9 SEPTEMBER – HO CHI MINH CITY
Awake a bit after 7.30am, and apart from a feeling of lethargy, which can be dealt with by simply getting up and moving, I feel alright.
Force Lisa to also do the getting up thing, and we’re out into a well awake Saigon, a little after 8.00am.
Disappear down into our hems, and quickly find the market. It’s very much same old, same old, and I really hope it will be that way forever. I just love Vietnamese markets, and if there’s ever one nearby, it just has to be looked at. The sights, the sounds, the colours, the diversity, the authenticity. They’re never boring.
The vegetable section.
The seafood lady.
Get to the end, and then along the street my bar is on, before heading back down the next hem. It’s time to do something about breakfast, and the thinking – well, at least my thinking, is something that is not a banh mi. Mainly just to push that comfort zone of the intrepid explorer.
Avoiding a banh mi will likely make it soupy, but as is the usual case, I’m open minded, as you never really know what you’re going to come across.
Down a few more lanes, and then, up towards the street that the café is on, a food cart is found.
Tables and chairs are nearby, there are locals sitting on some of those chairs, and those locals are eating something. I’m just not sure at this stage what it actually is that they’re eating, but enough boxes have already been ticked.
As I’m about to turn and ask Lisa if this is acceptable, the woman running the cart sees me, and motions me to take a seat.
I oblige, and Lisa is dragged along for the ride. Kicking and screaming does not happen, so the assumption is that she’s happy.
Still unsure what we’re about to have, our lady asks what we would like.
“Everything”, is the response, and she smiles.
Our lady, along with a guy who might be her husband, and a young girl who might be her daughter, are having a conversation that involves lots of nervous laughter, along with glances in our direction.
I’m not sure they expected to see people like us this morning, and we seem to have created a little excitement. I like that.
We soon have two hot bowls of soup in front of us, and it turns out it’s Hủ tiếu.
It consists of the broth, along with noodles, various meats from both the outer side of the animal, as well as the inside, a prawn, an egg, bean shoots, and the obligatory greens.
And it’s really good! Lisa, as is the norm, struggles with the bits that are hard to identify, but still enjoys the rest that she does know.
Breakfast, people watching, being watched, all done, we pay the bill of 70 000 Dong and head off to find somewhere cool.
It’s already hot, as in real hot, and a cold drink in the shade is high on the list of priorities.
Into the hems, and we soon find a little local café that consists of small tables, and even smaller chairs, on the pavement outside someone’s house.
There’s already plenty of locals there, but still room for two more. Caphe sua da would normally be my first choice, but after a rather filling breakfast, we settle on the lighter option of tra da (iced tea).
The tea is incredibly refreshing, the shaded laneway more than comfortable, and the whole ambience pretty much perfect.
It was great to just sit and relax, while sorting out a few bits and pieces with fast approaching catch ups.
Back to the room about 10.00am, and back out to begin sorting the transport we’ll need tomorrow, to get us to Can Tho.
It will be a bus, so downstairs I ask the young guy with really good English, the best way to go about booking it.
Half expecting, but probably more hoping, he would make a phone call on our behalf, he responds with, ‘Just book online’.
This annoys Lisa a little, but he’s right. We’re big grown ups now; we’ve been here how many times?, and we are more than capable of organising stuff on our own.
Back out into the heat, and the rough plan is to see how far away we are from that area that I love so much, that is Bui Vien Street.
It feels like a million miles from where we are, and looks to be significant on Google maps, but I know both those things can be rather deceiving.
We head off in the general direction, sticking mainly to the hems where we can, and it’s just so much more enjoyable than the bigger main roads. So much to look at, so many interactions, and just so real.
We eventually end up on a main road, and shortly after, Lisa steps on one those loose pavers. That wouldn’t ordinarily be that big of a problem, but this paver had water under it. And yep, as foot hit paver, that water, and muddy water at that, makes its way up all over her shoe, and part way up her leg.
And this just happens to be in front of a couple of xe oms (motorbike taxis), who are sitting on their bikes. They’re now watching, as I am too, Lisa’s attempt to wipe herself down. One looks over in my direction, and I roll my eyes at him, while giving him a smile.
He laughs, and Lisa retorts back with, “It’s not funny!”
He laughs again, as I do too.
Because it is funny, but probably funnier when it happens to someone else, and anyway, it’s happened to me more times than I can count.
Cleaned up, sort of, we continue on our way. We soon reach the 23/9 park, and the bus exchange opposite, before finally reaching Pham Ngu Lao Street. Our pho place is still there on the corner, and everything else has that familiar look to it.
Down to Bui Vien Street, and yep, there’s no mistaking it. Same, same, but perhaps now with a few more large nightclub / bars, at the expense of something that would have been far nicer.
But, it’s day time, and as such, it’s all rather quiet. It will no doubt be very different tonight.
Bui Vien Street during the day, unrecognisable at night.
There’s a few tourists around, but nowhere near as many as you would have found three years ago. We find a familiar looking hotel, and yep, it’s the hotel that we stayed at back in 2014, on our very first trip.
It has a different name now, and I still struggle to understand why we ever chose that place.
Round the corner into De Tham Street, and up ahead the easily recognisable orange colour of Futa Bus lines. Ahhh, rather than doing it online, we might just be able to do it in person.
The ‘office’ looks a little quiet / empty, but a security guy there tells us to go around the corner into Pham Ngu Lao Street.
We do, and yep, up ahead is the office. In we go, and I explain to one of the girls behind the desk that we want to go to Can Tho tomorrow.
No problem, and what time would we like to go?
The buses leave on the hour, and so as to not make the morning too early to deal with, we decide on the 10.00am option.
Name taken, advised of 165 000 Dong ticket price, and docket handed to me with the details.
We’re then told we need to be back here tomorrow, one hour before the actual bus time.
I’m now rather pleased we didn’t decide on the 9.00am bus…..
Back out into the heat, and it’s time to do something about yesterday’s laziness, and inability to slow down and be patient. Yep, rectify the not stopping at the Citibank ATM at the airport.
There was one in Pham Ngu Lao Street three years ago, and having the ability to remove 8 million Dong from it, with no fee, was very handy indeed.
Walk up the street, in the general direction I believe I remember it to be, and no luck. Maybe it’s the other way, I think, but not all that deep down, suspecting that’s more wishful thinking.
We walk the other direction, back to, and then beyond, De Tham Street, and yep, no Citibank ATM to be found.
Damn my impatience!
One chore done, a second one yet again put off, we decide we may as well walk a bit more of the area. You know, a bit of reminiscing.
Up to the next park, which I’ve always considered the extension of the 23/9 Park, but have now just realised it’s actually called Nguyễn Thị Nghĩa Park. It’s the same park that we practiced English in for almost two hours, back in 2019.
Reaching the park, I sense the intrepid explorer, lagging somewhere behind me, is struggling.
It’s only day two, we best not push things, so I suggest a rest on a park bench in the shade, just a few metres from our English lesson three years ago.
Not surprisingly, she likes that idea, and we’re soon seated. No English lesson today, but we do have a shoe shine / cleaner guy, who decides he can help us. He actually probably could, after the wonky paver incident, but honestly, what’s the point. It’ll likely happen again, anyway.
He’s persistent, but eventually realises he’s wasting his time. I’d actually be happy to make use of their service at some point, should it be required, but I won’t be doing it down here in the tourist area.
Recovered, somewhat, we head off. Up over Lý Tự Trọng Street, pointing out to Lisa that our hotel, the Thien Hai, that either one of us, or both of us, has stayed at over the last three trips, is just down the road a bit. The pointing out of this, purely to try and give her a sense of direction and awareness, was probably a complete waste of time. The rest in the park was much needed, but it hadn’t completely solved the problem.
We push on up towards Tao Dan Park, and once again we’re back in the cooling shade. We get approached by an elderly guy, whose English is excellent, but is in dire need of a dentist, and he’s keen for a chat.
We stop for a minute, and he quickly starts talking about the war, and how much he loved Australians back then.
I suspect if we were American, we probably wouldn’t have heard the word Australians.
While he actually seemed like a nice guy, I can see where this is likely to end up. I explain we have to be somewhere else, and head off. His reluctance to let us go, proved that his motive was more than just a friendly chat.
We walk into Tao Dan proper, and it’s very calm, peaceful, and far cooler than out on the street. But being late morning, there’s very few about.
Reaching that little Cham monument, something stands out about it. We saw it on our last trip, but now it looks different. But not different in a good, or better, way. It doesn’t look as old as it used to. And it looks brighter, like it’s been painted, or something.
We manage to find a photo from all the way back in 2016, and yep, it’s very different. It’s either been renovated, or completely rebuilt.
Either way, I much preferred the original.
Out of the park, onto the main roads, and then back down the hems. Ahhh, so much better. Hems walked, and eventually we emerge on Nguyen Dinh Chieu, amazingly, right opposite the petrol station, which is pretty much next door (but not really) to LeBlanc Saigon.
Lisa is impressed, as she should be, while I’m shocked, as it was a complete fluke.
I don’t tell her.
Even though we’re back at our hems, Lisa wants to walk around the block opposite, in the hope she can find something for lunch.
I’m not confident of that idea, but rather than suggest otherwise and then be criticised, I go along with it.
Block walked, my lack of confidence proven correct, we return to our hems. I’m now in trouble, as she’s wilting at a great rate of knots. A food place needs to be found, and it needs to be found quickly. I concentrate on that, partly because of the caring husband I am, but mainly because if I’m concentrating on that, I don’t have to look at Lisa going downhill.
There’s not much about, and apparently, it’s because we’re too late. It’s just after 12.30pm, and no, it’s not too late to find lunch. My eyes may, or may not, have rolled….
We finally come across a place on diagonal street, further down from our Bun Bo guy. It’s a place we found yesterday, but for some reason, dismissed. I’m not sure why.
I now don’t have that option, and only kind of asking if this is suitable, I do it while leading her inside. It’s a young couple, with the guy slaving over a hot wok, and yes, they’re rather surprised to see us.
Or maybe they’re just surprised at how Lisa looks?
They have a few dishes, but we decide to go with something not only simple, but something we understand; cơm gà. Rice with grilled chicken.
Oh, and two cans of Coke, which are substituted for Sprite, when they realise they’re out of Coke. Doesn’t matter, it just needs to be cold and wet.
The wet bit is no problem, but the cold bit can only be achieved with the help of the biggest chunk of ice you could fit into the supplied glasses. Again, matters not one tiny bit.
Food arrives, and as expected, it’s good, and the Sprite does its job perfectly.
Disaster averted, and all for the grand total of 100 000 Dong – 70 000 Dong for food, and 30 000 Dong for the drinks – and it’s once again enjoyable to be with her.
Back to the room for a rest and recovery session, after stopping to console a shivering little dog sitting on a motorbike, who looked like he’d just had a bath.
I’m really not sure why he was shivering, as in this heat, even wet, shivering would be the last thing on my mind. And I don’t have as much fur as he has.
He’s managed something that I’ve never been able to, and that’s being cold in Saigon!
Some rest achieved, I head back out a bit before 4.00pm to yesterday’s beer place. I walk in, and again, there is that slight awkwardness. But they recognise me, and they now know why I am there, and what I require. Although I did have to reiterate my desire to not have my beer violated by a straw.
The usual sights, just like yesterday, including the rubbish guy with the grubby towel on his handlebars, along with some WhatsApp catch ups to let people know I’m still alive.
The guy from the restaurant over the road, is all of a sudden making his way across said road. And as he’s halfway across, I believe I know why he’s heading this way. There’s a young kid who’s been standing by the busy road, and again, just like yesterday, I’d noticed him, but never stopped to think what he was doing.
It was now all becoming clear, as the restaurant guy approached him, and then the two of them went back across the road together.
I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve never really noticed this nervousness, or even reluctance, thing from local people when crossing the road. I just assumed that it was a skill they were born with, or perhaps just taught at a really young age. But obviously not, and it clearly is a real thing. I’d just never stopped to think about it, and I guess if I saw someone standing at the side of a road, I’d assumed they were merely waiting for someone.
Anyway, the scene, like yesterday, touched me, and I will make it my mission from now on, to be more aware of people who may need a hand in that department.
Beers done, I indicate I need to pay. The main guy tells me the amount, but it’s in Vietnamese. I have a confused look on my face, so he tells me again. He seems to think if he says it enough, I’ll eventually get it.
They eventually write it down for me, and it’s 66 000 Dong, so 22 000 each. Money handed over, with smiles from both sides, and I now believe I know the word for six, which really, I should have known before now.
Out across the busy street, and down the one that isn’t quite so busy. Drop into a shop for take away beers; still struggling to find bottles, so putting up with cans; and then back for a hasty shower, in readiness for our dinner date.
Back down the less busy street.
It’s with Stefan, who we first met back on our second trip in 2016, and his lovely wife Thuy, who we finally met for the first time on the last trip. It’ll be great to see them again.
The restaurant, according to Lisa, who apparently has been told of the address, is up, sort of, past Tao Dan Park. In the ‘very general’ direction of the airport. Google maps says it’s about two kilometres, which bothers me less than very little, but may push the envelope a touch, of someone else.
Regardless, and seeing as it’s much cooler now, mainly due to fast fading light, we head out just after 6.00pm. It’s madness, being peak hour, but that just adds to the enjoyment.
There’s always someone going somewhere.
We walk, and then walk some more, before eventually finding the dot on the map that we set out to find.
There’s no restaurant there.
We look around, knowing that places here can be hidden behind other places, but it just doesn’t look like an area where there’d be any restaurants.
Facebook is used to contact Stefan, and yep, apparently the dot we were walking towards wasn’t where it needed to be.
Instructions come back to walk to Turtle Lake, which incidentally, we sat around last time enjoying a drink and dessert.
We find the lake, and again, no sign of the restaurant. We wait, and then wait some more, and Stefan’s name is now in danger of being scrubbed from my book of good people.
It’s been an hour since we left LeBlanc, and I really need a beer, which unfortunately, is something else I can not find at this moment.
My phone rings, and it’s Stefan. “We’re at the lake”, is my response to the question, perhaps said in a tone that could have been better.
“Okay, well start walking away from the lake, and I’ll meet you on the street”, is his response.
I look around, and I can see four street options. One of those is the one we walked up, so I assume it’s probably not that one. But that still leaves three possibilities.
My book of good people is about to be removed from my pocket.
We eventually work out which street he’s talking about, and set off in search; the book remaining where it is.
All of a sudden, a familiar face comes out of the shadows.
It’s fantastic to see him again, and all is forgiven, and forgotten, very quickly.
I mean really, how long can you stay mad at a loveable German for?
He guides us back the restaurant, and there sitting patiently at the table, is his lovely wife, Thuy.
Like Stefan, it’s just great to see her again.
We sit and chat, while Thuy looks after the food ordering side of things; which suits me more than fine, as I’m really not bothered what we eat (so long as it’s not tofu….); and it’s just great to catch up again after all this time.
Dinner, as well as a few beers, done, but seeing as we’re not yet done catching up, it’s decided that we should find a little local beer place.
A short walk later, and we’ve found what we require. A small-ish family run restaurant, with tables and chairs outside on the footpath. Perfect!
More sitting and chatting and beers follow, and we must have had a good time, as just like three years ago, the time flies by.
We get to the wrong side of 11.30pm, and while I don’t really want to go ‘home’, it was time to do so. And the rain that had just started, kind of confirmed that.
Bill fixed up, somehow a Vinasun taxi magically appears, a very quick goodbye in the rain that is now getting heavier, and we’re on our way after showing our driver LeBlanc’s address on Booking.com.
A slightly confused look, but just 40 metres down the road, he turns right, and he states the name of the street we’re now on; Nguyen Dinh Chieu.
It’s our street, and I had no idea!
Not that I needed to.
We follow the road down, while I follow on Maps.me. Not because I didn’t trust him; far from it; but because I wanted to let him know where to stop, as it’s not terribly well signposted.
We’re getting close, and he starts to slow down. But it’s still raining, and quite heavily, and I’d much rather a shorter walk, than a longer one.
I say no, no, keep going, but quickly realise he’s unlikely to understand that.
But he does, as he exclaims, “Go, Go, Go!?”, with a laugh.
It was funny, and I think he’s just taught me a new Vietnamese phrase.
We pull up just near the petrol station, meter says 34 000 Dong, which is duly rounded up. He was a lovely bloke, and a lot of fun, and proof that not all taxi drivers are out to stitch you up.
Around the corner to the LeBlanc, fingerprint failed again, but someone was there to let us in.
Upstairs, and on the bed, to have a couple more beers I probably don’t need, while writing a few notes, and thinking about what we’ve done today.
The short answer to that, is not a lot.
A bit of walking, a little eating, some reminiscing of streets, and areas, we’ve seen before, but then the highlight of catching up with Stefan and Thuy again.
So yeah, not heaps, but at the same time, it’s been fun. Albeit with a few little downs to go with the ups.
But that happens, especially here in Vietnam, and you just have to learn to deal with it. There’s no point fighting it, because you’ll never win.
I’ve loved this short trip to Saigon, and I’m very pleased we’ll be back here at the end as well, but I’m also really looking forward to heading down to Green Village, and the countryside of the Mekong tomorrow.
And more importantly, to see Thy and her family again.
It’s been far too long.
My head and the pillow finally come together just before 1.00am, which isn’t ideal, and could well come back to bite me when the alarm goes off in seven hours.