Published: December 23rd 2011September 17th 2011
Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon to pretty much everyone who lives there, it's a city that at first glance appears hard to love, it's just another mega Asian city, it's crowded, it's polluted and it's hectic. So why have we come back?
To put it simply, we've grown to love it and the country it belongs to. We've actually spent a bit of time here, the first while waiting for visas to be processed, a wait that resulted in the conception of Nate (clearly, there was nothing on TV that week) and the second while waiting for a friend to arrive back from the UK. Like the rest of Asia, the people lives spill out of their homes and onto the pavement for all to see and we love the openness of it. Friendly faces and smiles greet us everywhere (probably due to the fact that we have best looking kids in existence with us I’ll admit), the food is good, the beer is cheap and maybe more importantly everything else is cheap. While the exchange rate of every other currency we've encountered has swung against the Sterling, for some reason the Dong hasn't, staying at the same rate
as when we were here 4 years ago. Accommodation is incredible value, mini hotels are everywhere, $10-12 doesn't just get you a bed, most of the time you get hot water, A/C, cable TV and a minibar too... Transport is slow and not always comfortable but again it's cheap so getting about isn't a problem.
The traffic in Saigon is unbelievable and needs to be seen to be believed, the motorcycle rules the road and there are literally trillions of them, they swarm like insects carrying whole families, businesses and livestock. Sure it makes crossing the road somewhat hair-raising but it's fascinating to watch. Some of the things you see being transported make your jaw drop, and you can't help but gain a little respect for the humble scooter and what it's capable of.
We're also back in Saigon for another reason though and that is because it's where we'd told Faye's parents to come join us, something we've been looking to ever since they told us they'd booked flights a couple of months ago.
We had a couple of days in the city doing generally not a lot before Faye’s folks arrived. We just enjoyed playing
in the parks and just being back in the familiar. We picked them up from the airport and then spent a few more days in the city, catching up and getting into the easy going routine that comes with so much ease amongst close family. Over the next few days they saw the sights in Saigon, visited the Cu Chi Tunnels
and spent a day trip in the Mekong Delta with Faye, trying to cram in everything there is to do before we head out of the city.
One thing we had to do while in Saigon was go to see a Doctor again, something which is becoming all too common on this trip. While all our strep infections we got in Cambodia responded immediately to the antibiotics, clearing up in a matter of days, the lumps under Gabe’s Armpit were still there, as large as ever and completely unchanged. Again we opted for the International SOS
clinic, as we got such good care last time while in Phnom Penh. We managed to see their consultant Paediatrician which was great and cost major buckage but when it comes to the health of your family you don’t really tend to
give a shit about that and just pay what it takes to get them the care they need. She was a Russian doctor, spoke perfect English and gave Gabe the most thorough check up I think he’s ever had, even putting his post-natal check up straight after his birth to shame. Gabe was a little champ, allowing her to prod, poke and squeeze every part of him without a single complaint. She quickly came to the conclusion that they are abscesses caused by the BCG vaccine (tuberculosis vaccine) he had in the UK before we left, some of the live vaccine had found its way into his armpit and caused the abscesses. It’s not uncommon and she said we should continue on and try not to worry too much about them. We were given an antibiotic gel to rub on them and were told they might disappear on their own, although this would take months. We were also told not to be surprised if they even burst, discharging puss everywhere... Oh joy, that sounds like fun! Trying not to worry about them is a little easier said than done but thankfully they don’t bother him at all and cause him
no pain whatsoever. Although I think not vaccinating children is completely irresponsible, it is annoying when giving your child something meant to prevent harm has actually caused damage, still I suppose it’s infinitely better than actually contracting TB.
Our time back in Saigon quickly ended and we were soon leaving. We wanted to take Faye’s folks somewhere in Vietnam that would highlight why we’ve come to love it so much, and for this there was nowhere better than Hoi An, a beautiful town half way up the coast. We had absolutely no intention of subjecting them to the horrors of sleeper buses to get there though, we’ve done it twice now and neither time was enjoyable so instead we flew. Hoi An has no airport of its own but Danang airport is only a $20 taxi ride away, so that’s where we flew to, leaving Saigon in the morning and arriving in Hoi An only a few hours later.
I’m not sure there’s anything I can say about Hoi An that I haven’t said before but we love it so much I don’t care if I end up repeating myself...
Hoi provides glimpses into a Vietnam of
the past, it’s faded colonial and Chinese influences exude so much charm that you can’t wander around its traffic free streets (The centre is only accessible to ‘primitive’ vehicles) without being wowed by its beauty and elegance. A walk along the waterfront is equally sublime, even more so at night when the lanterns are lit and the water is calm and reflective, punctuated here and there by candlelit paper lotus drifting in the gentle currents of a slow row boat. Of course all this beauty never exists without people there to appreciate it, make no mistake this is a tourist town, but it holds its own, the museums, boutiques and cafes blending into the backdrop. Even the numerous tailors don’t distract from the beauty. It really is a magical place which won over our hearts immediately and even after subsequent visits refuses to let go.
We had a sizeable amount of time in the town, so we took it easy, exploring at our leisure and just enjoying showing off one of our favourite places in Asia. More tailored jackets were on the agenda for both Faye and her parents so we browsed the multitude of options before finding a
shop and styles they liked. Faye and her mum also took a short Vietnamese cooking class which they enjoyed and which also means that they can now make the spring rolls I enjoy so much.
As it’s close to Hoi An and it’s something to do and see we took a day trip to Mỹ Sơn
(pronounced Mee Sun), a group of abandoned and crumbling Hindu temples. I remember from our last visit to these temples 4 years ago that I wasn’t all that impressed, probably due to the fact that we’d been to Angkor only a few weeks previously. Of course this time is no different, again we’d been to Angkor only a few weeks previously and again these temples had literally no impact on us whatsoever. I’m not saying I wouldn’t recommend them as a visit, but if you’ve visited Angkor say EVER, I’d probably give them a miss.
We picked a good time to be in the town as we were lucky enough to be there during the Mid-Autumn Festival
where the centre became super crowded with both locals and domestic tourists alike out enjoying themselves. Being neither Chinese nor Vietnamese I’m completely ignorant of
the symbolism and tradition of this festival, but the highlights as far as we could see involves chowing down on mooncake
and watching groups of children and professional performers all over the city doing dragon dances. Some of these performances were so slick and spectacular that they stopped both traffic and pedestrians in huge numbers causing complete mayhem. The boys thought they were great from afar, but if they got too close it scared the shit out of them so we had to keep a safe distance.
Also around the same time was the full moon festival, you guessed it, a monthly festival at full moon, where all the lights are turned off and the town is lit by lanterns... I was actually a bit disappointed by this, it sounds perfect, a beautiful town only lit by lanterns. The only problem was again the town was completely packed with people, the roads were teeming and the river was choked with row boats carrying people around for no discernable reason. I prefer the town when it’s lit by a few fluorescent tubes, but quiet and peaceful...
Time seemed to vanish while we were in Hoi An, which sadly meant
very rapidly it was time to leave. Again we opted to fly, meaning we left Hoi An in the morning and arrived back at our hotel in Saigon only a few hours later.
We only had a couple of days in Saigon with Faye’s parents before they left so all that was left to do was fill up on some last minute shopping and pack a suitcase for them to take back for us, full of all the lovely and very heavy things we’ve stupidly decided to buy along the way.
On one of the evenings we visited the Water Puppet
Theatre, which although a northern Vietnamese tradition there is a theatre in Saigon doing performances. When we last saw the water puppets in Hanoi, we got mixed reviews from the boys, Nate thought it was too loud and kept his hands over his ears the whole time while Gabe loved it. This time I requested seats near the back hoping they might enjoy it more, but while in the theatre they wanted us to move to the very front row as people behind us couldn’t see over the tall westerners. We weren’t sure how well this was
going to be received but in the end they both absolutely loved it and if we’re honest it was actually a nicer theatre and better show than the one in Hanoi.
Of course the time came where we had to say farewell. We were at the airport again where it had only seemed a few moments ago that we were there to pick them up. We said our goodbyes, tears were shed and they walked through into departures leaving us emotionally drained and to be honest a small part of us wished we were still with them, heading back home to the UK.... Only a small desire but it was definitely there...
There are more photos below