3rd February 2012
Saigon to the population – Ho Chi Minh City if you prefer to be politically correct. In fact the centre is still called Saigon just to add to the confusion!
A nice easy morning scouring the backpacker street for a new place to stay, but not before breakfast at ABC Bakery just at the end of our alley. The street bustles with people, motos and cars with the odd local bus and tourist bus thrown into the mix. Hawkers carrying boards of sunglasses try to win our business as we move from place to place, eventually finding somewhere at the far end of the street by the market. We head back to our overnight accommodation to collect the bags and hump them the 300m to our new hotel – Banana Leaf Hotel.
A big top floor room with two doubles and a large balcony but with the toilet and shower on the landing – not really shared but not en suite either. Quick unpack and WiFi hookup and its time to hit the big city for orientation and some sightseeing. We set off at a march to see the War Museum – formerly called the Museum of French and American War Crimes – for a rather one-sided representation of the Vietnam conflicts. There is no doubt that the “crimes” occurred, but there is no mention of the home team’s activities.
We grab a bite to eat along the way, just past a super motorbike shop that has the kids whoa-ing and awesome-ing before we round the corner an see the twin rotors of a Chinook helicopter left behind by the retreating US forces poking out above the trees. We pay our modest entrance fee and explore the courtyard. Several jets and prop planes, some tanks and field guns festoon the grounds along with a Huey helicopter and the aforementioned Chinook.
To the left is a rather stark exhibition portraying the imprisonment of North Vietnamese soldiers and the inevitable tales of torture are writ large on billboards. The younger boys don’t really get it, but Oskar decides to go and look at the heavy machinery again after reading a few boards, the memory of Cambodia is still haunting him.
For us too, being faced with another war and its fallout was hard to bear after the Killing Fields. Inside the museum were exhibitions of arms and munitions captured after the war was over together with haunting photographs of the victims of napalm and the harrowing images of the progeny of agent orange attacks, many of whom have congenital diseases. The photos were compelling but horrific at the same time. Fortunately there was a kiddies room where we dropped the boys off to play a little. When we returned they were colouring in drawings of North Vietnamese soldiers – not my first choice of subject!
After another last look at the big stuff outside, we headed back to the hotel via the Central Market. A veritable Aladdin’s cave of tourist tat, clothing and jewellery with a food hall and market thrown in for good measure.
It is set on a very busy corner, and we had to just go for it to cross to the park (and ultimately the hotel) – walking slowly side by side to allow the zooming motos and taxis enough time to see you and swerve around us one way or the other. Not for the faint hearted.
We sampled some Pho Bo for dinner (Noodle soup with Beef) which was excellent, even if it was from a well know Pho restaurant chain. Full up and happy we retired to bed at the end of another busy day, and yet again lots of walking.
4th February 2012 – Splish, Splash
As a treat for the kids and for us we decided to go to one of Saigon’s two water parks, Dam Sen. It was a long taxi ride to get there, and not cheap either. We had brought lunch, but the sign said “No food” so like good and decent folk we ate it before going in, whilst a procession of Viets carrying all manner of food and drink passed through the turnstiles without challenge. No matter, grumble, grumble, nash, nash.
We bought our tickets and then tried to work out the changing rooms and lockers procedure. Eventually, all changed and bags packed away we were ready to hit the water wonderland. At least 12 different slides of various shapes and sizes, half a dozen pools and waterfalls it was fantastic. The boys wanted to go on everything – but there was a 1m 30 height restriction on the bigger rides which meant Mateo could only do 2 slides and those were on a kind of rubber dingy that he had to ride with Mum or Dad on one, and with Mum and Dad on the other.
Oskar and Luca disappeared and amused themselves whilst Tania and I took it in turns to go with Mateo on the rubber dingy slides – great fun. When Oskar and Luca reappeared I left Tania and Mat in the wave pool and headed to the mat slide – a straight down slide with a couple of bumps that we could all ride at the same time it being 4 slides abreast. We then did some bendy ones and some dark ones and one straight down one that gave you an enema at the end when you hit the splash pool – most amusing!!
Though the sun was weak and hidden behind clouds some of the time, the day was warm enough and a bit of cloud could in no way dampen the spirits of us as we splished and splashed and slid and screamed our way through the water park. As 5pm approached it was time for one last slide and then a taxi to backpackers street and the hotel.
A really lovely day messing about in the water was finished off with a meal of pork ribs at a restaurant near the hotel and mum and dad singing along to the 80’s soundtrack that is a feature of quite a few of the places we have eaten in. I’m glad to say that we suitably embarrassed the kids!
5th February 2012
Aside from walking around some more, maths homework and eating we didn’t do much today. Perhaps it is a sign of our travel fatigue, or perhaps we are big city’d out? The smog and noise, the choking petrol fumes, and a general can’t-be-bothered frame mind – I think we have the “blues”. We are off to the Mekong Delta in a few days, hopefully the change of pace and scenery will put us back on an even keel.
6th February 2012
We spent the day visiting travel agencies and planning our trip to the Mekong Delta, choosing the minimal clothing to take with us and then packing that into Oskar’s backpack and squeezing all the rest into the remaining packs that we would leave at the guesthouse.
When I sat down to write this post I realised that there was a 2-day gap in my memory and that there were no photos for those two days either – my usual aide memoir. I then asked Tania and Oskar if they could remember what we got up to, but drew a blank from them too. Can it be true that we “wasted” two whole days of travelling? Not a single sight seen or place visited? We are in Saigon, one of the largest cities in Vietnam and we cannot muster the energy or enthusiasm to be tourists!
There is a general “I-want-to-go-home” feeling in the camp and yet there are still so many places to see and experiences to gather. To throw in the towel now seems a ludicrous idea given that we are so close to the end, and with the limestone karats of Halong Bay to come and the return to Thailand’s north.
This malaise is the main reason that we have “lost” the two days. Hopefully the Mekong Delta will put us right and we can then move north with greater purpose and enthusiasm. I’ll be able to tell based on the number of photos we take! Hopefully there won’t be any more gaps :o)