The final leg of my trip was Saigon. A dirty, polluted, midly depressing city that I totally fell for. I spent 2.5 days there and 2 days on the Mekong Delta.
I flew from Danang to Saigon, again ridiculously early, and after having one of the hotel guys take me around on his bike to find an ATM that would give me some money as I'd suddenly realised the night before I didn't have enough cash for the taxi! Again, I flew first class and arrived at the hotel around 11 / half 11. I stayed at the Yellow House Hotel (aka Nga Hoang) on De Tham Street and, whilst very central, certainly wasn't the friendliest of hotels I've ever been in. Despite me having emailed my arrival time they told me I couldn't have my room for another 90 minutes or so. I was tired and VERY unamused. They hastily found me somewhere to use in the meantime. After crashing out for about an hour I went to the lovely Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. Sad, depressing, horrific, amazing, frightening, unbelievable are just some of the many words to sum up the museum. It can't be missed on a trip to the city, just accept you'll be seeing some pretty horrific things. (Think the effects of agent orange; methods of torture; pictures of bodies, etc)
I was pretty dazed after leaving it, but got cyclo'd to Andong Market, which I found a bit too intense and not too interesting.
Next day, I went and spent more money in Ben Thanh market (necklace, shirt, 9 dvd's - only 2 of which are no good) and got chatting for about 45 minutes with a cyclo driver. Realising I had just over an hour until the Fine Arts Museum reopened after lunch, I negotiated an hour with him to take me anywhere. He took me through China Town, to the Jade Pagoda, the Cathedral, and all around. The Jade Pagoda had an area with a load of turtles swimming around. Apparantly they'd all been rescued from markets and taken to the Pagoda in order to not be eaten! He pointed out loads of other things and told me about Saigon, about his life, etc. A really lovely guy, and a pleasure to spend time talking to. His name is Quang, and he hangs out around the market or outside Pho 2000.
I loved both the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City and found both really interesting, despite the heat!
My final day in Saigon I spent the morning with a friend, Chris, who I'd met in Tokyo (cf: hostess bar night). Funnily, I'd been wandering around on the first night and he'd been sitting drinking at a bar and spotted me and shouted over. How random! But that's kind of what Vietnam was like. I saw many people several times, I guess because we all followed the same route, but it was funny. One Italian I'd met on the Perfume River trip I bumped into several times in Hoi An, in the Mekong (different trip from mine) and in Saigon a couple of times. Many other people I kept seeing too.
So, we hopped onto his bike and went to the Giac Lam Pagoda - massive and beautiful. They had dozens of birds in a cage there. You could pay to buy one and release it. Feeling it was just encouraging the cruelty though, we declined. After that we went to a Vietnamese Cafe. It was unlike anything I'd seen previously in Vietnam. Think two floors of lushness with a scary Santa swining on a moon wearing shorts, flipflops and sunglasses. Had a wonderful avocado drink there.
As a side, I ate so much fruit and drank so many fruit juices in Vietnam I could have burst - mainly with delight!
After lunch in a little Vietnamese nameless (to me anyway) restaurant he had to go to a meeting and I took myself off to see two movies before going back and having dinner, a haircut and another manicure. I'd had a manicure and pedicure a few nights previously but they weren't too great.
The night before, after getting back for the Mekong Delta, I'd gone for a VERY long walk to get some food in a different area and saw countless people sleeping on their motos or in their cyclo's. On the walk back, I passed the fountain on Le Loi Street near the theatre and sat down there for about 30 or so minutes. It was quite late at night, but there were loads of parents and young kids there and they were lovely to watch. Many of the kids were playing with balloons tied to sticks and dipping them into the fountain, others were just running around. They were all very very cute. And, I wasn't approached once in all the time I sat there by anyone trying to sell me books, cigarettes, lighters, posters, drinks, food, moto rides, cyclo rides, or simply even begging.