squat toilets, South East Asia has never really been at the top of my travel list and yet, here I am, relaxing in an air conditioned hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, recuperating from a fairly long travel day.
Several times lately, I've been asked why we chose Vietnam as a holiday destination, most recently by the dude at the car parking place last night-
" So, what takes you to Vietnam?"
With a red eye departure of midnight, I'd already had a long day so I gave the obvious answer of,
"A plane, I reckon!"
but it did give me cause to reflect on our decision making process.
It was actually a series of unfortunate events that led to this trip. Usually September is reserved for domestic travel but this year our spring vacation travel buddies are out of action while Maddy has chemo and it didn't feel right to be exploring other parts of Aus without them so we started exploring reasonably close, off shore options. Back in January, Sophie had a trip to Vietnam planned but a nasty injury to her partner put that trip on hold. And then, in serendipitous fashion, I was googling possible birthday gifts one afternoon just before Sophie's birthday and a super flight deal to Vietnam appeared in a pop up ad. Lots of people hate how the internet tracks their clicks and anticipates their every need but I quite like the way it tells me what I need before I even think of it. Killing two birds with one stone I sorted our September holidays and Soph's birthday present all in one. Of course by the time I paid for visas and vaccinations (not to mention baggage and food on the plane), it wasn't quite the bargain basement deal I started with, but c'est la vie.
We almost didn't make it onto the plane because coming through duty free we were offered a whiskey tasting. Never one to decline a free drink, I knocked back the minuscule shot in one go and in my greedy haste it caught in my throat. A coughing fit ensued and then something worse. It felt like a boa constrictor had hold of my neck. I couldn't breathe and just for a second I actually thought I might die. Luckily I had my own personal footy trainer with me and eventually some air trickled it's way back into my lungs. Dr Google tells me I suffered a laryngeal spasm. It's put me off whiskey until at least the end of this holiday!
Our flights were with Air Asia and the amount of raised eyebrows I got when I mentioned that to people had me a little worried but, apart from some general grottiness and an unfortunate incident with an unlocked toilet door, our flights today were on time and stress free. We were even lucky enough to have empty seats around us on both legs, giving us the luxury of a little more space.
A 5 1/2 hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur was tiresome but not the end of the world.
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City in the middle of the day in the wet season is like being thrown into a maelstrom of rain and car horns and motorbikes. It's a jaw dropping experience to travel through the streets in a taxi surrounded by hundreds of motorcycles, all traveling seemingly in different directions with no actual rules as to who gives way to whom. If we thought the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe was madness, this is a whole new level.
|Ho Chi Minh power grid !|
We stayed at the Paradise Saigon in downtown District 1. Like most hotels in HCMC, it has its own day spa so a massage seemed like a great idea. Half an hour later, lying face down and naked with a complete stranger walking on my back, I wasn't so sure but having survived the hour long pummelling I have to admit I feel fantastic.
Sophie had read great reviews of the Cyclo Resto restaurant so we dodged the traffic, the street vendors and a couple of cat sized rats to find the little alleyway that is the Cyclo's home. There we ate, for $45 AU for the four of us, a 6 course traditional Vietnamese dinner that started with a prawn spring rolls and ended with egg coffee.
Full as googs we braved the traffic again to check out the night markets. I was once caught in a human traffic jam in Times Square on Christmas Eve - that had nothing on this swarming mass of humanity! Crossing the road is a russian roulette of mammoth proportions. You step onto the road, look straight ahead and move with purpose. Mostly the traffic then goes around you. I can't believe I have lived this long without seeing this sight before. It's like another dimension, a world I never knew existed.