Vietnam 2022 – Trip Report 29

Wednesday 5 October – Saigon

Eyes open.

But before I look at the time, I need to work out what day it is.

Through the haze and confusion of having just woken up, it surprisingly doesn’t take long.

The last full day is here, and the only, like ONLY, good thing about that, is that we don’t actually leave today.

Time checked; it’s 6.45am.

Excellent!  Back to sleep.

And some is actually achieved, which is always nice, until a much needed move is made a bit after 8.00am.

Another slow start, and we’re finally downstairs around 9.00am.

The plan for the day, if you can call it a plan, is to check out our local market, walk a few hems, pick up our laundry, and try and find a guy with scissors and a clipper, who makes a living, or at least makes money, by cutting hair.

And because it’s just for me, he doesn’t even have to be that good.

Down the road, and into the hem the market is in, and with the sun out, it’s already really hot.

But I’m not complaining, and never will about the heat, as I hate the cold, with winter being a real struggle for me.

Added to that, I’ve just found out it’s only supposed to be 15°C the day after we get back to Melbourne.

Can’t wait….

We reach the market, and it’s the same old, same old.  The smells, the colours, the noises, and the crowds.  Never boring, and I just love it!

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We walk the length of it, at one point stopping to watch a woman, who sells a small, but fairly diverse, range of products.

One of those products is crabs, and at the moment, she’s processing them, by ripping the tops of their bodies off.

It’s brutal, but fascinating, with the skill and speed she’s able to do it.

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Interesting to watch, but not for the crabs.

She looks up, and noticing that we’re watching, asks in basic English, where we’re from.

Rather than answer Australia, I use the Vietnamese term, and say Úc.

“Oh!”, she exclaims with a big smile, and then says, “Xin chào!”

Again, I love it, and I’m so pleased she made the effort while she went about her day.

We get to the end, and then eventually into the lane where we had dinner last night.

“We had dinner here!”, is the surprised cry from the Intrepid one.

“Yes, yes we did”, I respond, both shocked that she knew, but also frustrated she didn’t actually know where we were when we were actually eating last night.

Little more than 24 hours left, better late than never to get your bearings, I suppose….

Off through the hems, then back to the other main-ish street, and we walk past our laundry place without even realising it, with the incredibly strong desire for a caphe sua da, likely the reason.

For us there was no great hurry to be reunited with our clothes, but one of the laundry women spotted Lisa as we walked past, and called out to get our attention.

A bit of a u-turn, and then across the street to retrieve it all, and yep, it’s all done.

The total cost for the 2 kilograms of clothes was 75 000 Dong, which while a bit more than in Hanoi, did include the extra charge for Lisa’s shoes.

Chore complete, we set about rectifying the caphe sua da issue.

Back down the street, and off to the right, we reach our café.

As we get there, he walks out, and seeing us, he smiles, and says, “Two caphe sua da’s?”

It was always going to be hard to say goodbye to him tomorrow, but he’s now made it a whole lot harder.

He returns a few minutes later with our coffees, as well as our complimentary tra da’s, and we’re back to doing our favourite morning thing.

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We sit, chat, watch, and sit some more, and end up sitting there so long, that our guy brings out a second pot of tra da.

It was a lovely gesture, but again, he’s really not making tomorrow any easier.

Eventually a move must be made, and after the bill of 56 000 Dong, just like it always is, is fixed up, we head back to the LeBlanc to drop our laundry off.

Lisa’s now clean shoes are still damp, so they end up outside the window, on a small ledge.

They won’t have any issue drying in this heat.

Back outside, and for something a little different, we decide to go and have a look at the hems in the next block up.

Up the main road a bit, and then left down the first one we come across.

They’re kind of the same, but at the same time, they are a little different.  Narrower, and maybe more residential-y, with perhaps not as many businesses?

I don’t know, they just feel different.  But certainly not in a bad way, and maybe, just maybe, they’re different in a better way?

And the people, they’re just so friendly, and we receive almost constant hellos and acknowledgements, whenever we walk past a local.

We come across a lady with a banh mi cart, and seeing that it’s clear she does ốp la (fried egg), and with it still kind of being breakfast time, Lisa decides she needs one.

The question is asked of the lady, and she can’t make it quick enough.  She was lovely, as too was her husband, and I think we may have just made both their days.

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Lisa’s banh mi ốp la lady.

Banh mi ốp la delivered, the question of how much, asked, and the response is 10 000 Dong, which really, is just so ridiculously cheap.

Can’t even get a nuoc mia da for that, over in our hems….

We bid farewell, and head off to continue our exploration of these great little lanes, while Lisa enjoys her breakfast, which happens to be as nice as the lovely couple we just met.

More friendly locals, more hellos, and all just so authentic, as we wander around, with absolutely no idea as to which direction we are walking in.

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Life in the hems.

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And this one was far from the narrowest.

Around another corner, and we find the local seafood vendor, although it appears she also does a little chicken too, set up on the ground, kind of like her own market.

I ask her if she’d mind if I take a photo?  No problem, is the reply, but just not of her, which I suspect is more about her thinking her food is far more interesting than she is.

She’s wrong.

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A one lady market.

Up and down more hems, now completely and utterly confused as to what direction we are walking in, but right now, it doesn’t actually matter.  If we happen upon a main road by accident, that’s good, but if not, Google maps will be utilised to rescue us.

In the end, Google isn’t required, and we pop out on the main road that the Thích Quảng Đức monument is on the corner of.

With no one there today, and with exhaustion levels far lower than they were yesterday, we head across for a closer look.

I don’t know, I’m not really ever into this type of thing.  You know, stuff like monuments, statues, insert whatever thing you are supposed to go and look at, but this one just grabs me.

Again, probably not so much the actual appearance of it, impressive as it is, but more for what it represents and acknowledges.

I still can’t imagine what it must have been like, and how he managed to actually do it.

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Back down in the general direction of the LeBlanc, and having not been successful in finding a possible haircut option in our newfound hems, we head across the road to check out the ones opposite.

A couple of places are actually found, but they’re a bit more upmarket than I’d like.  Didn’t matter, the walk was more than worthwhile.

Back across to our hems, down Diagonal street, and then onto the road where our laundry place is, where I’d noticed a fairly basic looking barber the other day.

Past one of those upmarket looking ones, and there, up ahead on the left, is the barbers I’d seen.

The guy is actually sitting at his entrance, and as we walk up, he makes eye contact with me, as I look in his direction.

It’s funny, I’m wearing a hat, so he can’t see how long my hair is, but I’m sure he now suspects, and maybe hopes, that I’m headed his way.

I don’t know why he would be thinking that, but if he is, then he’s right, as that is exactly my intention.

We cross the road, and when he realises, he can’t get himself organised quick enough.

I’m soon seated in a chair that has seen far better days, with a towel, and then a sheet, around my neck.

I find a photo on my phone from four weeks ago to show him how I want it to look, but I suspect he already knows, anyway.

He begins, and to say that he is thorough, would be an understatement.  He was incredibly fussy, and by the end, he was almost cutting each hair individually.

Mostly done, he then grabs a brand new blade, which he promptly drops on the floor, to do my neck.

Doesn’t matter, it was only on the floor for a second.

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Almost done.

All complete, and after a quick brush down, with a brush that is quite possibly older than me, I ask him how much.

He holds up one finger, while saying one, which I assume means 100 000 Dong, seeing as 10 000 Dong would be far too cheap.

100 000 Dong is handed over, and as expected, no change is forthcoming.  It’s a bit more expensive than Hanoi three years ago, as in twice as expensive, but I’m not overly concerned, as he was very fastidious.

A quick photo, a cảm ơn, and then seeing as it’s a bit after 12.00pm, we head back down to Diagonal street to do something about lunch.

We reach our Bun Bo Hue place from almost four weeks ago, head in, and our guy is more than just a little happy to see us.

Two bowls of noodle soup, with beef, ordered, and just like last time, it’s beautiful.

We sit and chat with him, along with his son, who has really good English, and he’s just so happy that we’ve not only come back, but also that we love the area so much.

He’s a lovely guy, and he appears to have a great business going, with a constant stream of Grab food delivery people turning up to collect food.

Lunch done, bill of 85 000 Dong which included 5000 for tra da, fixed up, we head back to the room about 1.00pm for a rest and recovery session.

Suitably rested, we’re back outside by 3.00pm, with a desire for a cold drink.  Turning left, instead of the usual right, seeing as my desire involves not seeing yesterday’s cold drink provider, and we reach a woman up towards the Buddhist monument, who not only does nuoc mia da, but also dragon fruit juice.

The initial thought was to go with the usual, but our lady is really keen for us to try the dragon fruit, so we give in and order a white one, as well as a purple one. (15 000 Dong each)

And the taste?

Well, apart from the colour difference, they’re both very similar in flavour, and if you were wearing a blindfold, you’d be hard pressed to pick the difference.

And compared to a nuoc mia da?

Well, it’s nice to have a change occasionally, but I think the sugarcane option will always be the go-to drink.

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The white.

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The purple.

We head off down our hems from earlier this morning, while enjoying the dragon fruit, and again, it’s just as interesting.

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The mix of old and new Saigon.

Managing to reach the busy road that my beer place is on, without resorting to Google, we make our way back into our hems, and then on through the market.

It’s a lot quieter than this morning, but there’s still a few around.

Our aimless walking continues, and we end up past our café, and in the area where the school is, that we walked a little of when we first arrived.

It’s a nice area, but I think we have more going on where we are.

Getting close to 4.00pm, it’s time to do my thing, so rather than risking a certain person getting lost, I walk Lisa back to the hotel to drop her off.

I can be rather chivalrous at times.

Back out, and instead of taking the more direct route up the main-ish road to my beer place, I get all daring by walking as far as I can by only using the hems.

I don’t get lost, and do actually manage to come out on that main-ish road, not too far down from the busy road, which interestingly, doesn’t seem quite as busy today.

Well, not right now, anyway.

About to step out, I look across into the bar, and my beer guy sees me coming.  He gives me an acknowledging look, and begins organising a stool and table for me.

There’s just something about being considered a regular.

I’m quickly seated, beer in hand, and doing the watching of the world thing.  As always, it’s good, but there in the back of my mind, but not as far back as I’d like, are the thoughts of what’s coming tomorrow.

It both annoys, and saddens, me.

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They work so hard.

Onto beer number three, and my shoe cleaning guy turns up.  He tries, unsuccessfully, to drum up some business outside, before coming inside to do the same.

Again, he’s unsuccessful.

He turns around, sees me sitting there, and gives me a wave, along with a big smile.  He tries his luck with another couple of customers, again, unsuccessfully, and then walks towards me.

As he reaches me, he puts his hand out to shake my hand.

It’s only a handshake, but it just means so much to me.

One more beer, along with more world watching, including my rubbish / recycling guys, and then it’s time to make a move.

I give my beer guy a hẹn gặp lại, I think he knows what I mean, and then head out over the road, and back down the more direct route.

Take away beers are next on the list, and as I cross the road to get to my convenience store guy, he sees me coming, while sitting back in his recliner, at the front.

He has a big smile on his face, as he holds up five fingers.  I laugh, and say, “Yes!”

Again, a little thing, but he’s now made it more difficult when tomorrow comes.

Off down the road, a girl selling rice crackers walks past me, and as she does, she gives me a huge, out of the blue, smile.

She wasn’t the girl from last night, but it gets me thinking if there’s perhaps a connection between the two of them, and that perhaps they have talked about the strange western guy who likes photos with his rice crackers.

No idea, and it may have simply just been a case of her being friendly.  But it did make me stop and think.

Down to the café, and turn left at Diagonal street.  I get to the Bun Bo Hue restaurant, and he yells out Hello!, as I walk past.

I reciprocate, and give him a wave.

Again, just another little thing.  Insignificant, even.  But not to me.

Out of the hems, across the road, and down into the hem the LeBlanc is in.  The noodle soup woman who sets up each night, is doing her thing, and she has a couple of customers partaking of her food.

As I walk past, I can hear a song playing.  It’s only faint, but it sounds a little like the ‘Hello Vietnam’ song.

I take a few more steps, but then stop.  I’m intrigued to know if it is, and if so, where it’s coming from.

There’s no speaker visible, but I do notice a guy eating his dinner while looking, and listening, to his phone.

I look over his shoulder; the soup woman is trying to work out if I’m a potential customer, but I’m going to disappoint her; and yes, that is where the sound is coming from, and yes, it is the ‘Hello Vietnam’ song.

I’m stunned, and as I get my phone out to use Google translate to tell him ‘I love this song!’, he turns around to see what I’m doing.

I show him my phone, he smiles, and then makes me realise I needn’t have bothered, when he starts talking to me in perfect English.

We chat for a few minutes, and he’s interested as to why we’re staying in this area, seeing as it’s not a tourist area.  I explain a little about our Vietnam journey over the years, and how we’ve ended up where we now are, and he loves the fact that we keep returning.

I could have chatted longer, but with what had happened over the last hour or so, with all these little moments, and now him with his ‘Vietnam’ song, the ability to speak was being highly impacted by the massive lump in my throat.

I don’t know, the whole thing had made me emotional for some reason.

Bidding him farewell, I head up to the room to tell Lisa of my afternoon, but I can’t even do that without choking up.

It’s strange, and I don’t really get it.

Quick shower, then out to find a dinner place, which results in a bit of a walk to find something that appeals to the intrepid one.

We end up in a hem just off the road the barber and laundry place is on, and find a place doing noodle soup, which while ‘phó’ like in appearance, probably isn’t.

Regardless of its actual name, it comes with what looks like pork belly, as well as various greens.

Their initial reaction when we show an interest is one of anxiousness, but we press ahead, and are soon seated.

Two bowls ordered, and then the question of beer is asked.  I receive an answer of no.

Ok, I can wait.

But I don’t have to wait long, as all of a sudden a Heineken appears on the table.

Yeah, it’s Heineken, but I’m prepared to make a small sacrifice.

Sighting the beer, I follow up with “Hai (two), please?”, seeing as Lisa too would like one.

I receive strange looks, but then a couple of locals step in, helping by explaining to our hosts what it is we want.

That results in a second beer arriving, along with a few laughs from all involved.

Their initial anxiousness has now been replaced with one of total acceptance, which was nice to experience.

So, great location, lovely friendly locals, cold beer with help from the ice, and as a bonus, really good food, with the pork in particular, being absolutely sublime.

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Food, beer, location, friendly locals; perfect!

Food done, the bill of 140 000 Dong paid, which is likely 50 000 for food, and 20 000 for a beer, and I think by the end, both we and they were very pleased we called by.

Up to the busy road, and as we walk across, the main beer guy notices us, and again begins setting up a table and a couple of stools, before we even get there.

Out on the footpath, beers in front of us, Lisa foregoing the straw this time, and just the same old, same old, of watching what the world does, whether I’m here or not.

And therein lies part of my problem, as that has just reminded me that this time tomorrow night, I won’t be here, and we’ll be on our way to the airport.

That thought overrides the fact that we still have, essentially, one more full day, but my brain has never been terribly good at ignoring the bad bits, and just concentrating on the good.

I go back to my beer, which kind of works, and then get chatting to a local guy who sits down beside us.  He has some English, well, far more than I have Vietnamese, and he’s a really friendly guy who is just making an effort.

Again, it reminds me of how much I enjoy these little interactions, whether it be an English lesson, or just a person who wants to know a little bit about you, and what you’ve been doing in their country.

It’s just another thing that I will miss.

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Yep, they’re cold.

A couple more beers, while watching the recyclers do their thing, which just upsets the rats and the cockroaches, and even my main man intimates that I should have another beer.

He’s come a long way from first being, maybe not scared, but at least a little worried about me, to then accepting me, and now pretty much embracing me.

It’s been an interesting exercise.

Finally time to call it, and I head up to pay the bill.  Google translate is used to tell my guy, as well as a couple of other staff nearby, that we leave tomorrow, but also that I will be back in the afternoon.

He smiles, and gives me a thumbs up.

Back over the road, down the street, and my convenience store beer guy is again sitting out the front.  He sees me coming, and like earlier, he holds up five fingers.

I laugh, saying no, and instead say ba (three).

He rolls his eyes and laughs, and yep, I’m going to miss him.

Google is once again utilised to let him know, and he acknowledges.

40 000 Dong is handed over for the 36 000 beers, and because of the type of person he is, he wants to give me change.

I politely decline, and he smiles.

‘See you tomorrow!’, I say, which I think he understands, as we head off down the street.

Back to the LeBlanc, with not too many of those walks left, and it’s onto the bed for a bit of Trip Advisor stuff, a few notes, and a whole lot of thinking about the day I’ve just had.

A day where we essentially did nothing, and a day that really only involved a plan of going for a walk.

A look at our market, followed by picking up our laundry, after they found us, a long sit outside our café enjoying a caphe sua da, and the interaction that came with it with the café guy.

The walking, and discovery, of the ‘new’ hems, and then the haircut, that I may, or may not, have paid over the odds for.  It doesn’t matter.

Lunch with our bun bo Hue guy, which just kind of finished off something that started four weeks ago, and then our dragon fruit lady, who we probably wouldn’t have met, had we not found yesterday’s nuoc mia da lady.

And then the afternoon beer thing, with my shoe cleaning guy, followed by ‘that’ walk ‘home’, which culminated in the ‘Hello Vietnam’ song.

Which again, seemed more than a little fitting, considering what had just happened.

So yeah, a bunch of tiny little moments, or interactions, that again, could be described as rather insignificant.  But not by me, with every one of them equally as important.

And the reason?

I’m still not totally sure, but I suspect it’s just the way I try and go about things.

Putting myself out there, trying to make an effort, and just embracing the whole thing.

Because one thing I’ve known, pretty much since day one, is that when you do that, you sometimes get some pretty good stuff in return.

Whether that’s someone buying you a beer, offering you a rice wine, simply wanting to shake your hand, or just wanting a photo with you, the fact that they’ve taken an interest in me, is all I need.

It makes my day.

And Saigon itself?

In particular, this area?

In the past, with the exception of the second trip, and that was only because of limited flight options, we’ve always finished in Hanoi.  And the reason for that, was, quite simply, because we love Hanoi, and for that reason, it’s always the last place we want to see when we leave Vietnam.

As hard as that is.

But over the years, and this is mainly because of where we now stay, or more where we don’t, as well as now having a far better understanding of Saigon, I have grown to love this city.

Like really love it.

Yes, admittedly, that love took a while.  From hating it on our first trip, to tolerating it, and then even liking it; at least a little; in 2016, and then being given an opportunity to see a very different side of the place, in 2017.

By the end of that 2017 trip, my mind had been well and truly opened to what Saigon could be, and that then forced us into staying somewhere we would have never considered previously, on our last trip in 2019.

It was still District one, but being a million miles from my much hated Bui Vien area, in both feel and neighbourhood, we loved it.

So much so, that had the Little Saigon Homestay survived Covid, we would have returned there.

In fact, we were going back to the area, until those unforeseen circumstances stepped in, the day before we were due to fly out.  Those circumstances then necessitated a hastily arranged accommodation alternative, which resulted in us staying in a completely different area, and as luck would have it, one that I couldn’t be happier with.

And while we may not necessarily always stay in this exact area of Saigon, although at the moment I’d struggle to imagine staying anywhere else, I think it’s highly likely that we would stay in an area that was similar.

And by similar, I mean one that is full of hems.

The very hems where you meet the real people of Saigon, and their little communities. No contrived stuff; with that stuff being the stuff that only exists because people like us visit; but stuff that happens whether or not you, or anyone else like you, is actually there.

This is real life Saigon, and the Saigon I can now easily see myself staying in, without any hesitation, on any future ‘final night’ in Vietnam.

Weird, hey?

Contemplation, and far too much of it, done, it’s time for one last beer, and a little thinking about tomorrow.

It won’t, hopefully, be a day where we sit around and wait for the inevitable, but to avoid that, we need at least a loose plan.

Maybe a walk around our neighbourhood from the 2019 trip, perhaps even checking out the place we were going to stay, before they scuttled our plans.

A banh mi from our cold meat place the other day?  And maybe, no, definitely, a final caphe sua da from our café.  We have to tell him we’re leaving, anyway.

Then of course, my final visit to my beer place, as well as the goodbye to my convenience store beer guy.

And let’s not forget that dreaded packing up thing, that needs to be done.

And while all that’s happening, the wondering if Jetstar is going to keep up their end of the bargain, by first actually getting a plane here, and then secondly, actually getting it to leave at the scheduled time they promised.

That, with their recent history, is no certainty.

11.30pm, common sense prevails.

Which for me, doesn’t happen all that often….



4 thoughts on “Vietnam 2022 – Trip Report 29

    1. Thank you very much, Reins!
      And yeah, the day was amazing how it panned out.
      Hope you have a fantastic time, and hopefully your area of Saigon lives up to expectations.


    1. Ohh, thank you so much, Pepi! It really means a lot to hear that!
      It is a labour of love, but it is nice to look back and re-live things.
      And hope you manage to get back sooner, rather than later.


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