Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Saigon, Vietnam

March 8, 2011—Ngoc Huyen, our tailor, delivered our clothes to our hotel at 12:30 and showed us all the items. They were all very nicely done so we thanked her and paid her the balance. We ate some lunch and then waited for our driver, who picked us up at 3 o’clock. We had to drive back to Da Nang, which took about 30 minutes. Da Nang is an international airport, and we saw a new airport being built adjacent to the old one.

We checked in for our flight and had to wait about an hour before we could board our flight. The plastic seats in the boarding area were not exactly comfortable, but it was, as always, interesting to watch all the people. The boarding attendant called our flight so we gave her our ticket and boarded a bus, which then transported us to our plane. The plane was a nice new Airbus 330. We boarded the plane and got comfortable in our seats with plenty of leg room this time.

We took off on time and headed south to Saigon. We were on the right side of the plane, and we could see a very large and very dark thundercloud off to our right. The pilot was making a slight turn to the left in order to go around the thunderhead. As we traveled along, we enjoyed an absolutely stunning sunset behind the dark clouds. Along the way we also saw lightening in the clouds, which made me wonder if this leg of our trip through Vietnam would also have an element of excitement. Alas, nothing happened, and we landed safely at the Ho Chi Ming City airport.

We had asked our hotel, the Blue Diamond, to send a car to pick us up, but when we exited the baggage claim area, no one was there with a sign for us. We found the hotel number and called them, but they just suggested that we get a cab. We had read that the taxis here were difficult to deal with, but we walked up to the taxi warden and told him where we needed to go. He signaled a taxi for us and off we drove—at the slowest pace imaginable. Usually these taxis are flying by, and here we are in the slowest one I have ever seen. Later we discussed that we had read something about the traffic being so congested that they now meter on time instead of distance, which might have been why he was driving so slowly.

We finally arrived at the Blue Diamond Hotel so we paid the taxi driver, who tried to get more money from us, but we held firm on the meter price. We checked in, and they informed us that they were overbooked so we would be put in the VIP suite for the evening and then moved to our reserved room the next day. Wow! Now things were looking up. The room was on the top floor and very spacious. We quickly changed clothes and headed out to dinner as it was now 8:30 p.m., and we had not eaten any dinner. We walked around the block but saw nothing that caught our interest so we decided to return to the hotel and just order room service instead. We ordered sea bass and baby-back ribs and waited for about 30 minutes. Finally, our food arrived, and we sat down to eat it. Unfortunately, the food had cooled off, but the bass and the ribs were excellent. We relaxed for the rest of the evening in our luxurious surroundings.

This morning we decided walk to the bank to exchange some money because we need U.S. dollars at the Cambodian border; however, the bank would not give us U.S. dollars. Next we went to the post office to mail a postcard, and we were amazed to see the post office filled with souvenirs for tourists to buy. Across the street was the Notre Dame Cathedral. We walked over to look at the cathedral but did not go inside. We have read that the government is taking a more relaxed position on religion in the country.

Our next stop was the Independence Palace. Formerly South Vietnam’s Presidential Palace, the war ended on April 30, 1975, when tank #843 crashed through the gate. A replica of the tank is now parked on the lawn outside. The building has been restored; however, everything else is original vintage 1960s—the furnishings, the radios, the phones, the kitchen, etc. There were many photos, and also the requisite educational film. We left about 2 minutes into the showing.

We returned to our hotel to move our things to our new room; however, it was not ready. They said it would be just a few minutes so we decided to cool off and relax for a bit. At one o’clock we gave up and went down stairs. We asked when our room would be ready and if was a deluxe room, which we had booked. The young lady said that since we had the VIP room last night, we would get only a superior. We took issue with this as they had overbooked their rooms and upgraded us without our asking. We said that we expected a deluxe room, and the young lady said that she would speak to the manager.

We left to have some lunch and walked around the block several times before deciding on a restaurant. We noticed that several shops had generators outside their doors, and while we were having lunch, we found out why—the power went out. It took just 15 minutes before the restaurant was stuffy and hot.

Afterward we walked to the Ben Thanh Market to look for some souvenirs as we are always the tourists. The market was filled with fruit, vegetables, meat, clothing, and, of course, the usual souvenir trinkets. It was a huge market, and we could only stay for a short while before the shop keepers got to be too much. Steve said that this market was not any different than any of the other markets we have been to—too much stuff and most it is made in China.

We retreated to our hotel and finally got into our new room. It was quite hot this afternoon, and we are trying to pace ourselves in order to get to Cambodia. Steve still has a cold, and my foot is still on the mend. We decided to go to dinner at the Barbeque Garden Restaurant so we walked the three blocks to find it without any problems. We ordered our skewers of meat, and then we cooked the skewers on the grill at our table. It was really delicious, and the place had a very nice atmosphere.

We decided to stay just one day in Saigon. Obviously, we could spend many days here; however, we need to finish up the travels so tomorrow we leave by bus for Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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