A week In Vietnam (Day Two)

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.

Kim
Mine Host at the Hong Han, Kim Nguyen(Courtesy of 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.

Best Coffee
Coffee to die for. I spent a lot of time in cafes just like this making the most of the coffee served in Saigon

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.Ho Chi Minh Town Hall

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.

A Street To Cross
Crossing this street was a nightmare for those less than brave

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.

Saigon River
A tug boat hauls a barge of freight along the lazy waters of the Saigon River

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.

Taxi
Peddling his Trike Taxi, I saw this guy all over the city during the week I was there

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.

Rush Hour
The street filled even beyound capacity as commuters headed home from work

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.

Life In The Fast Lane
This lady wheels her hand cart down the middle of a multilane street seemingly paying little heed to the cars and bikes 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

Light Trails
Light trails and stars make pretty patterns along the riverside in Saigon

 

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!!!

Nguyen Hue
City Hall contrasts the evening sky at the top of Nguyen Hue as folk gather to spend time in each others company

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.

Pretty In Blue
The lights playing over this building change in an animated choreograph bringing life to the drabness of the buildings.

Many of the buildings lights were animated playing a series of changing patterns that gave the whole area a festive feel.

 

Fun Things Vendor
This young chap had a myriad of fun toys to sell as evening fell across the city

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.

Ho Chi Minh Promenade
A patch of clear space on an otherwise busy promenade had me wondering. The lights inset into the pavement were constantly changing colour

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.

Fountains
The reason for the clear space became suddenly clear. On the stroke of 7pm the lights suddenly turned in to colourful fountains.

 

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.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall
The imposing seven metre tall statue of Ho Chi Minh stands in front of the City hall named in his honour

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.

Looking Back
Nguyen Hue becomes a dazzling light display as night transcends day. The blue building is an animated light show

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.

Tent Restaurant
The street became a temporary canvas restaurant as folk gathered for an evening meal

 

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

A week in Vietnam (Day One)

One of the best things about Asia is that it is so very close to… well… Asia.  On a recent trip to see family in the Philippines, I took the opportunity to fly to Vietnam , only a short two hour  hop from Manila.  This was a part visit with an old work colleague and an adventure for myself.

Saigon
Although the streets are often crowded there are spaces in the city where one can find solitude

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in the middle of the night having left Manila at around 10:30 pm.  I had previously purchased a visa via the telephone while in Manila and now had to pick it up as I entered Vietnam at the airport.  There was a short queue by the time I arrived even though I had packed light and had no checked luggage. I settled in to wait my turn. Fortunately, it wasn’t too long a wait, but by the time I had cleared customs with my newly stamped and stickered passport, I was bone weary.

This proved to be a small disaster, as my friend Alex, had emailed me instructions on how to avoid being ripped off by the more scurrilous taxi drivers in the city.  I stumbled through to the waiting ranks and told a porter where I needed to be.  He didn’t understand too well so I gave up and got into the first decent looking cab I saw.

This is where it all started to unravel…  The price he gave me was about four times what Alex had told me was fair.  By the time this surfaced in my brain, we were well on the way to the city.  I decided to try and negotiate…..

My erstwhile fluent English speaking cabbie suddenly forgot every English sounding syllable he had ever learned and it was only when I pulled the international incident card that he relented and handed back the difference.

He dropped me at the end of an ally and I had to negotiate some rough looking diamonds who were loitering in the area.  After safely arriving at the hotel, a weary manager showed me to my room and I sank thankfully into my bed.

Bich Duyen
The first Hotel I stayed at in Saigon

The hotel was called the Bich Duyen and was comfortable and price friendly.  I realised that I would be needing a third night before I headed south to Vung Tau to visit Alex but was told they were fully booked.  They phoned a sister hotel and arranged a night for me there.  Same price, same conditions.

The first day I wandered the streets of Saigon’s District One looking at the touristy wonders and trying to avoid being ripped off by the many hawkers trying to make a living off the many tourists visiting the city.

I was looking for a shot of a world globe that sat atop a tower.  The sun was behind it and I was having difficulty in getting the settings to work.

Saigon's World
The sun appears to be rising in the north as it peaks from behind this mammoth globe in Saigon
Shoe Shiners
Always looking for a customer. The guy on the right became quite aggressive when I turned down his offer to shine my jandals

This guy (In the stripped shirt) was hanging about making me a bit nervous as to what were his intentions until he simply came up and began to shine the straps on my thongs.  “A” for persistence…  He simply would not take no for an answer.

Ben Thanh Markets
Goods are displayed from the floor to ceiling at the Ben Thanh Markets in the centre of District 1

Of course, one spends some time in the markets when on holiday, and one of the bigger ones in town was just down the street from the hotel. Ben Thanh Markets Cover an area the size of a large street block, and the walls were packed with goods of every shape and size.  Being a foreigner I was the target of every seller hoping to tempt me with their wares.

I did get a replica NorthFace backpack which became my go-to bag while I wandered the streets.  Cheap and perhaps nasty I didn’t have great expectations that it would last but it has served me well for quite some time and so became a pretty good investment

Ben Thanh Market 2
A quiet moment at the markets allowed this shot of one of the buildings that make u the maket complex

I visited the War Museum, locally known as the Museum of American Atrocities.  This was an interesting place but one where you need to keep an open mind and remember that it is only a shrine to history.  One could spend many hours here without seeing it all.

My Tour guide took this photo of me standing outside this cathedral. It's easy to see why he is a tour guide
My Tour guide took this photo of me standing outside this cathedral. It’s easy to see why he is a tour guide

I had been walking somewhat aimlessly for several hours and I began to tire.  I was approached by a guy on a motorcycle who offered to take me around the main tourist attractions.  This involved a trip through the middle of a very busy multi-laned roundabout.  The traffic ebbed and flowed around us and the ride was both exhilarating and frightening at the same time.

He took me to the cathedral called the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon where I reluctantly handed him my camera so that he could take a photo of me standing in front.  I was prepared tat any moment to have to run him down in case he made a dash away with my camera, but in the end, I had judged him too harshly as he cheerfully handed the camera back and pointed out some good photo spots near the old Central Post Office over the road.

The beautiful archetecture of Saigons Old Central Post Office is a popular attraction being right over the road from the cathedral
The beautiful architecture of Saigon’s Old Central Post Office is a popular attraction being right over the road from the cathedral
This guy took me across the main city highlights after my feet becam too weary to walk. I roda the central city roundabout on the back of this bike. A must do when in town
This guy took me across the main city highlights after my feet became too weary to walk. I rode the central city roundabout on the back of this bike. A must do when in town

He was obviously in the employ of a certain “massage” establishment as we seemed to drive past it on a fairly regular basis with him extolling the virtues of the ladies inside..

Eventually, darkness fell and he delivered me to my Hotel where he insisted on picking me up again next morning to take me to, even more, attractions across the city.

Take care when engaging street tour guides as there prices can be much in excess of Tour Operators such as this guy
Take care when engaging street tour guides as there prices can be much in excess of Tour Operators such as this guy

I took a leisurely shower before wandering back out on the street to check out the nightlife. Walking passed a shop selling tours, I asked about pricing.  I was to discover that I had paid way too much for my afternoon’s sightseeing and so resolved to be elsewhere in the morning when my companion was to meet me.  It seems that it is far better to buy tours from the streetside tour operators with shopfronts than those who cruise the streets

After a fast food meal in a place much like MacDonalds, I headed home for a night’s rest and plan my next day’s excursions.  Little was I to know that tomorrow would bring about events that would lead me to see Vietnam with totally different eyes (Cont…)

 

Mt Tinbeerwha Lookout

Time is always the elusive factor in getting this Blog on the road.  These last few months have been so taken with my day job that there has been precious little time for taking photos, let alone writing about them.  Things seem to have settled and so today I decided that it was time to take some “me” time and I headed up to Tewantin to climb a small mountain that has been on my radar forever.

Mt Tinbeerwah is situated in the Tewantin National Park, just ten kilometres west of Noosa.  Travelling west on the Noosa-Cooroy Road it is found by turning left at the top of the Tinbeerwah hill.  Here the road travels a few kilometers before ending at the carpark at the bottom of the final track

First Lookout
The rock bench at the Eastern Viewpoint on the track up Mt Tinbeerwah

There is a paved pathway that is wheelchair friendly that leads to the first lookout.  From there the track is a little steeper but is by no means difficult.  It passes close to the cliff faces where there are anchor points set into the rock for those who follow abseiling.

Safety Preparations
Jim takes care of the safety preparations before decending one of the cliffs on Mt Tinbeerwah while Ryan looks on

I was fortunate to run into a group who were taking part in a four-day course to get various qualifications in the sport.  Today, vertical rescue was the subject being examined and I had a chat to Jim and Ryan who were preparing to make, yet another descent down the cliff face. With safety topmost in mind, they secured the rigging before checking each other off.  Then it was over the edge and into the abyss just as Aline and Tegan arrived back at the top after their last descent.  Tegan told me that they had done around twenty abseils during the four days of the course which was run by The Outdoor Education Consultants (TOEC) who provide training in various outdoor sports. You can check them out at www.toec.com.au/ .

Abseilling Weekend
Aline and Tegan took time out for a chat while waiting for their turn for yet another abseil down the cliffs at Mt Tinbeerwah

Then it was onwards and upwards to the Fire Tower at the top where there are views over most of the northern part of the Sunshine Coast.  Even the Glass House Mountains could be just made out in the distance to the south.  While it was a cloudy day, and visibility was a little hazy, it was still worth the half kilometer walk to the top.

Tewantin National Park
Views of Tewantin National Park looking back towards Noosa

Mighty PeaksI arrived to find a trio trying to set up their camera to take a group shot.

Visitor From Nepal
Three visitors from Nepal stop to take in the views from the Lookout at Mt Tinbeerwah on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia

After offering to do the honours for them I discovered that the were here on holidays from Nepal.  This is one of the great things about this sort of photography… One gets to meet so many people from so many different countries and cultures.  After sharing emails and promising to send them the photos I had taken they were on their way leaving me to enjoy the views

I have been trying to sort out the best gear to use to carry what I need on an extended photo walk.  After carefully attaching everything to my rig I had set off only to find that I had left the tripod behind.  With the cloud cover breaking up on the western horizon it promised to be a glorious sunset, and so I headed back down to the car to collect it.

On the way I checked out the cliff face where the abseilers were operating

Cliff Face
The steep rock face that attracts so many abseilers to the area
Abseiler
Aline carefully descends the cliff face during her abseiling course with The Outdoor Education Consultants

On the way back up the clouds to the east began to show early colour and so I stopped to snap off a quick shot, thinking that the best of it might be over before I reached the lookout.

Afternoon Glow
The early sunset begins to bathe the cloud in colour over Noosa Heads as I climbed back up Mt Tinbeerwah

 

At the top again, I met up with a group who had made the trek from Cooroy.

Watchers On The Hill
Watching the sun go down on Mt Tinbeerwha

We all stood around chatting while waiting for the sun to sink below the horizon.  Slowly, too slowly the colour began to tinge the clouds but in the end, this sunset’s promise fell well short of expectation.