Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, and Phu Quoc

The only person in Vietnam I didn’t like

Dear Vikki and Tricia,

Thanks to our busy last 6 days, day 1 in Saigon started slowly and late, involved very little and finished early. A rest day. In fact we didn’t finish breakfast in the cafe downstairs until 12! When we eventually did get going, we walked to the city for a long, leisurely and fabulous massage. We booked it last night when we were in the city having a very expensive dinner (compared to what we have been paying).

A word on massage in Saigon. Massage here appears to be like massage in Phuket, Thailand. During the day time for the most part things are legit. Come night time, whole new ball game. Literally. A wander down the street suggested many a happy ending may be had in massage outlets and a quick google search confirmed it. For this reason we were very discerning in our choice of place to go. Turns out our research was worth it. From 2.30 to 4pm we were blissfully unaware of the world and the tiredness of the last 6 days was massaged to another time and place. Our experience was so good that we have booked in for a second round 4 hours before we fly out next Saturday!

Post massage we came home again for more rest before having dinner in a local downstairs for about 1/16th the price of last night (40000 vs 640000 dong). While not as good, it was way better value for money! Needless to say, there are no photos from today (remember it wasn’t that sort of massage place).

Day 2 Saigon.
On the recommendation of some travellers we met in Halong we decided to give the Urban Tales, Cholon (China town), self guided mystery tour a go. Dr Lam, a single, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, was found dead on the floor last night. Our job was to work out whodunnit and why. Our tour guide introduced us to the scene, let us gather evidence, gave us some supplies and sent us on our way around China town. Three hours later we deduced the murderer, but needed some help to find the missing item. Along the way we met a herbalist, his nephew, the reporter that had been assisting him, a roadside food vendor and visited a number of pagodas.

Detecting is hard and hot work, so having solved the crime we needed food before walking miles around Saigon to drop off The Newby’s phone to have the screen repaired. On the way we went via the Cao Dai temple. Cao Dai is a Vietnamese religion that accommodates almost all religions into one. If you look at my photos you’ll see Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ and elements of Islam in the shapes. The temple was closed when we arrived. Our main mission here was to leave the can of red bull. As I sat in the gutter on the other side of the road, a lady came out the gate so we approached her to see if the temple was open. She let us in and then another lady gave us a guided tour and a lesson on Cao Daism. The Godfather (which I interpret to be God the Father) is the important element, followed by the eye. Always the left one as it is on the same side as the heart. Colour is a huge feature of the temple. It felt really nice to be there and I left the lucky can of red bull for someone else to use as they need.

Back home, via Grab, we enjoyed a short rest before our next tour. This one came up as an option through Airbnb, to spend 3 hrs scooting around Saigon with students. Bang on 5pm John and Fu were out the front of the apartments ready to take us for some street food. Our first stop was the Cambodian market in the heart of district 3. The lovely lady let The Newby and I cook rice paper crackers on the coals, while Fu fanned us! We did an alright job, but we wouldn’t make any money at the rate we went. Our next wander was through a flower market where we learned the importance of flowers for funerals, Valentine’s Day and other occasions. Fu bought The Newby a single red rose to give to me and thought he was the ducks guts (which he was).

As part of this tour, a trip to a housing complex is added, in the hope that people will understand how many Vietnamese live, especially in the cities. Many blocks of apartments were built by the Americans to live in while they worked in Saigon. When they left, these became homes for families. Most often 3 generations live in the small space. The ground floor apartments are most expensive as the front is a shop, an eatery, a parking lot or other means to earn money. The rent decreases up to the roof, where people build their own shack and use a communal bathroom. While these complexes look decrepit, people that live here are strongly resisting their demolition. Mostly because their livelihood is threatened but also because of the sense of community. Check out the electricity supply.

After collecting the phone from the screen repairers ($24 for a new screen) we scooted through more crazy traffic to have student dinner with student beer, phó and iced tea with a Vietnamese lesson. Finally we manoeuvred through tiny back lanes, in thick traffic, to have ca phe (coffee) and vani (vanilla) custard style desserts and an English lesson. The 4 hours we spent with the boys was one of the best tours we did. Their driving is amazing in such bottle neck conditions. They were also incredibly polite, although John took great delight in telling his dad is the same age as the Newby and his Mum is my age! John even gave us a list of things to do tomorrow.

Dear Vikki and Tricia,

One of the many crazy things about Vietnam is their opening and closing times. Apparently most people start work early, by 7.30. The tourist sites also open at this time. They then close again around 11 for a couple of hours and reopen in the afternoon. We fell victim to this today in the Reunification Palace, also known as Independence Palace. I think they filmed Austin Powers in this building. It’s an odd one because it was the home of the south Vietnamese leader, therefore the losers, but it is displayed in all its glory. This building is actually a new one. The original one was destroyed in the American war and this new one was immediately built in its place. It has everything a leader could need and use, as well as a bunker and communications system. My fave room was the games room. I think Austin was hiding in the corner.

After our hurried wander through the palace we were scammed over coconuts. Now let me be clear, we don’t like coconuts. Also let me state clearly that we were warned by Sunny about this type of scam. But we let our guard down and got caught out. It started with the coconut seller helping us to cross a busy road. The Newby was more alert than me, who said “he’s helping us across the road”. The vendor then engaged us in conversation, albeit it broken English, before letting The Newby try the coconut carrying device and then insisting on a photo with me. He then extracted a coconut, cut the end off it, shoved a straw in it and did the same with a second coconut. At this stage it occurred to me he wasn’t being nice and now expected us to pay for them. Ok, no problems. At this point though it all went odd. I couldn’t understand the price, I didn’t have my glasses on and I made the fatal mistake of taking all the notes out of my bag. Like a true conman the seller stayed calm, convinced us the coconuts were 15000 each but managed to stick his hand in among the notes and fleece us for 300000 dong. He kept me distracted by keeping on talking before packing up and heading away. I was so confused by everything that I didn’t realise what had happened until he was long gone, in the direction we came from. Bastard! No other way to describe it. The bit Sunny warned us about was the notes. However the coconut scammers are a well known thing in Saigon. Too bad we didn’t know before we paid $18 for 2 coconuts we didn’t want! Bastard!

Fresh from our coconut scam we headed for coffee and cake before continuing our tour of the city at the post office and Notre Dame. We just had a look at the buildings, as well as book street, before walking on to the War Remnants Museum. We didn’t really need another museum but this one gets a good write up, but it does come with warnings about how confronting it is. The exhibits are in order such that the historical stuff with the French is covered. The entire inside displays are photos, including this first section. The next section is photos from photojournalists killed during the US War of Aggression in Vietnam. Naturally these were very confronting but not as much as the pictures in subsequent sections covering chemical weaponry, mostly agent orange, and other atrocities committed during the war. It got to the stage where I found it too hard to look at the photos and we decided to go outside. The tanks, planes and other machines of war are displayed here beside a recreation of the prison conditions imposed by the US. Dear God how can human beings treat each other this way? Again I found it too hard to look at, so we sadly left the site. I hope that the types of things that happened here in this beautiful place never happen again. It does make we wonder how Vietnamese people can be so forgiving.

Our last stop for the day was a wander through the Ben Thành Markets. It didn’t take me long to get over that idea, but it looks like we can get the requisite souvenirs here when we come back from Phu Quoc. After a cool and yummy pineapple juice we headed off to a food court for dinner and beers and to watch the traffic antics which entered a new level tonight with trolley loads of stuff being moved up and down the road. How no one gets hurt is beyond me. Home in a Grab we are in for an early night, ready for our 6am flight to Phu Quoc tomorrow. Who booked that?

Dear Vikki and Tricia,

​The person who booked that 6am flight was soooo clever! Thanks to that flight we arrived at the resort just after 8am on Monday morning. The staff kindly had a room ready for us by 9am, although the check in time is 2pm. Happy days. By 09.30 we had secured loungers by the pool and swapped to the beach around lunch time. 

As we have discovered over the last 4 days, this place is as good as, if not better than any other resort I have been to. The location is amazing. The resort has 700m of beach frontage. The water is clear, warm and stinger and shark free. The pool is massive, crystal clear and is framed by the resort buildings. We booked a deluxe, beach view room and that is what we have. We booked a breakfast package, which is a buffet and the other meals have been ordered at the bar, room service or paying for the buffet. We only paid for the buffet on our first night, as we just don’t eat enough to justify the price ($42 each). We have our own vodka and lemonade but we have also been buying bia. 

Our days have comprised breakfast, followed by lounging with intermittent swimming, followed by further lounging plus or minus a nap, interspersed with food and drinks. We intended to walk the length of the beach and beyond, but we haven’t. We thought about a day trip to go snorkelling but decided that was a silly idea. We did use the shuttle to go to the night market last night, but as far as any exertion goes, that’s it.

A few interesting things about Phu Qúôc in general. 1. There are loads of Russians here. Almost all the tourists here are Russians actually. The reasons are that they don’t need a visa, it’s cheap and there are direct flights from Moscow. 2. The island is closer to Cambodia than Vietnam. You can see Cambodia from the west coast (where we are). In fact Phu Qúôc used to be Cambodian territory but Vietnam got it back, although some Cambodians believe it is still their territory. 3. Everything is cheap, even inside the resort. For instance we ordered room service for lunch yesterday. A club sandwich, a pizza, a lime juice and a beer. Total price $AUD31. At the bar we ordered burgers (one each) and vodkas (two each). Total cost $AUD 43. So 5 days, 4 nights in a deluxe, beach view room, for 2 people has cost us $AUD 1500 including airfares. Let’s hope no one else discover Phu Qúôc before we can get back here and do it even more cheaply through home stays and street food.

Dear Vikki and Tricia,

All good things must come to an end. Just like our time at Phú Quôc. But not before one last morning swim in the Gulf of Thailand. Had we known there are direct flights to Kuala Lumpur, we could have stayed an extra day and avoided an extra flight. But back to Saigon we have come, into a little studio apartment for tonight. It’s in a spot that looks dubious, but I’m hopeful it will be ok. Although lying on the bed as I type this, I think it’s going to be a hard night (mattress wise).

After getting into Saigon and to our accommodation, we dropped the bags and took off for the markets. Dammed kids need presents apparently. I secured the requested sneakers for The Piper, while The Newby bought each of my two fruit clothes. The Drummer will get watermelon pants, while The Piper gets a banana shirt! It’s going to be funny if they go out together. Instant fruit salad. I got my other gifts at the night market in Phú Quôc so we got these sorted quite quickly and went to the sky deck in the funny shaped building. Its actually shaped like an emerging lotus flower (who knew?) and has a helipad on the side. As always the view was great and I was clutching my pelvic floor. Did I mention I hate heights? 

Back at ground level we acquired our last Vietnamese meal of rice flour pancakes and bia, before heading home for some more Netflix watching. Our accommodation in Da Lat had Netflix so we started watching Orange is the new Black. I think The Newby blushes from time to time, but I don’t look so he doesn’t feel embarrassed. We are done with series one and have most of series two downloaded ready for the flights home. 

I won’t do a separate entry for Saturday. It’s been a good end to the holiday (not a happy ending). We had our repeat massages, although mine was no where near as good as last week. In fact if we had these massages last week I personally wouldn’t have gone back. Post massage we were off to the airport and on our way home. It’s hard to believe it’s all but over. All that’s left to do is get to KL, stay the night then transfer on to home. For my final reflections, the totals, where we stayed and a breakdown of the itinerary in easy form, then click here. 

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