Wednesday 9th September 2015
|New buildings opposite|
AT LAST we are in Ho Chi Minh City, in a cosy inner-city hotel. It is cheap-ish but bright and cheery, with a nicely draped faux window so that we don’t feel claustrophobic.
We are in a very busy street only a few hundred metres from the huge Ben Thanh market. We had a swift walk in one door and out the other after a vey satisfying lunch of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and spring rolls and I reeled out…I had forgotten how confronting it is! Every step of the way someone was flapping a garment at me, or saying, What you want? You want handbag? You want t-shirt? The trouble is there were quite few things I did want – most of my sailing clothes are ripped and stained and generally nasty, and I would love to replace them with some more cheery lightweight summer items. But it impossible to look, and certainly not to touch because immediately there is a SWARM! Look at me! Mine are better! This way! This way! Maybe tomorrow I will have my wits about me and will have developed a technique for being able to fondle the odd garment preparatory to buying without being besieged. (And yes it important to fondle; you can’t tell whether or not the fabric is going to be suitable for a hot climate. I have chucked quite a few perfectly nice looking items because wearing them was like wearing a sauna…)
|Old buildings opposite|
I am sipping weak black tea and getting dry after a beautiful hot shower. Getting here has been a very long process. It isn’t actually very far from Davao to Ho Chi Minh City about 1150 nautical miles as the crow flies. Only two short flights, a bit more than two hours each. We got to the airport in Davao in very good time. About three hours early…Hmmm…Well better than too late! We found a nice enough place to sit and have cups of tea while we waited…and waited… The flight was actually delayed for boarding. And then it sat on the tarmac for quite a long time, revving away, waiting for clearance. We flew nicely to Manila and then…we circled round and round because there was a plane on the runway where we needed to go. Fair enough; good call, pilot! He landed us through some ominous looking clouds and lighting strikes and then…we sat in a queue of planes on the tarmac, waiting to get a parking spot for the plane. Apparently Manila airport was on thunderstorm alert and all of the ground crew were…grounded. One again fair enough but oh deary me…I needed to go to the toilet SO badly…and we were expected to stay in our seats with our belts on. For hours! In the end I just got up and scooted down the aisle to the toilet, and expected to be told off in no uncertain terms. But no…When I got to the toilet there was a nice little queue of other desperate toilet needers, and none of us got so much as an angry glance from the cabin crew.
We got through the airport rigmarole fairly speedily, because we didn’t have checked-in luggage, and we thought we would be able to walk to the hotel, which was only 1.4 kilometers away. But no… The thunderstorm had stopped but it had inspired a torrential downpour. We asked for directions but were told we couldn’t walk because the roads were flooded. And taxis couldn’t get through because…the roads were flooded. We walked a bit to check if they were lying to us – you never know – and we came to a fairly deeply flooded bit of road. Pete didn’t think he should wade across with his leg still a bit festy, so we stopped a taxi and tried to negotiate a route to the Red Planet Hotel (formerly Tune), Asean District.
It took well over an hour to get through and around the flooded streets. Interesting times…but just a teensy bit scary. We watched another taxi which had tried to take a short cut through a very deeply flooded bit of road. It was floating away, with three or four men trying to push it back onto higher ground. Our own taxi got waterlogged because a speedy impatient BIGGER taxi whooshed past and slopped a big wave through the doors. Our driver was so very patient, careful and cheerful that we gave him a bonus, well-deserved, when he finally got us to Red Planet at 11pm. (We had expected to be there by 7.30…) All of the restaurants in the street closed at 11…so we got some thin chicken sandwiches and a can of beer from a 7/11 shop next to the hotel and lay on the bed sighing with exhaustion and trying to psych ourselves up for a 4am start today.
Nothing went wrong with our flights today, and Manila was quite dry and easily navigated at 4am. Our problem today came when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and tried to get in through the Immigration counters… WHERE IS YOUR VISA??? Ummm… What visa? Can’t we get a Visa On Arrival? Well no; we would have to go back to Manila and apply for a visa and then…come back to queue up at the Immigration counter. This was not a pleasing prospect. Flying is just not that much fun. A whole series of earnest young Immigration officials sucked their teeth and furrowed their brows and tried to find a solution. It seemed the solution would cost $165 (US). EACH! In cash, not by credit card. And we didn’t have any money at all, other than our leftover Philippine pesos, because the ATMS are on the OTHER side of the Immigration barrier. Pete had been talking to a very nice young Chinese bloke, who was also waiting to have some paperwork cleared. He had actually been sitting next to me all the way on the plane and I hadn’t spoken to him at all, as per my policy of NO CHAT until landing time (and by landing time he was fast sleep.) He heard what was going on and handed over $350 in crisp new US dollars… He would not take no for an answer, our lovely guardian angel! “You can pay back any time in the next few months,” he said, cheerily. We have his bank account details so we can do a transfer now we are in Vietnam, the land of MUCH speedier email!
|Our wonderful friend Li Zheng|
By 2pm we were at the Lavender Hotel…much in need of cups of tea and bowls of pho!