Monday, December 12, 2005


I arrived in Saigon and found a cheap place to stay, above an art shop, renting out small rooms for 3$. Complete with a big flying bug zooming about my room. I had managed to swat it outside but now he's back. Staying in the main travellers area, full of the usual travel agents, internet cafes and restaurants. I went for a walk about, getting lost as usual. Saigon is a large, spread out busy city. 95% of the traffic seems to consist of manic motorbike drivers, using their horn incessantly. Some areas of Saigon are quite posh, with fancy restaurants and designer clothe shops. Also prevalent are some large shopping malls, where they have embraced Christmas fever. Christmas tunes, such as Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, tinkled through the sound system, except the singing is in Vietnamese, kinda of like Name that Tune. Outside Santas and Christmas trees adorn the pavements (I almost said sidewalks? Turning American!)
Vietnam acutally had the largest number of Catholics in Asia (excluding the Philippines) with around 10% of the 78 million population.

While wandering around I came across the Ho Chi Minh City Musuem. Saigon had actually been renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the leader who led the Viet Minh forces to defeat the French after WWII and make Vietnam independent. However the locals still call it Saigon. I went in for a look about, it talks about the history of the country, and exhibits from the American war (or the Vietnam war, depending on your point of view). Also outside a few old aircraft and a helicopter. After a nosy around there, it was time for a spot of lunch. I picked up a roll from a nearby bakery. Seems to be a tendency to throw whatever you can into a sandwich. This one had some not very good pork, a sausage and some salad
with relish, and something approximating pate.

Some of the streets are lined with Vietnam flags, usually alternated with the hammer & sickle flag for a sea of red. In the streets, people wear these point Oriental hats to keep the sun off. Also a lot of people with face masks against the traffic fumes!

The next day I went along to the Emporer of Jade Pagoda. A fancy Chinese temple with large statues of guys with giants moustaches! Outside a few turtles were being released/dropped into the pond. Maybe it was an auspicous day.

Next stop was the zoo/botanical gardens. Not the best zoo, but a welcome escape from the motorbike and their beeping and tooting. After that I took a stroll down the Notre Dam Cathedral, inside a service was going on, so I only had a brief glimpse at the interior, before getting gently shooed away. Come in or get out, no hanging around.

Back closer to the guesthouse, I put my bartering skills to the test for a couple of books. It went like this:
"How much for these two?"
"No, $5"
"Okay, $9"
"No, $5"
"No, no you say $6, when I say $9"
"No, $5"
"Okay, $8"
"No, $5" I walk away.
"Wait, okay 100,000 dong."
Tries to mentally divide by 15,000
"No, $5"
"okay, okay 90,000 dong is $5"
"No it's not, it should be....erm....75,000?"
So I got my two books for around $5, although when I looked at them they have the orignal cover, but are clearly just photocopies!

I went off for some dinner, decide to get away from the tourist cafes. I found a little cafe full of boisterous old men, plastic tables littered with empty beer bottles, stray dogs nervously snatching scraps off the floor before skittering away. I went in and suprisingly they brought out an English menu. First thing was steak and chips, not exactly traditional Vietanamese food! Also everything on the English menu was more expensive. I pointed at something on the Vietnamese menu, costing about a pound. I'll have that I confidently declared. Got some funny looks, and the staff slightly relucantly agreed. I'm sure they would of preferred if I'd spent more money on the steak and chips!

Now some old women came round and tried to sell various little bits of food, peanuts, something wrapped in seaweed. As I didn't know what I was getting I just smiled and said No. But smiling seems to be taken as I really do want to buy something. Just out of interest I continued to smile and say No (maybe the don't understand no) while they go through every item they have to sell, pointing at it. Eventually they exhausted all items and got the idea and left. Then my meal turned up. The trouble with ordering by pointing at random things if your likely to end up with a big plates snails. Which is what I got. You are supposed to suck them out of their shells, but I didn't have much look. Then somebody brought over a paperclip to eek them out, but still not much luck. Then they gave me a bottle opener to smash them open! A few locals tried to show me how to slurp them out. I seemed to spend most of my time sitting there making snail-sucking noises. Not much meat in them anyway. Still the herb butter sauce was actually quite nice, and the beer very cheap (30p, at least half of what the tourist cafes charge). I checked the receipt to see that the item did match what I had picked, it wasn't just the staff having a laugh. I left still rather hungry, but the next day I had a full English breakfast costing more than my room! It's good to try some new food, but also some familar food once in a while is nice.

Up early to catch the bus to Dalat, shouldn't of bothered it took another 3 hours to eventually leave Saigon...

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