So we left off with me getting all rather sleepy and headed off to bed, promising to come back today and finish off catching up on the tales of Vietnam, and more specifically Ho Chi Minh (Saigon - ill use both of them here), and the weird and wacky underworld that is district 6. (I'll try my best not to disappoint). Now in order to 'get you in the mood' for Saigon, I was taught in primary school that an important writing technique is to 'set the scene' as they say, so ill try my hand at this now.
Now if we cast our eyes back to the last episode where i was talking about the size of Hanoi, and just how massive in size that was (I used the repetition of the word 'really' to emphasize that point) Saigon was bigger, about 5x bigger in fact than the former city and in keeping with mathematical theorem, we figured it was only normal to be 5x more terrified about coming to this city, especially with the whole ordeal that was Hanoi, and the fact that the entire country was coming down from one of their biggest upsets emotionally with regards to them losing a soccer game to Malaysia (think NZ after losing to France) - all in all, we knew we were going to be dealing with a particularly cheerful bunch - especially with everyone having a theory about how the game had been corrupt, and that their team 'threw' the game..aah just like home....
But regardless, we packed up ourselves from our nice hotel, knowing that the chances of having a room anywhere in the near future with a closing bathroom door, or an opening window in the near future was rather unlikely...and headed off to the airport. Once we arrived in Ho Chi Minh we were actually genuinely surprised about how fancy everything was, there were no big taxi touts, just a line of taxi's waiting patiently and bright LED Billboards for as far as the eye could see, and that was our first impression of the city. Now one of the mates we met in Hanoi actually happens to live down in Saigon (you'll get used to me switching in and out I promise), but he was down at the beach so couldn't come and help us find a hotel (the beach is a 3 hour drive from the city) but, he told us to simply get in a taxi, head for district 6 and he'd come and find us later on. Simple enough, we were whisked off down the street in air conditioned comfort, getting ourselves reintroduced to vietnamese road rules with the masses of scooters back out in force and before long, we arrived at an area known as district six.
So this area, is basically one you would find in any background view of blood diamond, or slumdog millionaire (one of those views that sort of speeds over the slums, giving you split second looks of poor people, then continuing with the story.) But fortunately for us, there were four high-ish rises with the word hotel emblazoned on them and after choosing the one that looked the most fancy from the outside (it had a picture of mickey mouse on the door and the words 'happy new year' written besides so we figured we were in good hands.) We were sort of ushered inside by two very young looking women in bright red 'outfits', complete with santa hats all trying to act very seductively but not really pulling anything off, into an elevator, and headed up a few floors to check in. Without really thinking too much at this point (it was 30+ degrees outside and we had just flown from a city of 10,000 to a city of 8,000,000) we were shown a room that had both a closing bathroom door AND windows, AND just for a new feature at this point a balcony too. Needless to say that our hearts were won over by this, we sorted out check in where we were asked the, now famous question of 'how long' to which the response 'á few days' probably more than startled the poor young guy but we agreed on a price and took the bags to room 404. Now for those asians in the audience, your probably already feeling a bit uneasy with the presence of the number 4 in the room number not once, but twice (asians have this comical thing about the number 4, sorta like our thing with the number 13 but for asians, 4 is the sorta number that'd punch you in the guts and steal your lunch money just for the fun of it). Call it an omen...but i hadn't actually realised that until now haha.
It was at this point we began to notice a few little things about our room. Firstly there were a few 'ínteresting' stains in different places, there wasn't, out of all 7 paintings on the wall, one female in any of them wearing clothes (we failed to notice this before). And all just to add to the awkwardness of the room was a picture of Mary holding Jesus, looking at us, sitting above the TV. With this, we decided to sing out about our little problem down at reception, where we soon realised we had already spoken to the only guy who could speak any words of english bar "You want girl"?... this was becoming one of those "oops" moments but we retreated back to the room, finding the whole thing rather comical that we were now staying in a brothel and knowing that eventually everyone back home would find out. so we headed back to the lift, into our room, and decided we needed to get some air for a bit and spotted a market on the map we thought would be a good idea to check out (we figured we really couldn't go wrong from here), gathered up a few bits in the room and back into the elevator.
Now one would assume that to get out of the building you press the level "G" in the lift, but that only took us face to face with two rather unpleasant security guards who weren't too keen on us leaving the lift (in the two seconds we spent on whatever that level was, i pressed the 'door close' button on the lift about 12 times, but eventually we found a way out of the building, past a row of girls eying us up (to be fair we were the only guys under about 60, and weighing less than 90kgs so I did feel slightly sorry for them). We then began what became an arduous 2 hour trek to a small supermarket, zig-zagging through streets in and out of traffic (footpaths haven't quite been invented here yet). We even entered one building that saw us being greeted with one guy yelling "STOP" and then 10 of his closest boys in blue pointing tazers at us before realising we were just two white boys with a map, and clearly out of our depth!
But, we eventually made it to a supermarket (the market we were looking for didn't exist apparently), stocked up on a bit of food and caught a taxi back (our eyes were starting to blur and those headaches you get from essentially stuffing your face in scooter exhaust fumes get to you rather quickly, without any particularly pleasant side effects.
A few hours later, with our headaches now replaced with a sugar high, we were picked up on motorbikes and taken out to hit the town which proved to actually be a lot of fun (they all found it rather hilarious where we were staying, apparently district six is like saying ''go to Auckland' to a taxi driver...and we were bound to end up where we were, rather than the rich part on the other side (ahh the joys of being young and single). But we had some local food, sitting on stools that 3 year old's would think are small ( I wouldn't even use one as a foot stool it was that small) and then we retreated back to the hotel ready to check out in the morning.
Walking back into the hotel we noticed the "one star' rating on the door which we found rather amusing (well skip the trip back to the room so that people under the age of 15 can continue to read this haha) and feel asleep to some rather ambient' noise along with Vietnamese karaoke and in particular one guy who seemed to think that the drunker he got, the better he could sing, and thus the louder he needed to sing...grrr.
IN the morning we began to check out, with them finding all kinds of excuses to keep us there, from not speaking any english again, to the offer of free girls to be send to our room, to the possibility that they had lost our passports, needless to say that we became somewhat less than friendly for the first time on the trip so far, but we eventually got out, in a taxi and off to the backpacker part of Hanoi and saw the first white people in the past 24 hours. (We knew we couldn't be in the right part of town because no-one was trying to sell us things, and kids were saying hello! like we were the first white people they had seen in years). After finding a new place we ventured out again to do a few things like check in with the only NZ embassy we would get to see for our trip (none of the other countries we are going to have one), and to buy our bus tickets to Phnom Penh on the next day. After a rather long time in a few taxis, not finding anyone who could really speak english at the NZ embassy (the consular general was out), and realising that the international buses didn't in fact leave from the other side of town (those who can appreciate the size of Saigon will get the idea of just how much that taxi cost to get there and realise we were SO in the wrong place) but that they left from a place less than 2 mins walk from our new hotel. Awesome.
We decided to take refuge at the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner, it had only been open for less that a week, was fully of security and were now well and trully with the Vietnamese A-list'ers (full of their REAL Gucci, LV and so on bags and clothes etc...and of course prices to match...the whole meal for us was close to a million dong (ouch!)...but so worth it given the change in atmosphere in the past 24 hours.
So that really takes us up till Cambodia which ill start to talk a bit about tomorrow, but seeing as everyone wanted the gossip from the Viet, figured id best get that out the way first
John Reap Plrea