I’m sure there aren’t many backpackers who come to Ho Chi Minh and get a grand tour of the city by a British expat, and who’ll get to crash at their pad for diddly-squat. Especially if you’ve never met them before!
We were lucky enough to be introduced to Chris by Dee, one of Paul’s good friends from back home. And what a guy! Not only ’cause he cooked us a much-needed Sunday roast, but because he took us to places we’d never have found or considered without his expert guidance.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh and tried to hunt down a guest house with reasonably-priced rooms … it eventually turned into a mission to find a guest house that had rooms! Once we found somewhere to stay and dumped our rucksacks, we went and met Chris for a few drinks at his regular Saturday-evening haunt. He kindly offered to let us crash on his couch for a few days. So armed with a box of Valium and suffering a hangover, we hailed a taxi and headed for Chris’s place the next morning. It was nice spending the day chilling out and tucking into a tasty pork roast dinner.
We made a plan of action for our time in Ho Chi Minh and headed back into the city the following day to book ourselves onto a tour to the Mekong Delta, and to have a mooch around some of the less touristy nooks and crannies of Saigon. On another note, I finally managed to buy myself some genuine Sony earphones. I’m now, somehow, on my third pair, and they’re an essential when you’ve got to endure 10-hour-long bus journeys with screaming kids and the overbearing hum of the locals.
I guess, you could say, we became flashpackers for the day by delving into middle-class Saigon, sipping coffee in posh cafes and dining in Parisian-style restaurants. It was nice to dip back into the western world for a few hours and not feel like a backpacker on a budget. While we were exploring the city, we strolled past the Saigon Opera House and picked up tickets to a show the following evening.
On Tuesday we experienced a mixture of history and culture. Our first stop was the Unification Palace, formerly the Independence Palace — the home and workplace of south Vietnam’s president during the Vietnam war.
Later, we made our way to the Opera House to see ‘The Soul of Vietnam’. The show portrayed the country’s history through Vietnamese dance and music, and it was lovely to do something that, for me, was out of the norm. Food was next on the agenda, and Chris led us to what I can only describe as a series of pop-up night restaurants. We watched them erect the structures which took them about fifteen minutes. It’s fair to say that they’ve got it down to a fine art! And I sampled some of the best food I’ve tasted in south-east Asia yet.
The Mekong Delta tour. If I’d had the option of going to work or going on the trip, I probably would’ve opted for a day at work. I was really looking forward to the tour, but it turned out to be one big and long sales pitch. Although I did learn something from our extremely knowledgeable ‘guide’: apparently rice paper is made from rice…
Next stop: Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city.