Ho Chi Min City (formerly S…S…S…S…Saigon) - Sunday 22nd
On arrival at the airport we jumped into a taxi who said he had a meter.As we drove away from the airport he hadn't switched the meter and then said it wasn't working.He then tried to make a deal on what we should pay.After an argument the meter magically worked perfectly.He then drove like a maniac through the streets, and on arrival at the hotel the cost of the metered fare was less than half of his quote.Welcome back to rip-off Vietnam! (But perhaps it's just the way of doing business). The city is only slightly less frantic than Hanoi, but just as noisy and polluted, but with little of the charm of the capital. The rip-off continued when Stephen's Bloody Mary looked like grey dishwater with some pink stuff floating on the top.Welcome back bad service as our evening meal was tasteless, the wine vile and the mains turned up before we had finished our starters.We then got charged for more beers than we had in the bar across the street.Strangely we both feel a bit jaded and I think suffering with travellers' fatigue and finding it hard to be excited about being here.
Stephen was awoken at 5.30am by the beat music in the park opposite where they hold early morning exercise classes and it seems that half the city turns out for some Jane Fonda-type stretching and bending.We went on the walking tour in our guide book and found that this is similar to Hanoi with the thousands of mopeds, fumes, dirty streets and smells wafting occasionally.We visited the HCMCMuseum, which was the usual poorly presented hotchpotch of old tat, in dusty cabinets.In the evening we met up with James Brown, who is an ex-colleague of Stephen's from London. He now lives with his family in HCMC and we were interested to hear how he copes with the daily mayhem of the city.He admitted he has never gotten used to it, despite living here for over four years.Accompanied by James acting as our tour guide, we had some great street food which included a dish of shrimps dangling over a ring of fire.The waitress stood by our table peeling the prawns with the flames dancing around her fingers, which appeared very brave and unnecessary, but quite tasty nonetheless.
Through lunch whilst sitting in a street-side bar we were constantly hassled to buy sunglasses (although we were already wearing some), to buy cigarettes and lighters (although we don't smoke), to buy some books that were photocopies (although we did buy some) and have our shoes polished (although we were wearing flip-flops!).We chatted to an Ozzie guy who joined us on a trip to the ReunificationPalace, which is a post-modern 1960's building (imagine a large UK library building built around the time and you're about there). It was built by the South Vietnamese to replace the old French governor's palace and was called the Independence Palace, until in 1975 the North Vietnamese turned up and drove a tank through the front gates and took over. (This bravado was purely for the TV cameras, since the Southerners had clearly left the gate unlocked) We also watched a 40 minute video about the history of Vietnam and were overwhelmed with the constant visions of the ruthlessness of the war and clumsiness of the propaganda.We then attempted to walk back along the pavement, which drove us into the busy road every 20 metres or so due to the parked mopeds and masses of people sitting on their plastic seats outside their shops.We were beginning to feel that we need to move on before we get too disparaging about Vietnam (if we aren't already), so bought a cheap book on Hong Kong and Macau.
It was really no huge surprise that the HK book we bought from the vendor had a huge chunk of pages missing, and vital ones at that, so we had to take it back and go on the search for another one.It was amusing that there was no surprise shown from the shop attendant that we only had half a book! We booked a flight to Hong Kong and spent the rest of the day listening to the rain on the windows while we planned our trip.