Tuesday 1 October 2013
We arrive bright and early in HCMC at 7:20 after a long night flying which went without a hitch. The leg to Singapore is only a quarter full and we are able to grab a row for ourselves each, this is what Vietnam Airlines calls an economy flatbed. From Singapore we are transferring onto a Jetstar flight to HCMC, with only 2 hour layover.
After the quickest passport and bag pick up we have ever had we are greeted by Tu and handed over to our driver from the Rex Hotel. The drive takes half an hour and we are stunned by the seamless and unrelenting flow of the motorbikes surrounding us.
Checkin is quick and easy and our room is ready even though it is only 8:30 in the morning. Our room (244) is very nice and spacious and looks over the street and a lovely park. We freshen up and head out of the hotel into the steamy heat. When we reach our first corner to cross we look at each other in despair and wonder how in hell we are going to get across alive. We gather our courage, look for a break and step forward. The motorbikes don’t slow down they just go around you. Its the cars that you have to be careful of … they don’t slow or go around you.
The streets are a combination of littered rubble and immaculate paving. There are people everywhere, sitting on bikes on the footpath, crouching by the wall, food vendors tending their portable coal fires, little ladies selling lotto tickets, security guards outside every semi-presentable building.
The pollution is overwhelming, within an hour our eyes are stinging and we are looking for somewhere to eat and get away from the fumes. We find an air conditioned restaurant and order a couple of Saigon beers – cold and refreshing. From the menu we order a Vietnamese pancake, prawn stir fry noodles and a beef pho. The pancake is outstanding … a thin crepe filled with sprouts, fried onion, thin slices of pork and shrimp, served with lettuce and beetle-nut leaves and a dipping sauce. You make your own rolls with the greens and munch away. Fresh, light and tasty.
We are getting tired, so we return to the hotel for a quick nap, the nap lasts about two hours! Time to head out again. We wander off to play with in the fumes and traffic and explore a bit more of the streets surrounding our hotel. We check out the Reunification Palace from the outside, Notre Dame Cathedral, the ornate colonial Post Office and the Opera House. A large brass band is playing in front of the Opera House and there is a graduation ceremony going on inside.
We find an overpriced bar with a good selection of beers and settle in for a drink.
Later we return to the hotel, freshen up and head off for dinner at Lemongrass, a small restaurant we had spotted earlier. The food is good, beef and papaya salad, stir fried beef and rice noodles with morning glory and garlic. Sated we cross the road for some coconut and chocolate ice cream and a slice of chocolate cake. That takes care off any hunger issues and time for some zzzz’s.