Saigon/HCMC: Last in the Trilogy of Heat


REVERSING.. Last year saw me do travel I hadn’t planned until this year. It was my intention as I may have mentioned already to travel from Athens and work my way north. Instead I did this in reverse and Athens was approached from the north.

Likewise in 2016 Hanoi was intended as the first stop of a Vietnam – Cambodia – Laos tour which in the end didn’t happen. The third stage of that would’ve been HCMC to Phnom Penh but again this occurred in reverse and the second stage – southbound from Hanoi to HCMC became a northward march.

If you’re still there and I haven’t tied your brain in knots with my strategic travel planning then let’s explore HCMC together.

The city, together with Bangkok and Phnom Penh, forms an Indo-Chinese trilogy and if not for the heat and humidity I probably would have stayed there. It is without doubt my favourite of the three and if I went to all the cool cafes I saw I’d be drinking coffee all day and possibly all year!

It begins with a bit of a high in that the bus passed the airport – a potential ‘in search of…’ as they are already building the new one further afield – followed by caressing the canal and swinging into the central district of Pham Ngu Lao. From there it was a sweat drenched low in that my first choice of hostel Trip Writer was fully booked – or so they said.

I eventually settled on the Galaxy as it was the nicest looking at the right price and the only one offering a free breakfast, albeit with fake orange juice and sweet syrup instead of milk which meant I didn’t have to add sugar. Eggs and baguette ok, save for lack of butter. The hotel/hostel also had a lift which – rare in the rabbit warren lanes of  District 1. All in all the best value.

My first concern was finding the train station to book my ticket to Hanoi and out of the heat. GA SAIGON seems to have been plonked in the most inaccessible area on a non-descript street where you least expect it. Back in the throng of the tourist district meant no shortage of scam artists. Everyone from Mr Shades, Mr Fake Watch and Mr Shoe-shine. A pity as I love the Vietnamese otherwise. Fantastic people and fantastic food!

With my ticket booked it was onto the sights, Notre Dame, and umm a post office. Yes, a post office in which people are going crazy with selfie sticks! Then there is the SKYDECK, that oddly shaped edifice across town. Typically, I make my way there with the intention of seeing the city at twilight and then after dark. In the end I don’t go up for the reason that – unbelievably – the Heineken experience is higher than the actual SKYDECK!!

So I resort to my usual trick of finding a tall hotel to take pictures from. Speaking of up, HCMC is a city on the up with the metro slowly coming slouching toward fruition (aided again by the Japanese) and smart new bus stops (see pictures) and my God they need it. The bikes are insane yet not entirely unmanageable, I cruise through a number of busy roads mercifully unscathed and feeling just a little like Jesus parting the Red Sea!

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