Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, is the largest in Vietnam with over nine million people, half of whom own motorbikes of which 80% seem to on the road at any one point in time. It is more open and feels less polluted than Hanoi with more modern shops and office blocks. It has a more western outlook and is very popular with backpackers and travellers who occupy some of the busy streets in District One.
In contrast to our ‘sobering day’ we had the opportunity to take a rickshaw ride around the city’s sites. Vietnamese rickshaws are bicycle powered with the passenger seat for full observation at the front, which makes this the equivalent to an Alton Towers experience. There was a safety in numbers element to this venture as the 17 shiny steel bikes snaked off down the main street from the hotel guided by our fearless guardians of the pedal. To hear, see, smell and almost touch the traffic around you is quite an experience. Girls in skirts riding pinion side saddle, business men on their way home from a day at the office, families of four going god knows where and of course bikes laden with boxes, beer crates, 40″ flat screen TVs and everything in between. Bulges of motorbikes collected around us like we were in the same gang at traffic lights, on green an increased hum of engines saw them all swim off up the street like fish disturbed by a predator leaving us to fend for ourselves.
I don’t think any of us thought that the convoy would be tackling the busiest roundabout in the city, but one by one we were all absorbed into this massive circulatory system only to be safely ejected at the correct artery with only white knuckles to show for it. We stopped at Notre Dame Cathedral, built by the French in the nineteenth century and the Central Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel that bears no resemblance to his more famous piece.
Our penultimate stop was at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet theatre where we were booked in for the evenings performance. These puppets that dance on water dates back almost a millennium from the Red River Delta in the north region of Vietnam where villagers devised puppet shows when the fields flooded. The puppets are made out of wood and then lacquered. The shows are performed in a waist-deep pool, where a large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers, who are normally hidden behind a screen, to control them.
The program was broken up into several short stories and were all skilfully acted out with music, vocals and some visual humour. Our equivalent would be something like Punch and Judy, The Musical, it had all the slapstick and violence but alas no sausages. There was one character’s voice that had a more than striking resemblance to Little Jim from the Goon Show, the fact that everything had ‘fallen in the water’ was pure coincidence.
We had some spare time to check the market the following day, so made our way up through the large park area that is sandwiched by the busy carriageways on either side of the street. It is full of people resting, exercising, stretching, eating, smoking, playing badminton and it’s foot equivalent and generally chilling out. While I was in mid purchase of said foot shuttlecock, I noticed out of the corner of my eye Sue was being surrounded. What is she buying now! Nothing it appears, she was being quizzed by six beaming school kids practicing their English with some well rehearsed questions. They soon ran out of questions, politely said goodbye and walked off looking for more westerners to practice on.
We reached the market and entered the main entrance, we had made the first 5 meters in about 5 seconds, then proceeded to do the following 100 meters in the same time span to reappear at the other end of the market to draw breath. There was a barrage of stall traders descending on us like locusts with ‘what are you looking for?’ ‘I have your size’ and ‘only five dollar’ filling the air. I even found items were being hung off me like a clothes dryer in an attempt to make a sale. We will have to save our spending money for another day.
The Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southwestern Vietnam of 39,000 square kilometres (15,000 sq mi). We drove a couple of hours out of Saigon before swapping our mode of transport for a long motor boat to explore a small town and its floating market from the river. We switched to foot and explored the tiny but industrious back roads where people were busy making rice products, fish oil, coconut candy and a little known delicacy, snake wine. I didn’t give a tasting of this a second thought, but maybe on reflection seeing a dead snake unceremoniously lying in the bottom of a bottle may have changed my thought process. It was vile, like fuel, which I have had the misfortune to drink in the past. It may have also been a contributing factor to my diet of Imodium and rehydration salts the following day. Or could it have been from the Elephant Ear Fish that we had for lunch in a private home in the countryside? I will never know.
There was more of the Delta to see as we boarded our boat and travelled for another hour across the mighty Mekong River, passing a whole array of different vessels from cargo boats to dredgers, tourist launches to fishing boats with a generous helping of water hyacinths to break up the brown expanse.
The following morning was an early call to get a chance to see the largest floating market in the area at Can Tho. It was about 20 minutes away in another boat that clacked it’s way upstream passing the world by the riverside as it saw in the morning. We had seen pictures before of serene, colourful Thai markets on gentle waters, so were quite surprised that it was nothing like that. A lot of the bigger boats were anchored in position and bobbed gently as we manoeuvred in between them. Quite often there were whole families on board arranging their goods for a days trading. The majority stored fruit and vegetables that the Mekong Delta area is perfect for. More agile motor boats weaved in and out to pull upside the tourist boats to offer them drinks, fruit and local crafts. We were made pineapple lollies, carved from a whole one with what looked like a small machete and another good opportunity to roll off some more pictures.
It was our last day in Vietnam, but before we leave a few snippits:
The Vietnamese currency took a bit of getting used to, it was trading at about 21,000 Dong to the USD and about 1.6 USD to the Pound, so about 33,000 Dong to the Pound. Dollars are widely used. For our two weeks here we were Some Dong Millionaires 😀
We thought it was Phoung’s humour with us but it does seem that ‘Happy House’ is a general term for toilet for us tourists.
Mot, hai, ba, yo! Is the general preamble to the first sip of beer.
Despite it being near the end of the rainy season, we were still caught out with the odd heavy downpour and the tail end of a typhoon. The temperature was always between 25-32 degrees during the day and down a few degrees at night. The humidity was quite often over a sapping 80%.
Internet and wi-fi was surprisingly widely available even in the more remote parts we visited.