The second morning, after a delicious breakfast, I was whisked away to the second hotel, the Hong Han, by the concierge and his henchmen. There, mine host was a lovely lass called Kim who, it seems is quite famous around the world due to her friendly service and attention to detail. It seemed that nothing was ever too much for Kim.
Always happy to go that extra mile to make sure your stay is a great one, Kim can also help you to plan you holiday itinerary, not only around Saigon but also Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. If you are planning a stay in Saigon then check out the Hong Han for a place to stay. Tell Kim you heard about it on this blog.
I settled in and then decided to go for a walk and so, without so much as a glance over my shoulder, I headed out.
After my jaunt with a guide the previous day, I had decided the I would walk everywhere I could and see the city at a more leisurely pace. This was both a good and bad decision: good because I saw so much more detail, but bad because it was hotter than that to which I am accustomed and the heat was quite draining. I supplemented my hydration with frequent stops at cafes to sample the Vietnamese style of coffee to which I had become addicted.
Called cà phê đá, it is made with a special filter that sits atop the coffee glass. The coffee is dripped over a teaspoon of sweetened condensed milk and when done, one can stir the milk, as little or as much as needed, to reach the level of sweetness desired. All this occurs at the table and is as much a part of the experience as is the drinking.
If one desired a cold version, cà phê sữa đá, one could order a glass of ice and then simply pour the stirred coffee over the ice. Either way the coffee was great.
I had seen many of the main tourist attractions with the guide but as I ventured further I discovered a wide boulevard without cars or bikes. At the top end was the Ho Chi Minh City Hall. This is a quite magnificent building was built during the first decade of the twentieth century in colonial French style. It was renamed Ho Chi Minh City Hall in 1995 in honour of Ho Chi Minh who had led the peoples revolution during the early part of that century.
I walked down the boulevard watching the people. There were many who were obvious visitors, cameras on their necks and that aimless, hopelessly lost look in their eyes. Then there were the workers, each clipping their heals along the pavement as if they needed to be somewhere else right at that moment. And then there was me…. in no hurry, totally lost but not bothered as I had all day in which to find my way home………
At the bottom end of the boulevard, an eight lane highway formed a tangible barrier to reaching the Saigon River on the other side. The street was filled to overflowing with cars, trucks and of course, the pandemic motor cycles.
I found a pedestrian crossing of sorts and decided to cross. It had no lights but even when I stood right at the edge of the road, no-one showed even the slightest inclination to stop and let me cross. After ten minutes or so a group of Vietnamese came along and simply walked across in front of the cars. They managed to get to the other side without a hitch and so saying a silent prayer I boldly stepped into the street. Each step followed the next and suddenly I found myself in the midst of a swirling mass of steel and glass. I faltered……. You should never falter…… Faltering makes things start to come undone. The cars, that had happily been avoiding me, now had to deal with a rogue pedestrian who had no apparent direction or purpose. No one knew where I might go next and they started to swerve and panic. Horns honked and tyres squealed but amazingly I stayed on my feet. I heard a voice calling…”Keep Moving..Just keep moving” and I did just that. I made a bee line for the other side of the street and the safety of the footpath. It only took a few seconds but each seemed like an eternity.
Safely across, I wandered along the side of the river. Wide and slow, these waters carry much fright on ever present ships that ply this waterway. I watched a ferry that had come from Vung Tau, a city around two hours south of Saigon, unload. People watching is such an interesting pastime. Each has a different look, a different purpose and their interactions with life can entertain me for hours.
I sat for a while and chatted with a guy who owned a three-wheel cycle. The two wheels were at the front and there was a double wide seat for passengers. Old Mate sat at the back and peddled his customers around the city. He had been doing this for around twenty years. After learning that I was from Australia he became quite excited and proceeded to tell me about how he had been wounded while fighting alongside Australians during the Vietnam conflict. I had the impression that, had I been American, he would have altered his story to reflect that. I saw this guy all over the city in the days that followed.
Right at that time, he was waiting out the traffic and I spent an enjoyable half hour or so chatting with him and some other folk who had sat down to rest at that spot.
As the evening drew the curtains on yet another day, I sat beside the road and watched the traffic that had, amazingly, grown even more voluminous. The end of the working day had people rushing home. Like a swollen stream the flow of vehicles ran on into the night. In the midst of all this traffic, one could also see the odd street trader, pushing their two wheeled and carts along paying no heed to the traffic rushing by.
Street lights came on as well as car lights and the scene changed yet again. Opportunities for light trails became the only option as the city put on it’s evening wear and the duller colours of the day receded into nothingness
It was well dark when I decided to head for home, and again I was forced to brave the busy street to reach the boulevard on the other side. Nothing had change, the traffic was if nothing else, worse than when I had crossed over earlier but this time I had it nailed. Just step out and hope, never falter, never fail!!!
The name of this boulevard is Nguyen Hue, and now with the night fallen it had taken on a new life. People seemed content to just loiter around in groups and as I made my way up the street I was taken by the colour of the lights on the buildings that lined the street.
Many of the buildings lights were animated playing a series of changing patterns that gave the whole area a festive feel.
There were the ever present street hawkers as well as some street performers, all looking to glean a dollar in a harsh world.
I came across a space that was void of people. Lights set into the pavement were constantly changing colour and security police were rushing to and fro waving people away. There seemed an air of expectation and so I settled down to wait.
On the dot of seven, great spouts of water burst from around the lights and for the next fifteen minutes we were treated to an amazing spectacle of light and water. Then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped, and, much as they do when a train goes by and the barrier arms come up, folk started to walk across the pavement again. Save for the wet pavement, there was no sign that anything special had just occurred here.
At the top of the boulevard the scene had also changed. The lights had come on at City Hall and it stood out from the city night in awesome contrast.
On the approach there is a statue of Ho Chi Minh standing seven metres high and looking down towards the river. Made of bronze, this statue is even more imposing under lights than during the day. Many folk were taking selfies in front of it with the city hall as a back drop. I spent some time getting a few shots before heading back towards the street where I lived.
Nearer home, a street that had been full of vehicles when I walked through earlier in the day, was now a bustling street market. Marquees stood where cars had driven and folk were sitting down to eat their evening meals in any of the myriad of temporary restaurants that had appeared as if from nowhere. Clothing,souvenirs and almost everything else that one could want were on display as I walked the length of this momentary shopping mall.
My walk had taken me as far as the Saigon River and it was well into the night before I found myself heading back to the street where I thought the hotel was.
It was only then that I realised I had no clue as to where the hotel actually was or even what it looked like……………. But that is for another story