Reporting from Jinqiao
29.07.2012 - 01.08.2012 30 °C
Well, our H is for Holiday is officially over, but I thought I needed to retrospectively record our visit to HCMC and also HK, but have decided to do them separately... otherwise it would be way too long and cumbersome.
So with some sadness and wishing we were staying a few days more, we packed up our villa in HoiAn and said good bye to our own pool and headed back to the big smoke, this time Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon. Flight was nice and quick, and we were picked up and taken to our hotel, the Cap Town Hotel, which although simple, was comfortable with 2 double beds. We arrived in the mid afternoon, and after checking in relaxed in our room for a couple of hours before heading out to find some dinner.
I'd picked a restaurant out of our guide book acknowledging that the book is a couple of years old, and so headed out looking for it. The restaurant we were looking for had a decent description, and as we were walking to it, we found another one which seemed to match, and I'd spotted it from the car on the way to the hotel, and so we went there - and it rocked! We had a little barbecue in the middle of the table, and we ordered a family combo pack which had several meats, prawns and some veggies which were all delivered to the table raw, but in various marinades. We were briefly shown the oil and given a slightly larger pair of chopsticks as the cooking utensils, and Mike was at it... designated cook for the evening, and it was delicious! The kids enjoyed the meat, but not the veggies or prawns, and we enjoyed the Saigon Red beer too.
The next day we encouraged the kids to walk from the hotel to the main sightseeing area where we visited Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office. The cathedral was stunning, every bit as impressive as other cathedrals around the world, and well over 100 years old. The Post Office was a lovely French-colonial building with a high arched roof, the tiles and high ceiling contributed to being a cool respite from the humidity and heat outside. We walked too far on this day, as we headed back to our hotel carrying or piggybacking the kids, contributing to our heat exhaustion. We stopped for a fancy cupcake en route, and then headed to the Rex Hotel for lunch.
The Rex Hotel was the base for a number of journalists during the Vietnam War, and it was from here that US Military gave their daily press briefings, which became known as "The Five O'Clock Follies", now from 5pm it is happy hour and is a popular tourist spot. We of course didn't go during happy hour so paid full price for our beers! From here, we jumped in a cab back to our hotel, and lucky we did because Didi fell asleep about 30 seconds after climbing in! We headed out to the mecca of backpackers and tourists to a hotspot of little eateries and restaurants. When we walked home afterwards, we went through a park where there were some people practising martial arts, might have been a little like Tai Chi, and Didi and Jie Jie decided to copy them. The participants were trying very hard to keep a straight face while listening to their instructor and watching the kids!
We walked too far with the kids, and made them walk too far... it resulted in grumpy and tired everybody really, so the next day we decided to take it easy and go everywhere, point to point, by taxi. Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum, which is home to a lot of discarded equipment from the US, including planes, helicopters and tanks. No sooner had we paid our entrance fee, than we were accosted by a one legged man who had stepped on a land mine when he was a kid. He told us, captive audience, of his plight, and we were thinking how much do we need to give him... but instead he wanted us to buy two books on the Vietnam War - I haven't read either yet, but plan to... after we bought them from him, we saw people selling the same books all over the place. Good on him for working hard and making his 'spot' as somewhere where tourists are coming to see the impacts of the war.
The museum had a number of interesting displays, a lot of posters and pictures, there was a lot of reading to do in the museum, and many of the images were quite intense. As the kidlets are only quite young, we didn't want them being scared by some of the visuals, so we opted to go through the museum separately, waiting outside each gallery with the kids. The images of the impacts of Agent Orange, or wondering what various torturing devices were used for was just something they didn't need to see, yet. We weren't hiding it from them, but we just didn't feel the need to expose them to it all yet. We talked about war, and impacts, and they were particularly interested in the bomber planes, and uniforms of soldiers, but they didn't need to see the effect of napalm!
We then went to the Jade Emperor Pagoda. As we walked in the front entrance, there were a bunch of women selling goldfish in bags and of course Didi went to have a look. As we tried to drag him away an older lady came up to us with her fist closed, and then she opened her hand right in front of Didi's nose and in it was a tiny turtle, it was only about the size of a large coin. Didi and I got such a shock, he jumped into my arms and hid his face. We went in and then saw other people releasing the fish and turtles into little ponds as sacrifices for the gods. In the back corner of the front courtyard there is a Tortoise Shelter, which is home to hundreds of turtles, many of which have messages written in Liquid Paper on their shells, I presume carrying prayers for those who released them. You could hear the scrabbling of their feet on the concrete as they climbed out of the water and every now and again a splash as they slipped back in.
The Pagoda is quite small, laid out like a bit of a rabbit warren with smaller rooms off every which way, and each one seemed to be a bit more foreboding than the one before until we were at the main altar. Didi was a bit scared of the faces and expressions of the enormous statues, in particular the evil looking Giant Demon Guards, just before the Main Sanctuary were the Jade Emperor sits. The lighting is minimal, largely candles and a small shafts of light coming in from high windows, and the air was thick with smoke from burning incense. The last room was lovely, it had 12 female statues dressed in amazing robes of all colours. Each statue represented a different lunar year, and displayed near each was their vice and their strength.
This was our last night in Vietnam, so we went out to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner, and afterwards, we decided to finally have a coffee at one of the cute little coffee shops on the street. The shops are so small, and the chairs are little stools, that mostly we thought it was too hard with the children. Even at 9pm at night, the coffee shop was packed. But the waitresses were happy to talk to the kids, who were happy to play with their iPods while we enjoyed a sweet milky coffee.
What a fantastic trip, and although we were continuing with the next step of our adventure we were a bit sad to be leaving the land of Pho and motorbikes. I think we'll be back!!