The Man in Seat 61 must have been on a different train to the ones I’ve been riding on.
Travelling by rail is not as comfortable in Vietnam as in China or Russia.
However, it has been an incredible experience and, with the exception of a bus between Berlin and Warsaw, I’ve travelled entirely by train from Manchester in the UK to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
That feels like quite a journey.
I arrived in Saigon around 5.45 this morning… the wake up call began around twenty minutes before that.
Faint at first, it gradually became a stirring chorus and the song was played repeatedly, louder each time. I had to find out what it was.
All hail Google, because thanks to a quick search, I discovered what the rousing and jaunty tune was that welcomed us in to my last stop in Vietnam.
You too can enjoy… The Ballad of Ho Chi Minh.
The train company were really keen to ensure all of the passengers were awake.
I checked the map… I had either a 30 minute walk to the hostel or a five minute bike ride, and within seconds of exiting the station doors… up went the questioning offers of “Motorbike?”
I was tempted.
However, the first two riders immediately started with the stereotyped scam of: “Oh, that hotel is closed,” so I walked away.
Clearly, my hostel doesn’t pay commission to the taxi drivers and riders.
I couldn’t be bothered to argue so I simply told them, no thank you, and kept walking.
On the way, I passed a very large park – the largest open urban green space that I have seen in the Vietnamese cities I’ve been in.
It was already busy.
This was the coolest the temperature was going to be and people were making the most of it.
I haven’t seen many outdoor Tai Chi sessions over the last month and 6am was no different. For the most part, the groups were doing aerobics.
Each of the green gym facilities was in use while joggers took to the paths or did their warm up exercises on the park benches.
Once again, I was too early to check in so I dropped my bags off at the hostel and headed back towards the park.
I had been very put off by the hostel cafe’s breakfast prices: 55,000VND for a coffee. Are you joking?
That works out at about £1.90.
New Zealand is going to be a shock. I will have some economic acclimatiding to do. However, for now, I am going to make the most of Vietnamese pricing.
I headed out to find a roadside cafe – if there are plastic stools, you’re on to a winner. At the first one I passed were Matteo (from the US) and Ty (from Vietnam) where I joined them for some primers on Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s dinner at a Nepalese restaurant with some ex-pat artists tonight. A random introduction to the city.
The woman who ran the coffee shop didn’t seem very friendly, which felt slightly disappointing to me after my experiences elsewhere.
“Don’t worry, it’s just the way here,” said Matteo. “Once you prove yourself not to be on the take, people are nice.”
I wasn’t sure how I would do that just buying a sandwich and a coffee… for the grand fee of 35,000VND. I told you 55,000VND for a coffee was extortion.
I headed back to the park
After visiting the temple, which included a shrine to Ho Chi Minh, though fortunately not the ballad, I watched a group of people playing a game that looked like a cross between badminton and football.
A man, also watching, told me that they had invited me to join in.
Surprised, I did. As did the man. We were both terrible. No coordination at all but it was fun.
The park was still busy with people exercising and I took a bench to watch an actual Tai Chi Class.
My initial breakfast impressions were once again shown to be completely wrong.
Jolly and Elsa stopped to introduce themselves and ask me where I was from. On hearing “Manchester”, Jolly gave me a huge hug.
Now, I love living in Manchester and I’m used to people reacting because of the football connection but so far,that has been the most enthusiastic response.
It became clear why.
Jolly’s daughter is going there to work in January. She asked me if I would meet with them both to tell them about Manchester.
I agreed. Why not? We’re meeting by the fan dancers in the park at 10am and Jolly is taking me to her house. She told me to bring an empty stomach – she’s cooking.
All of this, within two hours of arriving in the city. Sometimes, connecting is just so easy.
Jolly hurried me on my way to the War Remnants Museum. “It gets very busy,” she said. “Take some tissues – it will be emotional.”