We return to Ho Chi Minh City yet again, after just over two weeks away touring the middle of the country. Nha Trang, Da Lat, Da Nang, Hue, we covered a few cities and used the time to get ourselves caught up on the small tasks that don't go away just because you've decided to leave work and travel the globe.
Those of you who are following us on Facebook have always been ahead of these posts, we would be writing about a boat tour in Melaka when posting photos of Orangutans in Borneo. The past two weeks have allowed us to catch up - today we post about Sài Gòn in almost real time. Going forward we are going to try and keep more up to date between life and this blog, but what the world now refers to as "Gary's Paradox", if we're out enjoying ourselves we aren't thinking about writing here, and just writing here means we aren't enjoying our travels. It does seem like when we need the downtime, sitting in front of a computer worrying about proper grammar and sentence structure sometimes seems a little too much like work.
So, back to near-live blogging, we took the overnight train from Da Nang to Saigon, which had a scheduled time of 22:47. We spend our final day in Da Nang wandering the city some more and eating western food at a nice Italian restaurant before finally heading off to the train station. The train was about 20 minutes late in pulling into the station.
The trains run from Hanoi to Saigon and back on a mostly all single track line, so often the trains stop at the few points of dual track to let trains going the other direction pass. Once the schedule starts to slip it just makes all of the remaining train schedules (heading both north and south) incur additional delays. Do not plan on a Vietnamese train being on time - arrive at the station expecting it - but don't be surprised when it's not there. Unless you're at one of the end stops - Hanoi or Saigon - they seem to run true to schedule.
But all was good, we booked a 4 bunk sleeper car, and when we got in there was an American in the lower bunk across from us and an Asian women in the upper bunk. We had a good 20 minutes of conversation before heading to bed for the long night of the train heading south. The trains are a good deal, at 1,130,000 Dong ($50 USD) per person you avoid a hotel night, have the ability to walk around somewhat, and during the day it's a great way to see the countryside. The train has single seats - people are in them, but we think the ability to lie down and sleep is worth the extra dollars - and there are 6 bunk sleepers, which we think would actually be worse then having a single seat, they are super cramped. You can book any berth, our neighbor made sure he got a lower bed since he didn't want to climb into a bunk, we booked one side figuring that then you wouldn't be awoken by someone climbing down in the middle of the night needing a bathroom break. Ah, the bathroom break, there are both western and squat toilets, they aren't horrible but not clean by our standards - bring your own toilet paper and maybe some wet wipes, wear running shoes instead of flip-flops of sandals. We brought eye masks to help, earplugs or noise cancelling earphones would also help, there is a lot of yelling in the hallways - especially at stations when people get on the train to sell goods. They do sell food, we brought all of our own, but if you get on empty handed you won't starve.
The woman in our cabin got off in Nha Trang (maybe she was Russian, we only know she didn't speak English) around 8 in the morning, and it was just the three of us for the remainder of the ride into Saigon. I awoke around 9 and got up to wander the carriages just to stretch, by 10 all us were up and sitting so that we could open the curtains to watch the view as we read. At 2:15 pm we opened a bottle of wine to celebrate the exact moment when Tina had joined the world back in Canada just a few decades ago.
We can't recommend train travel in Vietnam enough, and on top of that we will say that if you're going to do it make sure you do the ride from Hue to Da Nang and do it during the day. It's the perfect run along the coast through undeveloped areas with jungle mountains on one side and sweeping views of the ocean on the other.
We pulled into Saigon about an hour late and took a quick taxi to the hotel before we wandered around a bit and I treated Tina to a birthday dinner of a Banh Mi bought off an impromptu grill built onto the front of a motorcycle.
The next day we both made it to our consulates to get our new passports - yes, we're legal again. We will find out how much confusion the new passports cause when we head into Cambodia tomorrow and we need to get stamped out of a country into a brand new passport. Canada still does them locally, so Tina's passport shows that it was issued in Ho Chi Minh City, something I wish the US did instead of just printing them all out of Washington DC.
We did nothing as far as touring this time here, we ate at Huong Lai, a restaurant that works to help street kids and orphans and serves amazing food. We found a new brewery, Heart of Darkness, that would easily fall into an almost weekly habit if we actually lived here, their food excellent, the beers outstanding.
Wandering back through the city tonight, the main pedestrian walkway was packed with people just enjoying the night.
Turns out today was a holiday in Vietnam, the festival of the Hung Kings, and it means slightly quieter streets in the day and more crowded public places in the evening.
If you're planning a trip to Vietnam, take a look at your schedule and then check their holidays - the festival of the kings is on the 10th day of the third lunar month, so it will move somewhat, but also there is Victory Day on April 30th and Labor Day on May 1st, that could effect some of the plans one might have made.
Tomorrow we're off to Cambodia on the overland bus, we've read nothing but mostly bad reviews of them, so that's something that we've got to look forward to.