Saturday, 19 December 2015


16th Dec 2015

City Hall. District 1

Now happily ensconced at 'base camp' in Phu Nhuan District, in the north of the city. Being 'scooterless' I now rely on lifts by my 'scootered-up' friends or taxi, local bus, 'xe om' (motorbike taxis) or walking.
It takes between 20 to 35 mins to the centre of town (District 1) depending on traffic which gets pretty clogged up at rush hours mainly due to the rapid growth in the number of cars on the road. This city is not designed for private cars and they serve little use when sitting in a jam. Most of these new cars are vastly expensive models driven, as status symbols, by the increasing number of well-off Vietnamese. I mean what is the point, apart from showing off, of owning a top-of-the-range Merc capable of Mach 2 when the max speed you can ever reach on the city roads (apart from perhaps between 2 - 4 am) is about 30kph while the scooters (motos) weave around and past you. The roads outside the city are pretty poor and don't exactly provide race-track conditions for these uber-wagen either. The city buses are great value, if you know where to find the stops, and they manage to bully their way through the traffic with kamikaze drivers  using mega-blaster horns and accelerators in equal measure. The only drawback with them is that they stop operating at about 8.00pm. 'Xe om', the private motorbike taxis, are cheap and fun. They tend to be driven by rather ancient and myopic gentlemen, or half-wit youths, who frequently have less idea of where you want to get to than you do. It is important to negotiate a fare before you get on and describe, as best you can, where you want to go. They always say they 'understand' but seldom do. No good showing them a street map because a) they are normally too blind to read it and b) if they can see it they don't understand maps. If you have time to spare and, crucially, know where you are going, it is quite amusing to let them get completely lost and see where you end up before they finally and reluctantly admit defeat. Taxis are a reliable, if more expensive option. For those intending to visit and use taxis two trusty companies are Vinasun and Mailinh. There may be others, but there are also many rip-off merchants as you can expect
A couple of things I have noticed since my last visit are a number of 'one-way' streets where none existed before and even a few new 'flyovers'. Big effort is obviously being made to facilitate traffic flow but, as in most cities, this merely results in more traffic and consequent log-jam again. Traffic expands to fill the space available! They are also busy constructing an underground/overground system (sponsored by Japan) through the city centre which I am sure will be marvellous but at present the workings block off several main roads to traffic and merely add to the chaos.

I'd almost forgotten what a noisy (vibrant?) place this is. Sitting in an open cafe with constant streams of traffic passing within feet of you accompanied by the non-stop 'beep beep' of scooter horns  encourages the increase of volume of any music they play to ear-splitting level, and the Vietnamese conversation then rises in pitch and decibels to compensate. Even without traffic and music, the average Vietnamese restaurant resounds to loud, happy and slightly intoxicated conversation with cries of "mot, hai, ba, yo!" (one, two, three, yo!) as they down their glasses in one.  If you do manage to find a quiet 'off piste' local eatery at night you can bet your bottom dollar that someone, sooner or later, will stand up and start singing via a mega-watt speaker...encouraged and followed by his friends. The Vietnamese enjoy noise, it seems. The increasing number of very up-market hotels and restaurants are a rather different kettle of fish......quiet, sophisticated and expensive. Not on my budget I'm afraid.

Right: The roof-top swimming pool and bar at my apartment block.

Left: View south to the city centre.

Right: .......and north west to the airport.

Left: A view of the picturesque Vietnamese building site below my window. This city is in a continual state of things being knocked down and things being built to replace them. Whole streets seems to disappear from time to time. It's all to do with back-handers and making money of course; not often to improve the environment. I suppose it keeps the workers in gainful employment.

Right: Looking down from the Caravelle Hotel 'Saigon Saigon' roof top bar over the prestigious Nguyen Hue St in Dist 1. The housing at the back of the glamorous shops is somewhat less than equal to the frontage.

Left: A very typical narrow Ho Chi Minh street with little shops below the accommodation.

Right: Not sure what this bevy of local beauty were 'on parade' for. The didn't dance or sing and just appeared there to have their photo taken. Why not.

I wandered down to Pham Gnu Lao St, just west of the centre. This is known as the 'backpacker' area with myriad bars, hostels, travel agents, pickpockets etc. and cafes dispensing 'All Day Full English Breakfast' (about the only thing other than football, the Royal Family and Mr Bean that resonates about England with the Vietnamese). The place is full of foreign, mainly western, tourists out for a 'good time' involving plenty of beer and possibly mind-altering substances. It is somewhat grotty; a sort of lesser version of Magaluf in Majorca. There are some excellent travel agents though (lots of competition). I went to buy a ticket for a  two day trip to the Mekong Delta.

Left: A sample of 'backpackers' who now all seem to have 'frontpacks' as well. 'Frackpackers' perhaps.

It is considered 'fashionable' to have some slogan in English stencilled onto a T shirt. Some of the expressions are just gobbledegook because they don't know what the English just looks 'cool'. As an example one I saw recently read "Kind Puss Hapy A1 London"and another "Many Cool You Me Right".

...However sometimes it goes a bit wrong. I don't suppose this little girl or her parents quite knew what they were buying! Very trendy, I'm sure.

No plan to this trip; just wandering. More jottings to follow.

Monday, 14 December 2015


9th Dec 2015 

As part of my 'Chrexit' plan this year I decided to revisit old, and perhaps some new, haunts in Vietnam. OK, I have come to realise that it is impossible to escape the mind numbing Jingle Bells and ghastly Rudolph the Pestilential Reindeer in virtually every reach of the planet (except North Korea, which is possibly the country's finest selling point), but at least in far flung places one stands a fighting chance of avoiding the worst excesses of the mandatory Festive drudgery. Of course, all countries of any faith or none (except North Korea) have cottoned on to the commercial benefits of the 'Christmas' message (ie buy buy buy) with department stores, hotels and streets decked out in fairy lights, Christmas trees, tinsel and bloody reindeer towing hideous Santas in sleighs over polystyrene snow, even those places in which the inhabitants have never experienced temperatures of less than 30˚ or have the slightest inkling of any religious connotation. Actually, one Chrimbo decoration which I found amusing, and therefore approved of, was in Japan where a department store had mounted a gigantic cross on a wall upon which was nailed Father Christmas. I thought that summed it all up rather neatly! Another version above. It must be catching on. Ho! Ho! Ho! indeed.

So, off to Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh City for a spot of lazing around in a warm climate with plenty of good bars, restaurants and the company of a few old and jolly mates. I expect it will be a period of very merry, and hopefully 'Christmas-lite', entertainment.

The train and underground to LHR terminal 4 was, surprisingly, on time with no 'we regret to announce' announcements. As such, and having given myself plenty of time (expecting the worst), I arrived particularly early and was somewhat disappointed not being able to have another good whinge about the useless British transport system. Of course not completely surprised to hear that the Vietnam Airlines flight 050 to Saigon was delayed. By how much? The board just said 'please wait'. "How long?" I asked the lack of information desk. "Don't know" was their helpful reply. As it happened it was only 2 hrs late (not bad by Vietnamese standards). The aircraft was one of the brand new Boeing 787 'Dreamliners', recent additions to Vietnam Airlines' fleet. Even so, travelling cattle class, I expected to be sandwiched in next to a fat, revolting, sweaty, smelly, snoring, farting, spitting, coughing, nose-picking creature with disgusting table manners and some form of contagious disease for the 12 hour flight (I optimistically hope noone may think that of me!). As it happened I was in the aisle seat of a row of three with an empty one beside me, so plenty of space and surprisingly ample leg room. A rather charming Welsh girl had the window. Quite comfortable in fact. The only downside on these flights can be, and normally is, yowling sprogs. There were a few and they make the most hideous racket. I believe a seperate, sound-proofed, compartment should be reserved for these little monsters (and their seemingly oblivious parents). Either that or they should be compulsorily drugged unconscious for the duration of the flight.

We arrived at SGN at 7.15am and remarkably quickly through immigration/customs. No forms to fill in and efficient, smart and polite Vietnamese officials. Why the hell can't our 'officials' make the slightest attempt to look smart? Also impressive was the lack of Christmas tat in a newly revamped arrivals hall. I remember a few years ago they had succumbed to  lots of artificial trees etc. with tacky life size dancing 'yo ho hoing' 'Santas'. Good taste seems to have prevailed. Things are looking up!

I am due to be staying as the guest of a generous ex-colleague, on leave at the moment, in a most comfortable apartment in the Phu Nhuan district, not too far from the airport. The taxi ride there was relatively quick despite the apparent increase of cars in the city (for which it wasn't designed) and I wasn't even ripped off...possibly because the driver knew that I knew where I was going and I managed to remember a bit of the lingo, something that always makes them a bit wary. Anyway, arrived and all pre-organised to let me into the apartment for, initially, a good kip. Things are definitely looking promising.

More posts to follow, of probably/hopefully not too dramatic content. I seem to remember posting many pics of Ho Chi Minh City and environs a few years ago (2012) and I don't suppose much has changed. We shall see........