Monday, July 5, 2010

Saigon Part 2 - Tying Up Loose Ends

Jenni and I returned to Saigon for a second stay to do a couple of things that we didn't manage to fit in during our first stay. The flight back from Phu Quoc was very short, only about 45 minutes. We basically took off, were offered a drink by a hostess and then had to strap ourselves in for landing before we could even finish our drink. Upon arrival, a car provided by the hotel was waiting for us at the airport. We checked back into the same hotel and stayed in the same room as before.

The first order of business for us in Saigon was to drop our passports into the travel agent so they could be sent away for a Laos visa. We attempted to get our  visas sorted out during our first stay in Saigon, but had to get our passports back so we could check into hotels and catch the domestic flight back to Saigon while on our trip to Phu Quoc. After we dropped off our passports, we grabbed some lunch at a "Lotteria", a fast food brand similar to McDonalds which we have seen in Japan, China and once in Vietnam in Saigon. Jenni, being the queen of the uncoordinated, managed to spill a full-to-the-brim cup of Pepsi over the table which one of the poor girls working there had to mop up. Feeling ashamed of her clumsiness (I didn't exactly help, coaxing her about it for the entire duration of our meal), Jenni insisted that she wanted some comfort food in the form of baked goods so we visited the local bakery. There we enjoyed a doughnut and a coffee while reading our books. At this stage Jenni was falling asleep on the couch in the bakery's cafe area, so we headed back to the hotel so she could take a nanna nap. We had actually planned to go to the post office, supermarket and hairdresser that afternoon, but Jenni's nanna nap put an end to that.

That evening we went out for dinner to one of the restaurants in the backpacker area. After copping a mouthful of the dirty seawater at Phu Quoc a few days earlier, my stomach was still not quite right and I was still experiencing occasional severe cramps in my abdomen, so I didn't have much of an appetite during our second stay in Saigon. After dinner, we went to a self-service frozen yogurt store across the road from the restaurant. Similar to the sandwiches you buy at MYO, they charged you based on how much your yogurt weighed. There were about 10 different flavours of yogurt to choose from including plain, chocolate, blueberry, lychee and many more. After filling your tub with yogurt you could then garnish it with a large selection of toppings including strawberries, chocolate sprinkles, crushed oreos, smarties and many other things that will rot your teeth. Before you got to the counter you could then pour chocolate sauce or sweetened condensed milk over your yogurt, completely negating any good you may have done by attempting to eat a healthy low fat yogurt.

The following day we went on a tour to see a Cao Dai temple as well as the Cu Chi tunnels. There were so many interesting things we saw and learnt about that day, so I will make an entire post just for that, so stay tuned.

On our third day, my tummy was not showing any signs of improvement, so I organized to see a doctor. A few prods in my tummy, a quick listen to my symptoms and US$150 later, the doctor sent me away with a variety of goodies to take over the next week to try and set my stomach right. Organising to see the doctor and going for the consult chewed up a large portion of our day, so we finished off the day by heading over to the supermarket to purchase yet another set of umbrellas. The new umbrella that I bought is the sixth umbrella I have purchased thus far on this trip. I bought the first one, a small flimsy one, in Kyoto Japan. Not happy with how flimsy it was, I bought a big sturdy one and gave the flimsy one away to a lady on the street who didn't have hers on her and was getting soaked in the rain. This big umbrella lasted the entire of Japan, but went missing when we put it on as luggage with our big backpacks when we flew from Japan to China. I suspect that some Chinese airport employee pinched it. I purchased my 3rd umbrella in a Beijing supermarket. This one lasted only 4 cities before it got pinched from the umbrella rack at our hostel in Hangzhou. When we got to the next city in China, Xiamen, I was forced to buy my 4th umbrella, a flimsy little one, as I got caught without one in a downpour. I replaced this with a more sturdy one, my 5th umbrella, in Guangzhou. This one was actually a knockoff of some French designer brand and was actually really good quality. This one managed to last me for the entire of Vietnam, until Jenni and I went on our Mekong delta tour and left both of our umbrellas in the hotel in Can Tho. By the time we realized that we left them there, we were already on the bus on the way to Rach Gia. After buying all of these umbrellas I have become somewhat of an umbrella connoisseur and find myself admiring other people's good-looking umbrellas like some kind of weirdo!

While we were at the mall with the supermarket, we happened to pass by a toy store. During our trip, Jenni and I have become addicted to playing with a Rubik's cube. We bought one in Hong Kong and that poor Rubik's cube has taken quite a bit of a beating over the past one and a half months. We also wanted to get another one so Jenni and I could race each other to solve it. We can now solve the 3x3 Rubik's cube without instructions relatively quickly, but are by no means as quick as some of the crazy guys who solve it in a matter of seconds. As of writing this, my current record is about 2mins and 30secs while Jenni's is about 2mins and 50secs. While in the toy shop the shop assistant pointed out a 4x4 Rubik's cube as well as a Megaminx (dodecahedron) which we couldn't resist buying too. Hopefully these will keep us occupied over the next month or so, trying to learn how to solve them. When we finally figure out how to solve the Megaminx, I will make sure to post a photo of it.

That evening after dinner, we headed down one of the small alley streets to the Saigon branch of "Le Pub", the same pub in Hanoi that we watched the FA Cup final at one and a half months prior. Here we joined a large crowd of people to watch England get well and truly embarrassed by Germany in their FIFA World Cup round of 16 match. After the 4-1 defeat, the pub became empty very quickly as all of the Englishmen left with their heads hanging in shame.

The next day we spent going to the post office and getting our haircut. We had intended to visit a couple of the pagodas as well as the cathedral in Saigon, but we were a bit "templed" out so decided to give them a miss. We ended up getting to see the cathedral anyway as it was right opposite the post office. It looks just like a mini Notre Dame. The post office is a bit of a tourist attraction in itself. It is setup inside an old colonial building with high domed ceilings, marble tiles throughout, old wooden telephone booths and a whopping big portrait of Ho Chi Minh hanging at the back. After posting off some things, we had some lunch before heading back to our hotel and to go to the hairdresser a couple of doors down. For only $4 USD I had my hair shampooed and received one of the best haircuts I've had in recent years. Jenni's haircut, shampoo and head, neck and shoulder massage only set her back about $7 USD. The hairdresser gave me a funny look when I exclaimed that she had given me "the best haircut I had all day", but then smiled after she figured out that I was kidding around.

On our last day in Saigon we visited Dam Sen water park, followed by Dam Sen cultural park. These are right next to each other, but it didn't stop us getting miserably lost trying to find the entrance to the water park after our taxi driver dropped us off at the entrance to the cultural park instead. In the end we managed to find our way to the entrance, thanks to a couple of nice Vietnamese girls who we asked for directions. Instead of simply explaining where to go, they both skivvied off work to guide us in the right direction. After they led us most of the way, they left us to make the rest of the journey on our own while they headed back to work. We nearly accidentally went into one of the other entrances to the cultural park instead of the water park, but a lively Vietnamese guy saw us with our swimming gear, pointed in the direction of the water park and yelled to us "Oi, water park", while pointing in the correct direction and mimicking breaststroke and diving through water with a big silly grin on his face. His antics had us as well as his mates sitting behind him on motorbikes all up in stitches. 

We had been really looking forward to visiting the water park for a few weeks and were happy that it did not disappoint. When we first entered the water park we attempted to put our bags in the locker area, but were instead instructed to go upstairs to put our bags in the lockers up there. We thought that maybe the lockers downstairs were already full and the one upstairs has some free, but when we got upstairs we realized that we had actually been instructed to go to a foreigners only area where we had access to private lockers, toilets, showers and a sunbathing area. After stashing our stuff we set off to try out all of the water slides. To our delight the water park had a huge variety of pools, slides, rapids, a flying fox and even a large wave pool. For some reason, the many Vietnamese people at the water park seemed more happy to float around in the big wave pool on inflatable tubes, rather than going on the slides, so this worked well in our favour as we never had to wait in any lines. While riding the rapids around the park on inflatable tubes, a chubby little Vietnamese boy who looked about 10 years old took a liking to us. The boisterous Johnny had impeccable English and chatted to us the whole time while the river took us around the entire water park. He even started acting like a school teacher, pointing out various things like bridges, trees and other objects, saying their name slowly in Vietnamese and encouraging me to repeat it, just like in a language classroom. If I go the pronunciation wrong he made me repeat it until I got it right. He was hilarious.

I won't go through all of the water slides in the park, but the most memorable ones were definitely the "Tornado" slid" and the "Boomerang" slide. The Tornado was a steep tunnel slide that violently thrust us out at an angle into a large bowl with a big hole in the middle. Once in the bowl, we slid around the edges until reaching the centre where we dropped through into a pool below. The Boomerang required 3 people to go down it on a 3 seater inflatable tube. A kind Vietnamese girl saw the two of us eyeing it off and split up from her friends to make a group of three so we could try it out. It was one of those water slides with a really steep slide that leads into a very tall half pipe which you go back and forth in, until you reached the bottom, where the water syphoned you off into a small slide down to the bottom pool. Due to the extreme amount of centrifugal force when we passed through the base of the half pipe, Jenni walked away with a bit of a stiff neck, caused by whiplash.

After we were all water parked out, we headed over to see the cultural park. The cultural park was certainly not what we expected. With a name like the "cultural park", Jenni and I were expecting it to be a park with various Vietnamese gardens and structures, celebrating Vietnamese culture. Instead, it turned out to be more like a large amusement park, set up around a large lake. There were bumper cars, bumper boats, a ferris wheel, a roller coaster and many other amusement park rides. In order to get a good view of the city, Jenni and I went on a ride on the ferris wheel. From up here we got a good view of the whole park and could see Saigon's city sprawl. The park had other things aside from amusement park rides to keep us entertained. Various themed gardens and unusual sculpture were scattered all around the lake. Contrasting themes throughout the park made it seem rather sporadic. A large green house, showcasing a large variety of Cacti was setup next to an indoor robotic dinosaur exhibit, which was in turn next to a Greek garden, complete  with statues of Greek gods, which was next to the lake which had Chinese style bridges and buildings built on it.

Feeling completely exhausted, we headed back to our hotel. Before settling in for the night, we nipped off to the markets before they closed so we could pickup a souvenir T-shirt. Backpackers over here tend to wear a souvenir t-shirt or singlet from a previous country that they have visited as if it were a badge of honour. Part of the backpackers' fashion is to have these t-shirts and singlets looking very ragged and worn. I assume this is to give the impression that they have been through some tough times, although this is mostly likely caused by the shirts falling to bits in the washing machine as they are generally of very poor quality. Jenni picked up a "Same Same.... But Different" singlet and I grabbed a "Good Morning Vietnam" t-shirt and a "Tin Tin in Vietnam" t-shirt too.

The next morning we finally said goodbye to Vietnam, the country that had been our home for the past one and a half months and headed to the airport to catch a flight from Saigon to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Even though we had a couple of bad experiences here in Vietnam due to falling sick, the many fun and fantastic experiences we have had here far outweigh the bad ones. We have enjoyed ourselves so much that we have agreed that we will try and make an effort to return here sometime in the future.

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