Right, so back on the solo travel path and I’m heading back to one of the first cities I ever visited. I wanted to come back here for a few reasons. One was because I’d only spent a day or two here last time on a group tour and didn’t feel confident enough to go out and do my own thing, which meant I didn’t really see or do anything other than walk around the streets getting gawked at. Another is that my uncle in now living closeby to this city for part of the year and I thought it would make a good opportunity to visit him. So after I leave Laos this morning, I’ll be arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon for a re-do visit.
My transfer to the airport is nice and early – just the way I like it – but it can’t be said that there’s a lot to keep you entertained at Wattay International Airport. You must wait to go through to the customs area and trust me when I say that the “10 minutes” that the guard indicates to you, will in fact be more like half an hour. My first flight is to Phnom Penh – if only I had not had two months of unemployment and I could have stopped in Cambodia for a few days. The landing is rough and the plane swerves a lot on the runway as it lands. Off the plane, through the x-ray machine and back onto the plane 15 minutes later, though it took what seemed to be a good 45 minutes before everyone boarded the plane in a painfully slowly manner. The plane was half full of advanced age travellers, perfectly pressed and ready for their ‘sanitary experience of Asia’ and the other half with what can only be described as excesses of luggage that should really have been checked in but currently being shoved into every nook and cranny on the plane.
An uneventful 1/2 hour later during which the hosties unbelievably pulled out their service troller and delivered the quickest run of drinks I’ve ever experienced on a plane – almost throwing bottles of water at slow and unsuspecting passengers.
We are back down on the tarmac but after an hour, my transfer is still nowhere to be seen. I’m on the brink of booking a deluxe room at the Sheraton just to be eligible for their hotel transfer when he finally arrives. The drive to the hotel is interesting, mainly because its unbelieve to see just what the Vietnamese can and will load onto a scooter. Suitcases, bottled water and even a ladder. It all fits somehow.
Tonight I am staying at the Hong Vina hotel, mainly for its close proximity to the dock that I will be using to get to Vung Tau tomorrow. The hotel is comfy enough, even without the musty smell. Staff are super friendly and the best bit – a wonderful hot shower, with good water pressure, fully enclosed so my clothes don’t get wet, which has not been the case for the last two weeks.
Feeling fresh, a quick walk around the streets reveals an up and coming cool scene with old cement lined, roller-door shops being replaced by trendy little cafes. It also unveils a brand new restaurant called Nha Hang Di Mai where I am taught (no doubt after much dread at watching my feeble attempts) to use chopsticks properly. I ordered a very extravagant meal of Bia Ha Noi, Hanoi Spring Rolls and a Chicken Salad with Banana shoots. The food was amazing, the service impeccable and the surroundings achingly cool. Go there.
On the way back to my hotel, I stop at a little all-purpose store to grab some water and beer and am delighted to find myself having a short conversation with the owners about kangaroos and Australia. The kangaroos can wait though cause I’ve got a ferry to catch tomorrow.