17.07.2012 - 21.07.2012 28 °C
Day 291: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 17/07/2012
A 5.45am wake up call starts the day sooner than normal and we all arrive at breakfast around half six fresh as daisies. Then to the taxis, Robin! We are all off the train station (which confusingly looks more like a post office than a railway station), where we are all told to our immense and immediate relief and thanks that our train has maintained the Vietnamese 100% strike rate of late locomotives for our trip. This one is a whole hour behind schedule and after we wait it out in the fascinating, if supremely uncomfortable waiting room, the Saigon bound engine rolls into town. And so more fun and games begin, as the upper class carriage, in dire need of a refurbishment if not just a decontaminating clean, is again a crowded, filthy and somewhat unwelcoming cabin in which to travel and needless to say is not seen in a favourable light by all members of the party.
Anyway, the journey proves to be much more comfortable than the last one, with functioning air conditioning proving to be a bit of a godsend. The journey to HCMC flies by and before long we are checking in to the Grand Saigon. We all enjoy our last day together and make it all the way across the road to the steak restaurant literally opposite the hotel lobby. I finally have the burger I have been threatening to have for weeks. We all enjoy ourselves and head back for another communal night in front of the tv.
Day 292: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 18/07/2012
We awake, break fast and head out. The parents very kindly book us flashpackers into the hotel for another night before we take a walk down by the Saigon River for a bit of perspective, where the Man-Baby befriends a sunglasses seller. We mooch around the rather upmarket part of town and visit some shops, some very upmarket ones at that.
Our last meal together is one of the Colonel's specials - zingers all round. Anne spills a drink all over Rosie. She is not apologetic, making Rosie more than irate. We all say our goodbyes as they head for the airport and the emotional wreck that is me sheds a tear. Gemma and me decide on a quiet afternoon and we try the pool out. It is cold and wet and uninviting in all honesty. A disappointing takeaway marks the end of our last day in semi-luxury.
Day 293: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 19/07/2012
I have a quick gym session and we are soon embarking on our quest to return to normality and the usual backpacker lifestyle. A very cheap cab ride takes us to the cheaper hotel district, where we find a decent hotel at a decent price and then get out to see a bit more of the city. After a quick lunch we walk round to the impressive War Remnants Museum, through some very nice green open spaces. The museum is a very poignant reminder of the atrocities of war and the long term issues that followed.
From here we go to check the cinema times and duly get caught in the middle of some of the heaviest rain we have ever seen. Escape to the nearby market, where we inspect the range of counterfeit backpacks and North Face gear, all the while listening to the rain hammering off the tin roof. We check out the other cinema a (long) walk away, only to discover that the times were the same. A bit of pizza sees the day off before bed.
Day 294: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 20/07/2012
We wake up refreshed after a good night's sleep, ready for the day ahead. Gemma is over the moon that no natural light reaches our room, the evils of sunlight being her nemesis in the morning. After a reasonably awful breakfast we have a quick mooch about, unshowered, teeth unbrushed and with remnants of omelette on my chin. The day then flies by, and we return ten hours later, with a couple of tattoos and some serious B.O. Finally shower before heading out again for a bit more exploration of the city. We find an incredible shop, selling any manner of decent outdoorsie stuff and buy a couple of things before finding ourselves with a takeaway tea and our last night in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh has been a great city to spend a few days in, some great places to explore and lots of green space and a great atmosphere. Despite Hanoi being the capital city, the best action happens down south in Saigon, where the people are friendlier and the lights are brighter. Back to Cambodia tomorrow.