Saigon is a big city. Very big. Coming in on the bus seemed to take a couple of hours of slowly crawling forward, stopping, crawling, stopping, crawling, stopping, crawling, stopping and then getting off the bus in the middle of a riot and being run over.
Saigon has a population of more than a billion people, many of them wearing pyjamas and it’s hard to keep an eye on Nel when she’s walking two feet in front of me.
Imagine our surprise, therefore, when we walked out to get some dinner today and bumped into Ian, who we’d last seen on Koh Samet nearly two months ago.
Ian, the bloke from Liverpool, who’s travelling with his girlfriend Ange, who’d broken her foot, or her metalparcel, or something.
There we were, dodging motos and street vendors, and broken concrete, and holes in the ground that will send you down to the depths of the sewer, when there’s this big bloke standing in front of me, grinning.
And we’d no idea they were still in Asia, Vietnam, Saigon, that street…how strange. What an utterly utterly baffling coincidence. We could have been in Saigon for a week and not bumped into them. The odds of that are beyond my small brain’s capacity to comprehend. Think about it for a moment with me………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Astounding. I’m astounded. We watched all those programmes with professors Brian’s Cox, about how vast and unknowable the universe is, how very very infinitesimally small are the chances of life developing anywhere in the universe. And then on top of that, how small is the chance of bumping into Ian and Ange in Saigon. Weird.
The people in the foreground are eating. It’s impossible to show just how busy Saigon is. Perhaps like being at a fairground permanently
We were meant to be going on a trip today to the Mekong delta. We set our alarms for 6.00 to be sure we’d be down at the bus for eight, and to give us a little time to get a coffee and maybe something to eat and we were out of the hotel at 7.00. Nel had said that perhaps the coffee shops wouldn’t be open that early, but I thought that was unlikely.
As it happened the streets were busy at 7.00, although not nearly as crazy busy as a few hours later, but there are street vendors out and always men or women trying to get you to buy a pair of RayBans, or a Rolex, or a map of Vietnam, or a book, or a DVD. Actually, now I think about it, the men seem to have the fake RayBans and Zippo lighter concession, and the women have the fans and maps. Women also get to carry around a three foot high pile of books and DVD’s, all strapped tightly and heavily. Ah, but the men sell the marijuana, and if you tell them you’re not interested, then they’ll offer you an appropriate alternative, such as opium.
The men shine your shoes too. They’ll stand there telling you they’re the number one shoe shine, after you’ve pointed out that you’re wearing flip flops.
The coffee shops were indeed open, and there’s a very nice one we went to this morning. Coffee is thick and bitter and is served in a little filter dripper that sits on top of the cup when it comes, delivered by a smiling youth with glasses and it will be finished dripping in an hour or so. You might want to have a mug of refreshing tea while you’re waiting.
Again we could eat very very cheaply here but again it’s all veggies and frogs or veggies and fish, and neither of us eat fish, or frogs, so we’ve been sticking to western food again, which feels a bit wrong.
The Vietnamese diet is said to be the healthiest in the world, and mostly the people do look lithe and lean, and of course we’re finicky westerners. I know all this, but I’m still not going to eat a frog, or dried grubs, or the tarantulas we saw deep fried in Cambodia. I’m definitely not going to try those, not while there’s still breath in my body and a couple of dollars in my pocket.
Nope, I’m not going to eat the kind of food that I’d catch in a pint glass and throw out onto the towpath back home, and you can call me picky if you want to.
Aneeway, where was I, oh yes. Nice little coffee shop that sold breakfast pancakes and delicious jasmine tea. It came to many thousands of dongs.
Vietnamese cash is the Dong, which is a very similar sound to that which a bell makes, and it’s made of plastic with a small transparent window in it.
There are 20,000 dongs to the dollar, which means that if we draw out 50 dollars worth, we’re millionaires until we’ve bought a cup of tea.
Riel was bad enough, this is really difficult trying to cope with all these zeros and the many hundreds of notes you have to count out to pay for a packet of cigarettes, say, or a cup of tea.
So, I had only a little dong in my pocket (ooer missus), and the ATM we’d tried last night refused our card, so we’d planned to get more cash out this morning.
We tried the first ATM we came to, which gave us some hassle about our bank not authorising the transaction. We tried the next, which told us the same thing and also printed it out onto a reciept. Cancelled it said, in a tone that there could be no argument with.
We tried another, and another, and another, until we’d tried about ten and still we couldn’t get any bleedin dongs.
We had no choice other than to go to the travel agent and cancel the trip, although the girl said she would let us in tomorrow but we’d have to pay another six dollars.
We went back to the coffee shop and spent our few remaining dongs on more tea while we used their WiFi to do the internet banking thing, transferred money, even though we had enough in there anyway, and wrote an abrasive complaint to Lloyds bank in a bit of a tetchy tone and left to try to find a bank, but none of them were open.
South east Asia doesn’t usually work like this and we’ve not seen a strict adherence to the Sunday trading laws, or any less commerce anywhere on a Sunday. Except today. So we really had nothing to do except to come back to the hotel and have a good think.
Back at the hotel, the blokes at reception tried the card in their machine and there was no problem. So we paid our bill and also we got a million dong cashback. Bonus!
This was in Cambodia, two small children fighting in the back of the pickup.
So we missed the trip out but we did hook up with Ange and Ian and a bloke called Mike they’re been travelling with. Ange still has a cast. Her metaparcel didn’t mend properly and she’s in a cast for another month or so, hobbling round on crutches in this bloody traffic. It’s terrifying even if you’re fit and young and can do Jackie Chan back flips, like I can.
We had a few beers with them and caught up their news, and told them ours, and left early because we didn’t want to miss the trip again.
We’d spent a good part of our million dongs on dinner and beer and tried the ATM’s again. Still not working, and not a good situation. We went into the bank, which was open today but we need a bloody passport to withdraw money, which is back at the hotel.
But they did change the hundred dollar bill I’d got hidden in my wallet so we’re multimillionaires now! Won’t be after dinner tonight though.
We did the trip out to the Mekong delta and saw a bee farm, which was, truth be told, a beehive. And we saw a factory that makes a well known and unpleasant coconut candy. They’re not called the Unpleasant Coconut Candy Co, no, that would be bad for business, it’s just that we didn’t like it very much.
The boat trips were ok though. The bus trip, however was what most reasonable people would call a bloody nightmare, plus some woman had bought a sodding durian fruit. Cramped and nauseous, that’s what I felt. And disappointed.
It was all a bit shabby really, a built up and unhappy place, with hotels and cynical Vietnamese people, but someone had told us the Mekong delta was worth seeing. It probably is, but we took a day trip, which was a shopping trip really.
Everywhere we went there are stalls we had to pass, and I have to admit I was sorely tempted to buy a python skin wallet, might have done if it hadn’t been a million dongs, but there were a bunch of overweight Malaysian women who were buying almost everything they looked at. They were like Robocop, where you see through his eyes and there’s the graphics with a readout and beeps and screens that read ‘Target Acquired’ and frames a man with a box and zooms in before his head explodes in a hail of bullets . Only with them, were you to be able to see what they were seeing, it would be reading ‘Handbag Acquired’, and ‘Gaudy Silk Scarf 200m N.E’ and beeping and zeroing in on all these trinkets.
The tour guide wearing many very expensive wallets.
I doesn’t need to be said that the bus was late back. It doesn’t but I will.
The bus was back late, and dumped us, hobbled from being and sweating back in the main traveller street where we had a refreshing cup of tea and went back to shower before going back out for a curry.
If you’re thinking of going out for a curry, I’d recommend Cambodia over Saigon every time, or the Tale Of Spice in Pewsey.
The waiter was quite funny though. He asked if we’d been to India. We said no and asked where he’s from and he said the name of the place where the Taj Mahal is, pointing to a poster of it on the wall.
That’s your house? I asked him. Yes, but I don’t like it, he said. It’s too old, the plumbing doesn’t work properly any more.
We had an early night and got up bright and early this morning, packed up and went to pay our bill for four nights and got a couple of million cash back from reception, who called us a taxi and right now we’re two and a half hours into a bus trip to Mui Ne. We just stopped for a toilet break at some ultra modern sort of petrol station/supermarket type place where ‘I’m all out of love I’m so lost without you’ was belting out of the speakers, and now it’s going to bug me which poodle permed 1980s soft rockers that was by, but it was a surprise. I almost said it was a pleasant surprise, but then I’ve developed a tolerance for some terrible music while we’ve been here. I even danced to Gangnam Style in Thailand. I was drunk but its still unforgivable.
Mui Ne is a beach resort place, where you can get a room for as little as six dollars a night, so it says online, so obviously it’s not going to be true is it. But we worked out we’ve been in cities since we left Kampot. No wonder I’m going mental.
There was a hilarious incident in a coffee shop we were in. An old Vietnamese lady asked two English gap year girls if they wanted their fortun told. They declined politely enough and the little old lady then asked us (if she can read the future she would surely only go to ask the people who are going to say yes)
We heard one of these girls turn to her friend and tell her that she didn’t want to, like, go through her life like, thinking about things?
We guessed they were students.