27.08.2015 - 27.08.2015
The first glimpse of where I would be staying for the next few days certainly made me feel glad that I always try to arrive in new cities in the day time. My Homestay is down a really small side alley off one of the main streets and full of people,bikes and noise. When my friend popped in on our way home that evening she said 'whow this is a bit intimidating as I led her into the alley, which admittedly was even worse. In the dark.
The honesty itself was nice enough, nothing amazing but clean and did the job. As seems to be usual, within an hour. I was more comfortable with where I was and my alley had become very familiar. I even discovered a Starbucks five minutes away which always makes me happy. It turned out I was staying in 'Backpacker Area' and couldn't have picked a better place.
That evening I'd arranged to meet Kresimir outside the church. Not one of the most obvious meeting points to start an evening but a large enough landmark for me to find - which I did. Not before, the heavens opened to torrential rain. I spent a good 10-15 minutes sheltering under a tiny roadside stand which was also housing a local man and his motorbike. I attempted to talk to him but failed and resulted in lots of smiles and head shaking. I wished I could speak Vietnamese or remember he couldn't when I'd forget and say something out loud and it would start all over again.
I eventually braved the rain and did a odd half run, half walk type of thing to the church and met Kresimir. He was much cooler about the rain and getting wet than me and so I had to walk this time dipping in and out of shop Canopys when I could before eventually getting to a pub he had heard of. Desperate for a cold beer and some food we were gutted to find the beers were really expensive. I'd been paying 10,000 dong in Hoi An and here they wanted 35 - 45,000 dong. No way! I'm not sure how much that is cause I'm still not mastering the conversions from country to country but it's obviously more. On that basis we decided to leave and try somewhere else. Strangely enough the guy who worked there wouldn't tell us where he went drinking, only that it wasn't there!
The next place was better as it had buy two get one free on. As it happens I really enjoyed my food there and when Kate caught up with us a little later all worked out well and we had a great night.
The following morning was my 'city tour' which I know I could have done on my own but with limited time I decided it would be nice to be told what to do for a day. Yes I know, before you say anything!!
The day started at 8:00 with a visit to The War Remnant Museum which was really difficult viewing but needed knowing. The tour guide on the bus was telling me afterwards some of his personal experiences, like his father had been put in prison for three years during that period and that his older siblings couldn't get an education as it wasn't permitted at that time. It brings home just how recent it all was.
Then Thien Hau Pagoda was ok to visit but I probably wouldn't have bothered if it hadn't been part of the trip. The next stop was the most random of the day, so odd! We went to Binh Tay Market which is a huge wholesale market. As it was wholesale we couldn't really buy anything, not wanting 10 buckets or 20 pairs of shoes so I'm not sure what that was all about really.
The Handicraft workshop was a government run facility which supports people with disabilities by providing work. A bit like Remploy used to. The things they produced were beautiful but very expensive.
Reunification Palace was our next stop and it was different to how I'd imagined it would be. The first couple of floors were mainly a series of meeting rooms quite elaborately dressed furniture wise but somehow very staged. I was struggling to imagine them as working rooms. The pictures of all the famous people who had met in them did help somewhat. Underneath the palace however, was a different story. There was a whole series of stark offices, rooms etc. All painted army green with metal desks and military looking equipment. The communications room and a large room with maps for strategic planning were the highlight for me. With areas of the maps circled to indicate enemy troops etc. It felt very real and was easy to imagine secret meetings and crisis operations being planned. I couldn't linger as long as I'd have liked because it was very hot and a bit clostrophibic feeling after a while.
The next and final stop on the trip was The General Post Office. Another strange choice to include but actually quite nice as it turned out. It was a stunning building and housed some nice little shops. I even managed to get Sharon's birthday pressie there! (Nothing suitable for Eva's though which is dissapointing as hers is before Sharon's!)
After the early start I was glad to get back, grab something to eat and an early night ready for another early start for the following mornings trip. I nearly caved in and went out with Kate as she tempted me with ladies night and free drinks but when the alarm went I was glad I had.
There were only two stops on this trip an a.m. and a p.m. one but it was due to finish around 7 so still a long day. I nearly didn't do the full day as I wasn't particularly interested in the Cao Dai Temple, or so I thought. It turned out to be a really nice experience and I think some of it was down to a lovely couple I met. They were brother and sister from Perth, in Australia. John is in his 80's and although Margaret didn't say how old she is I think she's probably in her 70's. She did say she had children older than me. They were both really inspiring and took me under their wing for the day, John had been to the Temple previously so was able to act as an informal guide. we were there in time for the noontime ceremony and he suggested we move upstairs about 15 minutes before it was due to start and we then ended up with perfect views of all the monks.
Lunch wasn't good but I'm learning that's the case on these tours, as it was much the same as yesterday's. Won't harm me not to stuff my face though. I've noticed some of the weight I lost in India and China is starting to creep back on.
The underground village, Ben Dinh District, commonly known as the Cu Chi Tunnels was our next stop. This was a fascinating experience. The guide was excellent, he took us around and into the tunnels in a fun and up beat way whilst not shying away from the facts and the details around what we were seeing. Excellent, but again draining. Driving back in the coach I was struggling to visualise going out that evening but wanted to as I agreed with Kate we would meet for leaving drinks as we may or may not have chance to catch up again in Cambodia
How glad am I that I woke myself up with a shower and went for it! It was probably one of the best nights of my trip so far. I will tell you why........
We went to this bar at the top of Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest in the area with a sky lounge. It knew it was quite posh and expensive so we planned one drink to get our snaps (bit like us in Shanghai, Tina) and then onto somewhere more affordable. The view was brilliant along with the atmosphere. We'd turned up on a night there was a live group playing and they were really good. I ordered a prosecco as it seemed fitting obviously forgetting I was living out of a suitcase at the moment and we settled down. Kate was chatting (or shouting over the music) with the waitress who brought our drinks and the next moment someone else came up and Kate something onto a piece of paper. Apparently we were being asked if we wanted the band to sing anything in particular. She's asked for Hotel Calafornia, apt as its where's she's from. I declined as nothing came to mind. What a good decision that turned out to be!
Moments later they the singer came up and told Kate they were ready for her request and asked her if she would like to join them. Off she went to find that she was handed the microphone and the singer stepped back. Turns out she was to be the singer! Keeping in mind this is a really nice place, not at karaoke. At this stage I had butterflies for her as I had no idea if she could sing or not! Turns out she can much to my relief. She did a brilliant job, really getting into the spirit of it and you could see how much fun she was having. I took loads of pictures and video on my new phone but frustratingly they've not really worked out - the sound is awful. I will try and salvage what I can so I can share with you, but not hopeful.
The rest of the evening Kate was pretty much on and off the mic all night doing solos and duets and the whole place was up and dancing. I hardly sat down but you will be pleased to know I only got close to the mic once!
After the band finished for the night we weren't ready to go home so we went first to another pub with a dreadful singer and then some sort of rooftop nightclub in which I learnt a few things I wasn't expecting!
Mindful that it was another early start the next morning as I was leaving for the Mekong Delta we finally called it a night and made our way home - the night over
Hope to continue the fun if it works for us in Cambodia but firstly I have to get there. Ive chosen the the slow way down this time so will write from the Mekong Delta. Kate leaves HCMC and arrives in Cambodia before me! also must say, I'm gutted I'm going to miss John Bromley when I get there as he would have left and be on-route to London by then. not meant to be.