Posted in saigon, vietnam by moonwire on November 4, 2009

Because the train ride from Danang to Nha Trang had proven to be traumatic for my sister (haha), we decided to skip another 9 hour ride in favour of a one hour flight to Saigon. We took the scenic route by taxi from our hotel to the airport and it was absolutely stunning to see the coast line. Unfortunately, a lot of big hotels were building there. In a year or two, that whole part will be populated by package tourists. Such a shame.

The flight was fine and we got picked up at the airport by our hotel. Yes, ladies of luxury, all the way. Well, almost, at least. We had done some research on hotels and the Ngoc Minh looked fabulous. Huge room, balcony, ‘television with remote control’; the works. Well, when we got there, the situation didn’t look so rosy. Yes, the room was big but it had creepy vibes. Having stayed at a variety of shitholes in Asia, I am not easily unpleasantly surprised, but this room was something else. It was clean and it had a kick ass shower but I can’t think of any more positives. We decided to stay the night anyways and look for something else the next day.

Well, after a bit more research, we decided we needed to be in a different area, so we took a walk, hoping to find a nice, cheap-ish restaurant on the way. No such thing. The area in which we thought we wanted to stay was so not our thing. There were Gucci and Versace stores, big hotels and people dressed up in corporate attire. Paying 6 dollars for a sandwich in Vietnam is also completely unacceptable! It was a good thing we went, as we both agreed there was no way we wanted to stay in that area. Back to the drawing board. And back to the creepy hotel.

Things got better. Or, depending on your perspective, worse. Not only did we get creepy vibes from the room… stuff started happening. The toilet would flush by itself. Okay, bad plumbing. But then the television started making popping sounds as if it was ready to blow up and we quickly turned it off. Then, the icing on the cake was the fan that exploded on us. It was actually quite funny. We were on the tiny balcony, trying to steal wifi from the neighbours, and we completely freaked out, closed the door and were actually scared to go back in, in case the fan would fly apart. Eventually, I ran in and cut the power. Yes, it was time to leave the Ngoc Minh Hotel (which we nicknamed ‘The Overlook’ from the movie ‘The Shining’).

And we did. We walked around the area and found a lovely street, Bui Vien. We saw the Lac Vien hotel and it looked really good. We thought it was probably too swanky for a pair of backpackers, but we decided to check it out anyways. Well, as soon as we entered the ‘VIP’ room, we started to hear angels sing. Sold. It was a huge room with 2 big beds, a big bathroom, a lounge area with 2 couches and a fantastic balcony overlooking the street. Happy as clams we moved in there and enjoyed it very much. And all of a sudden our happiness radiated all over the city. Our initial impression of Saigon was not so great, but once we were in a happy place, the sun came out and we enjoyed Saigon very much.

The jaded traveler I’ve become, I don’t enjoy the typical touristy things much. And luckily, neither does my sister. We mainly spent our time walking around the area, eating good food, enjoying each other’s company and having fun with the Vietnamese. And it was remarkably easy to escape the tourist ghetto. Just a five minute walk and we’d be hanging with the locals. Very cool. At night, we’d often to go the Zoom Cafe, right on a corner of a busy intersection and watch the motorbikes fly by.

And it got wilder. One evening when we had some really good pad thai at the Coriander cafe, we met a Filipino couple; Hero and Catherine. They were musicians and were going to perform at the Factory Club. I must have been under the influence because I don’t like clubs, but we said we’d be there. And we went. And it was really cool. There were some foreigners, but mostly Vietnamese. The club was like an old warehouse inside and the music was loud. The band was surprisingly good. It was fun for a bit, then we went back to Zoom, but I’m glad we went.

We did visit a few other places, though. One of them was Cholon, China Town. Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with it, though it was lovely walking around without seeing lots of tourists but there wasn’t really much that peaked my curiosity.

However, we also visited the Cu Chi Tunnels……….. My sister put it so well: ‘the biggest trap here is the tourist trap’. It was perhaps one of the most boring things I’ve ever seen. We were put in a tourist bus with another 40 people or so and you were expected to stay with the group. All we wanted to see was the tunnels, not be subjected to propaganda cinema or the shooting range (with a restaurant right next to it; relaxing… not). And on the way there, we stopped at some villlage to ‘look at the Agent Orange people’. You know, those poor people who lost limbs due to Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. How disgusting that you can make a tourist attraction out of that. We did not go. Just stayed at the bus. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel (hah). We got dropped off at our hotel area at 3 PM and had some kick ass Indian food at Akbar Ali. All was well.

I did take a lot of photos in Saigon, but none of them are really good, though seeing them together will give you a good feel of the place. So, here’s some more.

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