One big hop into Asia, Johannesburg – Bangkok – Saigon, Vietnam, Sunday 24th January 1999

Sunday Night in Central Saigon, Vietnam


I am writing this from the Saigon Pink Hotel after breaching one of the golden rules of travel: do not go to the hotel the taxi driver sends you to. I was tired, it was reasonable and I am only staying here one night after moving to the cheaper and friendlier “Guesthouse 64”, closer to the action. I managed to sleep a few hours on the plane from Johannesburg to Bangkok, with the help of a Bailey’s type drink called Amarula or something like that; Asian looking stewardesses and an old couple were in front. It was still light when flying over the East Coast of Africa. We were instructed to pull down the plastic shutters over the windows. The plane flew over Madagascar. I had no energy to watch films and preferred sleep instead. Breakfast was served two hours before landing in a familiar place called Bangkok. A 747 is a really capable and majestic aircraft and we had a very gentle landing after a circular delay because the airport was busy. I wonder how much of the success of Thailand is down to the beauty of the women. I managed to get the earlier connection to Ho Chi Minh, so there was only a transfer wait of about half an hour before loading. I felt tired (easily irritated by the smallest bad habit of other tourists or travellers). I checked the price of Havana cigars, about £3 each in the duty free shop. I guess if I am paying for an unwanted TV that I might as well watch it for 15 minutes before I go to sleep. I met the usual chaos outside the airport in Saigon. I could not confirm my onward flight but could change money. I took the simple taxi option downtown, dodging numerous mopeds on the way. It reminded me a little of Thailand but with fewer three and four wheeled vehicles. The receptionist was wearing the traditional Vietnamese elegant robe. In room 602 I rested, had a shower and felt refreshed. Through the window of the hotel I could see a market along the road. I walked towards the Kim Café, had a quick fruit salad, and met a couple of Slovenes when I was investigating the tours on offer. I checked for comparison the “Guesthouse 64” nearby and decided it wasworth moving. I wandered to the centre of town, via an ice-cream place. I enjoyed watching the great spectacle of hundreds of people, usually in pairs, sometimes a family of four, cruising around town on a Sunday night on their mopeds: Noise, speed and everyone was dodging everyone else and travelling at approximately the same speed. I took lots of photos of the traffic near the fountain and was offered postcards. The Vietnamese are almost as elegant as the Thais. I wandered back to Kim for a quick chicken and vegetables with a thick fruit shake, and then slowly back to the hotel. I feel safer walking here than in Nairobi, perhaps because I am quite large compared to the average Vietnamese. I experienced friendly smiles and hellos everywhere. It is great being outdoors. I am looking at a picture of a cowboy about to kiss a cowgirl on the wall. I must not forget to take lots of people photos. I need a friendlier hotel; this is too much like a business trip hotel. Saigon might be the liveliest most sociable city in the world. I wonder when Vietnamese visit European cities if they feel they are as sterile or clean as I regard Canberra to be.

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