, I try to explain to Yom that we are leaving tomorrow. And again, I can’t give him much more than several cam on’s.
Shaking his hand, I head off. But not quite out of the square, I suddenly have a huge regret. I should have taken a photo with him.
I walk a few more steps, before the urge to rectify my oversight becomes too much. I turn around and head back.
He looks a bit confused when he sees me, but then has a huge smile on his face when he understands what it is I want to do. Selfies done, much to the amusement of the regular who has been there every night I have, and Yom surprises me when he says, “See you later”!
I loved it, and I’ve loved my whole time I spent sitting there over the last week. The interactions, the watching, and the just general immersing myself in their culture, was so much fun and so enjoyable.
And as far as the ‘see you later’, comment goes, I really, really hope that that will happen.
Relieved that the potential regret had been dealt with, I headed back towards the homestay with a rather large smile on my face. A quick detour to my take away beer guy, and sadly, yet another ‘last’ completed…..
Into our hem, and a little of my happiness returns when a young girl calls out hello, and wants to give me a high five. Her friend then also wants to do the same, but she prefers a soft punch to my raised hand, rather than the traditional high five.
Yep, it all just makes it far harder to leave, but at the same time, I wouldn’t change any of it for anything.
Quick shower, and then back out through our hems. Onto the main road, and the search begins for a taxi.
They all seem to be going the other way, so rather than just standing in the one spot waiting; which I think attracts the attention of people you’d rather not meet; we start walking in the general direction of Notre Dame Cathedral, which is where we’re meeting Stefan.
This walking thing is annoying Lisa somewhat, which in turn annoys me.
Marital harmony is soon restored; sort of; when we manage to flag down a Vinasun taxi. Rather than dodging all this traffic, we’re now stuck in it.
Seriously, it would have been quicker to walk…..
Eventually we reach the church; fare rounded up to 40 000 Dong; and while there’s quite a few people around, we quickly find Stefan. Thuy is going to meet us at the restaurant.
We start walking, and interestingly, there are no complaints this time…..
Maybe because we quickly find ourselves in book street, and when it comes to books, well, there is nothing she likes more than books.
And as expected, as soon as I realised we were actually in book street, we can’t get to the end without buying one.
Prising her away from the books, we soon reach the restaurant. A little more upmarket than we’d normally choose, but it all looks really nice. Thuy then turns up a few minutes later, and we’re back to chatting like we were last night.
Thuy is again given the job of ordering, while Stefan and I look after the beer drinking, and we end up with plates of duck, beef salad, vegetables, and, because Stefan knows how much I love it, some tofu…..
Anyway, it was all really good, but just like last night, it was more about the company than the food.
Food done, but chatting and catching up not yet complete, we head outside for a walk, ending up at a rather large roundabout with a fountain and sculpture in the middle of it. Turns out it’s known as Turtle Lake, but I think Turtle Pond would be a more accurate name.
Regardless, it is rather impressive, but it’s what’s going on around it all that really makes it. So many locals just out enjoying the night, it’s so noisy and vibrant, and just a really fun place to be.
Stefan and Thuy head off in search of snacks and a few beers, and we then just spend an hour or so chatting and watching everyone enjoying themselves.
A simple night, but one that was a lot of fun.
Starting to get a bit late; and just like last night, the time just flew; we head off in search of Thuy’s bike that she’d parked earlier.
It’s not where she left it, and after a few slightly worrying minutes, it’s eventually tracked down.
Time for the dreaded goodbye, and while knowing that it’s more a ‘see you later’, it’s not really helped when I think about when that later might be. It’s more than likely something like two years away, and that just seems far too long to have to wait.
It’s been great to see Stefan again, and while we’ve only really known Thuy for a handful of hours, I feel like we’ve known her for years.
We begin the process of tracking down a taxi, and that has Thuy a little concerned about us getting home safely. She’s such a worrier, but just so lovely, and again, not for the first time, I really wonder how Stefan has ended up with her.
Playing above himself, much???
Don’t worry, he’d be surprised if I didn’t throw something like that in…..
Vinasun taxi found, goodbye reluctantly done, and we’re soon making our way back to the homestay.
Taxi all uneventful; fare rounded up to 60 000 Dong; and we find ourselves back in our hems, making our way to the homestay for the final time.
Yep, another last, and I really hate that.
My epiphany about Saigon the other day is still very much front and centre. I really do love this city, in particular these hems, as well as the people and communities you find in them.
But you can keep those big wide, busy, and ridiculously hot, streets.
These hems, while different, have a similarity to the streets of the Old quarter, in Hanoi. And my love for that, has been well and truly passed on to here.
Almost back to our room, and we find a lady trying to sell the last of her rice crackers, which are the same as the one that we bought the other day.
15 000 Dong later, we have our late night snack, and the fact that she tries to give me a not so broken one, instead of the one I chose, just adds to my not really wanting to leave tomorrow.
Through the front door of Little Saigon Homestay for the final time, and it’s upstairs for the usual beers, rice cracker, Trip Advisor, and some note taking.
Drinking, eating, reading, and writing, ever so slowly, trying as hard as I can to stop it from all coming to an end.
But of course, in the end, the battle is lost. As it always is.
At least we have the memories. As well as the ability, and desire, to one day return.
And that, is something that will definitely happen.