MP3 track of the day: I'd lie for you and that's the truth – Meatloaf
Weather: Overcast but very humid
Okay so last night didn't go as I had planned. Once I had finished on the internet, the Aussie trio came through the front door. They had just got back from their trip to the Vietnam War tunnels and they had enjoyed it. One of them was shattered whereas the other two wanted to play their board game. They asked if I wanted to play to which I decided to surrender my tea and join in. 'Settlers of Catan' was the name of the game. Invented by a German, it's hugely popular within Germany and I suppose that's why a German guy, staying here, asked to join in. It's a game all about resources and growth through trade and bartering. I enjoyed it though I didn't do very well. After this I taught the Aussies 'Yaneeve' (the card game that I like) and they seemed to enjoy it too. We wrapped up the enjoyable evening of playing games around 1:30am. This didn't help with my plan for an early start tomorrow.
Even though I went to sleep around 2am I was still up fairly early. I got myself ready for the day and collected all the stuff I wanted to post in one, large, carrier bag. I had my usual bread, butter and water for breakfast (not quite as nice as the pancakes I was eating a week ago) and headed out into the city at around 9am. My first destination was the central post office. I had walked past this impressive French colonial building yesterday without giving it much of a glance. The building was a massive rectangular shape with communist statues on either side of the main entrance. Once inside the marble floor, wooden furniture and high ceilings gave the building a 1960's feel though, due to the high ceiling and ceiling fans, it was a very pleasant environment to be in.
There were many counters dealing with many different types of post. Air mail, sea mail, DHL, business mail, international mail and internal mail to name but a few. Each desk had a person sitting behind it awaiting a customer. I walked over to the 'international mail' desk where I had my stuff weighted (2.8kg … I will be glad not to carry that amount of weight around with me); I was then presented with three forms. The first form was an address form to be attached to the item being posted. The other two wanted details of my parcels contents. I had almost filled out all of the details when one question asked for my passport number. I didn't know it. What's more my passport was at my guesthouse. Should I just make it up? I thought I'd better not and I just left it blank hoping it wasn't important, or else I would have to walk all the way to my guesthouse (about twenty minutes) and then all the way back again.
I handed my forms to a gentleman who again weighted all my stuff. He checked all the items and, when he came to the paper gifts my Cambodian class had given me, he asked if I really wanted them posting. He didn't seem at all bothered that I hadn't given my passport number, however he was bothered with me trying to post home two camera memory cards. I had to take them out and keep them with me. Once my items passed his scrutiny he got a box, some polystyrene, a craft knife and reams of tape. He then began to wrap my parcel and, I thought, he did rather a good job. I was certain that my parcel should make it in one piece (as long as no bent post office official takes a fancy to it first). I was then handed back my forms and asked to move to another desk to pay. As I walked to the desk instructed I looked to the left and right of me.
The communists stance is that there is no unemployment because everyone has a job. Within this post office I could see that the process required as many workers as possible and that there were quite a few staff sitting around not achieving a lot. What's more I think the staff outnumbered the customers. I made it to the paying counter where a lady whipped out a calculator and presented me with a figure. 450,000 dong (around £15) would be all that it would cost to post almost 3kg's of souvenirs home … not bad I thought.
As I walked down the steps of the main entrance a thought occurred to me. My receipt said that my parcel could take the standard three months (I went for sea mail) to arrive; this could mean that, potentially, I would be back in the UK before this parcel reached me. This was just another sad reminder that my world tour was coming to an end. To perk myself up I saw at least three beautiful brides, all dressed in white, having their photos taken outside the post office. I agreed that it did indeed make a good back drop. I left the beautiful brides to their photos and off I went to my first attraction of the day.
The weather was hot, however the sun wasn't that fierce due to it being overcast. Looking into my wallet I had, already, almost spent the 2 million dong I had withdrawn only two days ago. I had paid for five nights accommodation, posted home a 2.8kg parcel and purchased my Vietnamese souvenirs however getting through £60 that quickly wasn't good. What was good was that I had chatted about my 'Vietnamese banking' mistake to other travelers. They told me that the maximum you can withdraw was two million dong, unless you visited a 'ANZ bank' ATM; there you could withdraw four million. After this I didn't feel as bad with myself and so, this time, I hunted out an 'ANZ' ATM. After the withdrawal I pushed on.
The more I see of Ho Chi Minh City the more I like. Most streets seem to be tree lined giving copious amounts of shade and making the whole area look very pleasant. I finally made it to the 'History Museum', located in the north-east part of town. I went through the gate and towards the ticket office. Just before arriving at the ticket office my eyes glanced to an English blue sign to my left:
'Tues – Sun 8:30am – 11:30am. 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Mon - Closed'
Just my luck, I thought to myself. However, as I began to exit the ticket salesman waved to me to indicated that the museum was open. I pointed to the sign but he just shook his head. I wasn't utterly convinced if he was being genuine, or just trying to get 15,000 dong (50p) from me. Considering the small amount of money – and the fact I could see other tourists around the area – I paid and followed his directions.
I went into a small courtyard filled with plants. To my right was the entrance to the museum and it was indeed open. I walked in to be greeted by an octangle room. Within the room was a collection of bronze age swords from around southern Vietnam. To my left was an entrance marked 'start' and to my right was another entrance marked 'finish'. There was also a big bust of Ho Chi Min himself. The museum was split into eighteen rooms; each room dealt with a specific period of Vietnam's history. Each room had a little bit of written text (though the use of English wasn't brilliant), paintings and artifacts (either pottery, weapons, coins, clothes or musical instruments). I wasn't in a particular 'museum mood' and, considering the time was 10:00am and they closed for lunch at 11:30am, I decided to breeze through the museum at a steady pace. Another determining factor for my quick visit was that the place was full of tour groups.
White old men and women, each with a group number on their shirt, were always getting in my way. If it wasn't group number four, it was group number eight hogging a glass cabinet that I wanted to see. I'm starting to get plagued by tour groups again; yesterday I had a school group within the 'War Remnants Museum' also getting under my feet. I left this museum at 11:15pm … sandwiched between groups numbered eleven and six.
The next attraction, on my list, was the 'Jade Emperor Pagoda'. From where I currently was I knew that I had to keep walking north, and so that's what I did. I found myself at a cross roads; I checked my map to locate where I was in relation to the pagoda. I should have been directly opposite it, but alas, I couldn't see it. I asked a few locals (some of which where helpful, some of which wanted paying) for its location. I was sent this way and that but still no pagoda. I wondered the northern streets for, what seemed like, hours due to the heat (though in reality I was probably only walking for forty-five minutes) until I eventually gave up. I decided that if this 'Jade Emperor Pagoda' was really worth it there would be signs to it's location (I think this proves that I ain't no 'Indiana Jones').
It was now midday and time for food. After my failed attempt at finding the pagoda I headed south and back into the city. On my way I found a 'Lotteries' fast food restaurant. I decided that this must have been Vietnam's equivalent to McDonalds or KFC, though at £1.50 per meal, it was a lot cheaper. I continued south, drinking lots and lots of fluids, until I hit the 'Saigon River'. This being a working river, with a huge port, it made the riverfront rather non-existant. There was a huge wall with barbed wire running a long the top; you could just see the top of massive cranes, storage boxes and ships on the otherside, but that was it. I wondered if my parcel would be leaving through this port. I walked parallel to the river until I made it to the economic heartland of Ho Chi Minh City, and the statue of 'Tran Hung Dao'. I took loads of photos of this statue before getting lost between the huge skyscrapers that dominated this part of town. I continued to walk this way and that through parts of the city I hadn't ventured into before. From just looking at Ho Chi Minh City I would say that Vietnam was certainly richer than Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
It was hot, I was had been walking since 9am and I hadn't had a lot of sleep last night. I was pretty tired and so I returned to my guesthouse to put some stuff within my room. Once there I met the Aussies, already to catch their bus north. I wished them a pleasant journey and it seems possible that we could meet up again. I climbed the eight flights of stairs to my dorm, put my stuff away, and then went back down the stairs and out into the city again. The only part of town that I hadn't seen was the south-west corner, and so I set to.
The south-west corner of Ho Chi Minh City reminded me of the rest of South East Asia. The broken pavements, rubbish littering the streets and dogs roaming freely indicated to me that this must have been the poorer end of town. I spent a little while taking in the atmosphere before returning to my guesthouse. Just for fun I climbed the eight flights of steps again and went into my dorm. Once there a new 'dorm mate' had arrived. We both recgonised each other and, after a while, we remembered that we had been in the same guesthouse in … wait for it … Georgetown, Malaysia. This was around three months ago, what a small world. We spent a few minutes catching up before I went down the stairs to surf the web and book a trip for tomorrow.
Tomorrow I've book a day tour to the Mekong delta. For $8.00 I get a mini-van to 'My Tho', the main town within the Mekong Delta, before boarding a boat and traveling through narrow waterways surrounded by rice fields, coconut plantations and many other food types. We also visit 'Ben Tre' which is where my guidebook recommends going. The trip also includes lunch and I'm pretty excited about it. The only problem is that it's a 7am start and so, especially after last night, I need an early night tonight. I am looking forward to tomorrow.