We got up early to catch the good light, and before it got too hot, walking down through downtown Saigon to the river where boats of all sizes and shapes were plying the broad brown waters. On the banks, a woman knelt in prayer as she released some fish that had been captured for that express purpose. I suppose one’s responsibility for such actions doesn’t quite resonate past the personal level all the time.
We walked to the bridge designed by the Eifel of Tower fame, the steps of which reeked of trash and urine. Nearby a field of young Vietnamese men practiced formation in a very languid fashion. On the other side of the bridge a TV or film production was ongoing, with the crew positioning a complex array of mirrors and filters to make the editor’s job less hellish as the sun came and went. The director and his assistant huddled on the steps not far away, looking at the monitor.
Breakfast was had on a street nearby, and we talked with the owner in Chinese as she was, as seems fairly common here, of Cantonese ancestry. Unfortunately, though the food was good, we lingered too long, and when the cops came to collect their shakedown fees, they were unable to escape fast enough and got caught in the net.
We examined an interesting mixed Hindu/Buddhist temple down the street before walking back through a market to the tallest building in the city, which features an observation deck. As it costs money to go up, it wasn’t crowded, and they offer free wifi and water in addition to free dots and substandard, wavy glass that screws with your photos. I wonder if they also light it up at night from the inside as well. Perhaps someday I’ll come back and find out.
But the daytime view was fine, and really let me get a grasp on the layout of the city. Perhaps I should have gone up there at first to get my bearings, instead of leading Prince Roy on a series of merry, exhausting chases around the city. But I didn’t, so, well, sorry about that, my liege.
From up top, I did managed to pinpoint our next destination: Across the river was a large, densely packed area of what looked like older houses, punctuated by a single orange pagoda. We got one of the staff to write the neighborhood’s name down (it turns out he takes the bus past the area every day), and we caught a cab out there.
It turns out that the pagoda is new, and built next to the smashed ruins of the old temple. Little shards of porcelain gods lay in the mud, but two were intact and placed lovingly on one of the concrete pillars. I wonder what that is all about. We were invited inside by a monk, who showed us around and took pictures of us in front of the altar.
After that we walked back into the alleys of the densely packed neighborhood behind the temple. It was fascinating and fun, and we were greeted by almost everyone. It is in District 4, one of the poorer parts of town as I understand, but the houses were mostly neat and clean, some of them quite nice. Nice little parks dotted the area.
We made our way towards the canal bank, where things got very industrial very fast. A guard waved me away from the actual waterfront, and we walked in a large U back to where we’d started. Lunch was delicious beef pho at an electronics repair shop.
After taxiing back to PR’s place and showering up, we bade his Highness farewell and caught a cab to the airport, this time making sure the driver used his meter. At the airport we barely had time for a small snack before boarding our 777 to Hanoi. The good news is that we got emergency row seats. The bad news is that the seats had no windows, so I had wedge my head into the space between the seat and the fuselage to see the wonderful cloud formations outside. Our stewardess gave me a talking to about filming in the aircraft after I shot video of her pointedly refusing to help passengers with their luggage (I’m sure she’ll enjoy the Youtube video).
The flight had left in a downpour, but the weather in Hanoi was much nicer. We had to take buses into the airport, but it wasn’t that bad. We then got on a bus into town, which is a long trip. It was just after sunset, the empty rice fields glowing under massive electric billboards and the lights from lonely motorcyclists.
Things got seedier as we approached the city, and then nicer again. It was nighttime when we forced our way through the touts and caught another cab to our hotel, the Merci. I suspect the driver understands Chinese, because after Chenbl mentioned a less-than-life-changing tip, we seemed to be travelling in circles for a long while.
We checked in and then went out for dinner, and suddenly the world was a giant frat party. The streets were full of Western kids. Hardly any Vietnamese were to be seen. We sat next to a table of young Americans who were dining on a debate of the merits of locking people up forever with no reason, with a side of chunky entitlement. The dinner was ok, as was the a/c, as the weather is evern muggier up here than in Saigon. The crowds outside were just out of hand as we forced our way back to the hotel.
Tomorrow, hopefully, we’re going to catch a ride to Halong Bay and get on a boat.