The Storks of Böbs

The Storks of Böbs
A Very Fine Pair

Around the World (Again) Ho Chi Minh City

I was picked up, as arranged, by my Tuk-Tuk driver (I must say they are very reliable, if they say they will pick you up at a place and at a time, you can bet your bottom dollar( Euro or Pound) that they will be there and on time.
But he whisked me to the airport, it actually took no more time getting to the airport than the flight, but that’s life.

I did notice at the airport a family taking their kids out for a New Year treat, to a KFC, it beggars belief such wonderful local food and they go all the way to the airport to feed their kids muck.

After 30 mins it was fasten your seat belts we are about to land in Ho Chi Minh City

And it’s Good Morning Vietnam and a Happy TET

I had at last arrived into one of the real aims of my trip in to SE Asia, Vietnam and I was landing at Hoh Chi Minh City (HCMC). This was  place that has been sung about, had musical’s and films made about it and had been a place that I had dreamed about visiting ever since 1972, when the product carrier (small tanker that carries oil products) I was sailing on as a 4th Engineering Officer, delivered AVTUR into an American Fuel Depot in the Mekong Delta. We had loaded this in the Sultanate of Brunei and sailed across the South China Sea into what was then a war zone, thus getting a 100% wage bonus.
I remember listening to the American Military radio station American Forces Network (AFN) primarily because it played good music, but also it was in English and because it was sent at such a high strength that it could be picked up in many places in SE Asia. Though it was of little use about getting any news from our back home as the USA then as today has little real interest in the (ROW) Rest Of the World, what they are not immediately involved in just does not interest them.
I was now right there, Saigon!
It is a very pleasant airy airport, I had my letter of introduction that would guarantee my entry into Vietnam, this had been the only real piece of planning that I had done for this part of the trip and it had in fact been an almost complete waste of time and money. I could have done the whole process from Phnom Penh, saved money on the letter of introduction (€60) and gotten a sleeper across for $25 instead of the$200 airfare. I had applied for a multiple entry visa this cost me another $65 at the airport (took about a 30 mins wait) but then through immigration and down to baggage pick up and out into the arrivals hall, a quick look around and I saw that there were lots of desks offering free help for everything Hotels, Taxi’s, Hire car’s.
 I picked one and asked about a hostel that had been recommended in my Footprint Guide Book, he consulted his lists and said no he didn’t have that one, he asked what price category was I looking at my reply was cheap and the cheaper the better (I had been hardened to cheap hostels in Australia (read my introduction to the Brisbane scene). He said I have this hotel for $35 the night in the same area that you are looking at will I book it? I like a fool said yes (just get a Taxi and head down to the area, hostels are like sand on a beach, all round about $10 a night). But he also booked me a taxi (another $10, but this is the standard rate) As I stupidly had booked for 3 nights (book for 1 and have a look around) I was after only being in Vietnam for less than 1hr already $65 Visa, $105 hotel,$10 taxi  making a grand total of $180 out of my hard Yankee Dollar. The chap behind the counter exchanged my cash for two flimsies (you remember those, they are still very much in evidence throughout SE Asia). He pushed a button a young lady came and took me to the taxi rank, his parting words, your taxi is paid do not give the driver anymore, he WILL ask you, just refuse. It did happen and I did refuse, I didn’t understand what the taxi driver said, but I am sure it wasn’t thank you and good day sir. I shared the Taxi with an American that was working in Kuala Lumpur and was visiting several places in this part of SE Asia during his vacation. He wasn’t staying at my hotel but a very Ritzy place a few doors down. I was dropped at my hotel La Fritz, it was right on the main street so that was nice up a short flight of stairs and into a very nice reception Foyer, Maroon suited young receptionists, name sir, Smith, Richard Smith ( well if Bond can do it then so can I). Ah yes sir we have been expecting you, a boy, was magiced out of thin air, he looked disparagingly at my Blue/Black Rucksack and carried it to the lift, 3rd floor room 215, if you require anything sir just ring the reception, the minibar is stocked, breakfast is between 06:30 and 10:00 on the 9th floor, I expected a hand to come out for a tip, but no, he turned and with a polite “enjoy your stay” he left (have since found out, with the exception of Taxi drivers, insist on the metre, no tips are expected and none given by the Vietnamese).
This room was luxury, even our Sydney one wasn’t as good as this one and that was 3 times the price.  It had hot water (mine in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh had only cold water showers, which in the temperatures are not bad, but I was glad of a hot shower)!
So showered, change of clothes I went down and explored the immediate surroundings, the main street (Pham Ngu Lao) and the surrounding streets are full with tour operators, souvenir shops, restaurants, eating houses (there is a big difference), bars and wall to wall backpackers places. If you are looking for good inexpensive food and accommodation with plenty of places to book your onward, flight, bus or train this is the place to be in HCMC, it is backpacker’s paradise.

That evening, I walked around, had couple of beers at a couple of bars and ate some wonderful street food. 

In the 3 days that I was planning to stay, I was intending to do as much as possible.
The first day was a walk around the old part of the city, down to the Cha Ben Thanh market (always a must with me) this is right beside the very large monument of a chap on horseback (no not Lester Piggot)

Here outside are fruit stalls galore (bought some fruit to eat), then into the market with with the normal clothes, then meat and fish.

Then to Uncle Ho’s Monument in front of the City hall

The Opera house and few other places in the vicinity of Lam Son Square

I next went to the Notre Dame, this is nothing like the Paris model and Quasimodo would have no problem climbing these spires, it was closed.

I next went to a place that had been recommended as a must that is the War Remnants Museum not for the war part but because they have some of the last works by the war correspondents and photographers covering it. It also goes into great depth about Agent Orange (and a lot of other weapons of mass destruction used by the Americans), it covers, the aftermath of the following deformation on new born babies as the result Dioxins.

Yes it is quite political but it does show the lies and deception that the Americans and their Allies went to and their denials and cover ups.
Outside are quite a bit of Military hardware captured from them and their Southern Vietnamese Allies. Not far away is the old Presidential Palace and seat of Government, this is the place that the photograph that went around the world of a tank crashing through the main gates. They have two of the Russian T 34s parked up in the grounds. It is now called the Reunification Hall.
I had a very nice evening meal sitting on a balcony at the corner Pham Ngu Loa and De Tham, it was nice just to relax, chat with the very friendly waiter, who was only too willing to carry out a conversation and explain what you were eating, but no surprises there.

I dined on Spring rolls and a nice prawn stir fry.
I then returned to my luxury, had a HOT shower (the first for 3 weeks, hot that is not a shower), I had a nice night sleep between crisp laundered sheets (which I detest, I am a duvet person).

Breakfast is served on the 9th floor in a very spacious restaurant, I picked a window seat and selected from the buffet.

If anyone was expecting a fried breakfast, they are out of luck, though there were sandwiches! You are in Asia so you get Asian food. They do not make a difference between breakfast, lunch or dinner, a meal is a meal, so it was Spring rolls, fried rice, sautéed greens, fish sausages on lemon grass sticks, plenty of good coffee for me.

Today I had booked a day out to the Vietcong Tunnels very near to HCMC (it was from here that they there surprise attack at TET all those years ago). It was all very interesting and very cleverly constructed, with escape routes all along the way, it was built on a spiders web principle each village connected to the next by three levels of tunnels and at various locations they would enter into the Saigon River. They Americans wondered why when they tried to flood them it never worked, easy,The Vietcong had constructed them in such away and the water just flowed into the Saigon River. The tunnels were so small that it was impossible for GIs to enter.

A Westernised Tunnel, still quite cloisterphobic

Unexploded ammunition, these the Vietcong turned into ammunition of their own in the main anti tank mines
Again at the end was a very political piece about the winning of the war by the Imperialist Americans and their running dogs, but all that aside it was an interesting few hours, especially when you are invited to go down a tunnel that has been enlarged so that we fat Westerners could pass through, even then it gave some idea of the areas that they ate, slept and went out to fight from.

Back in town, I went to the area beside the Opera House, here a TET celebration was in full swing, everyone was out in their finery, parading up and down, coloured balloons in abundance, popcorn and candy floss for the kids, it was the Year of the horse and just to prove it they are everywhere, painted or expanded polystyrene replicas.

That afternoon (lunchtime) I dined at a street side restaurant (as opposed to eating street food at a stall serving food at floor level), it was very interesting, I had spring rolls and a beef/noodles stir fry, some would say the beef was tough, I would say it was chewy and flavoursome, that is a nice thing about the SE Asian food they are not afraid to chew it.

That evening I wandered the small side roads and back streets all full of life, everyone sitting at those small tables or just on chairs, in doorways or on the steps, ignoring everything with the exception what was their immediate point of interest.
I slept like a log and awoke, had breakfast and went to book my train for the next leg of my Journey to Nha Trang, the guide book said it was THE holiday resort in Vietnam, so that should be interesting. I revisited some of the sights in more depth, but just generally just wandered the streets that took my fancy, I revisited Notre Dame, but again it was shuttered and barred, They need not wonder about falling congregations, the reason is they shut up their shops, at least the King and Monks in Phnom Penh only done it for an extended lunch. I think I shall have to send my Friend from Holy Trinity in Adelaide, he would soon get them clapping and singing. Though the Japanese tourists had a great time getting photographed, as normal groups, being photographed by groups. This happens in Paris in front of Notre Dame and it is the same in HCMC in front of Notre Dame.

But I had a nice few hours, had a couple of beers, it was hot so I did deserve them, I wrote a few post cards so it was not only pleasure (another couple of lucky friends). I found a post box (well it was outside of the post office so I hope it was), I then went back to my hotel and had a siesta.
Evening came and darkness descended, well it does in most places, but here it is wall to wall neon lights, brightly lit shops and the head lights of traffic (scooters and motor bikes with a lot of Tuk-tuks thrown in for good measure. The World comes alive when darkness falls in the old part of HCMC.
It amazes me but at the street side bars, they put the tables and chairs out onto the pavement, as the evening wears on they add row upon row of chairs into the street, I have seen the rows 4 deep in the road, no one minds, the motor bikes just weave their way in and out.
I had decided on shell fish tonight, so I chose a stall which sold crabs amongst other things, I ordered and it came in a nice chilli sauce, the sweet white meat was set off by the sharpness of the chilli sauce, it really had very, very sweet meat inside.

A French couple came and sat beside me we chatted for a while he asked how the crab was, I replied excellent and they ordered the same. He then ordered a duck egg, now these are very special duck eggs they are hột vịt lộn  in Vietnamese or commonly called Balut in the Western World. These duck eggs have been fertilised and are about 15 days old, the duckling is quite visible, the lady who owned the stall showed us the ropes. You peel the shell off the top and then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lime.  You pour the resulting liquid into the egg cup and drink this first, then another dose of salt, pepper and lime and you spoon the embryo complete with yolk sack into your mouth, I ordered a one as well, quite delectable.

A wonderful starter I think, don’t you Kikoklu? Martin it is your job to get some fertilised duck eggs (at least 15 days, but no older than 20, as the feathers get a bit indigestible after that).

I then had a couple of beers sitting on the street corner bar where I had dined the first evening in HCMC.

The train to Nha Trang was at 09:00 so I wanted an early night, didn’t want to miss my breakfast either so off I went for my last night of pure luxury in La Fritz.