Seven Days in Saigon, Vietnam

Veterans of Saigon Vietnam

I fell in love with the Nam the first time I was there.

For our second visit to Saigon, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) we’d been given the use of our friend Mr Lee’s apartment and driver. As it turned out, our driver didn’t speak English but came with an interpreter, the delightful sales manager from our generous friend’s business.

We were travelling with the other captain’s brother, a veteran of the war (sort of, I’ll explain later).

The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment, Saigon Vietnam
The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment

The apartment

Waiting for our driver, Saigon Vietnam
Waiting for our driver

The apartment was a mansion. Twenty rooms, four storeys, a lift. Designed to be a hotel originally. Complete with a live in houseman to open the Fort Knox gates.

We only spent a few hours in our splendid apartment before we were whisked off on an adventure. Our driver and intrepid interpreter took us to a meeting at Long An  University, where we met up with Mr Lee’s brother and friends for a road trip.

Road trip Day 1

Heading for Ban Tre we had a few stops. For food and drink of course.

First, a feast of lẩu nấm (I think), the Viet version of steamboat, by the side of the road. It’s no secret local food ordered by locals is better.

Is too much coconut water bad for you in Saigon Vietnam
Is too much coconut water bad for you?

Next a leisurely stop over at one of our road trip team’s family coconut farm. As I was offered and guzzled freshly opened coconut after freshly opened coconut to drink, I wondered if too much can be bad for you?

On Day 2 we set off for a day of exploring. Well we were actually just visiting one of our road trip team’s parents.

Three fat pigs, two lively goats

We trundled down the skinniest road with lush jungle on either side. Occasionally having to pull over so motorbikes could get past. One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on board. The biggest load I saw was a motorbike towing a trailer carrying enough reinforced steel to build a small house.

One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on… Click To Tweet

End of the road

Ferry barge, Saigon Vietnam
Ferry barge

The road ended at a Mekong river tributary.  A small barge ferry, big enough for motorbikes, people and small livestock, arrived shortly after we’d parked at the impasse.

We walked through tiny local markets, and tall shady trees on streets only wide enough for motos and pedestrians. To our friend’s parents place deep in the jungle.

Jungle hideout deep in the burbs

Cooking lesson Saigon Vietnam
Cooking lesson

Over the long lazy afternoon we had a karaoke session (I watched), drank more fresh coconut water (I had stopped worrying about the dangers of overdosing), cooked (mum let me cook two banh xeo pancakes), and ate the most delicious spread of local dishes. Over fascinating conversations.

Stories of the war

The locals call it the American War. The other captain’s brother was in despatch in the Australian army as a teenager, flying over Vietnam but never landing. (So not technically a vet.)

The more I learn about the Vietnam War (the one going on when I was growing up in Australia), the more I feel it was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up. Yet I have never felt Vietnamese people I’ve encountered to be resentful.

The Vietnam War was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up Click To Tweet

One of my road trip friends told us how he fled his village with seven on the moto, including his mum and dad, sister and kids. Ten years later when interviewing locals with an American journalist, the journo remarked he was surprised the people who’d been locked up in prison in appalling conditions were so happy. The reason: they were simply happy to be free.

Saigon Vietnam take 3?

Backstreets pho, Saigon Vietnam
Backstreets pho. Yum

At the end of Day 2 we were deposited safely back at our borrowed apartment in Saigon Vietnam.  We spent a week wandering around dodging the legendary motorbike traffic and taste testing the backstreets Pho.

I wonder if I’ll get a third chance to visit HCMC? I’d love to sail there one day…

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A Lament for Vietnam

Good Morning Vietnam

Three weeks. Three cities. Thirty five hours on a train. Man I love the Nam. Here’s how our holidays in Vietnam started…

The best holidays in Vietnam begin in Saigon

From the moment we landed at the Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) it felt totally chaotic. Despite having everything in order for our visa on arrival it still took nearly two hours to get through customs and immigration. The currency has a million zeroes to contend with. They drive on the wrong side of the road. Crossing the road is an adventure.

Holidays in Vietnam: The motorbike traffic is legendary in Ho Chi Min City AKA Saigon
The motorbike traffic is legendary

There’s no point in waiting for a break in the traffic. Just walk slowly, hold your nerve and the motorbikes and scooters weave around you. Not so scary after the first time. Except when the motorbike driver is sending a text message and not looking at pedestrians on the road.

We stayed in Ho Chi Min City’s District 5 for the first five days. Very local. Not a western franchise in sight.

Holidays in Vietnam: Beer is less than a buck in Ho Chi Min City AKA Saigon.
Street level drinking. Beer is less than a buck. What’s not to love?

The slap

I thought we were blending in until one morning I was just walking along the street and felt a slap on my bum. Looked round to see where it came from. Got a snarling grumpy glare from a local woman.

I still have no idea what it was about… They don’t do tourism in Vietnam in the same way as the other countries I’ve visited.

Traditional roast turkey Christmas holidays in Vietnam style

The other captain had his heart set on roast turkey etc on Christmas day so we signed up for the hotel’s buffet lunch. Free flow champagne (I really don’t think it came from that district in France) and beer plus an endless array of delicious food for about $25 a head. Including – well sort of  – traditional roast turkey.

I asked for a slice off the traditionally roasted turkey’s leg.  The server proceeded to chop at it with a cleaver, right through the bone. All to the soundtrack of Silent Night and Edelweiss on strict rotation. Christmas the Viet way.

The heart of Ho Chi Minh City

We moved in to the heart of Ho Chi Minh City for a few days after that. We checked out:

… and generally wandered around soaking up the atmosphere.  Then we booked our tickets for the train to Hanoi.

Holidays in Vietnam: Good morning Saigon
View from my balcony. Good morning Saigon.

Holidays in Vietnam are awesome.

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