Sal’s Travelogue #2 – Saigon Green
Last week, our writer shared with us about the start of his adventure – a month of backpacking through South East Asia on a limited budget, US$700! Here he goes to share about reaching his first destination, meeting new friends and exploring new sights!
So there I was, at the Go2 bar in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) by myself – with nothing but a pack of smokes and a bottle of the very popular Saigon Green to keep me company. After polishing off two of these, the loneliness kicked in and I found myself muttering: “I hope this trip isn’t a mistake.”
As if in response to my comment, three cute girls entered the bar, and we occasionally make eye contact. The minute the table next to theirs cleared up, I moved over and motioned for the waitress to come over, so I could order my new friends a round of Saigon Greens. Before she could take down my order, however – the girls were already waving at me to come and join them.
“You look really lonely!” said the one on my right. And that I was.
It was my first time in Vietnam, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of reminiscence – Saigon reminded me a lot of Bangkok. Upon arrival, I got on board the local bus service 152 heading towards the Pham Ngu Lao district – a district well known for hosting endless streams of travelers.
What I observed along the journey confirmed my suspicion that this city wasn’t very different compared to the Thai capital – streets bustling with traffic and hordes of its inhabitants caught up in a never-ending rush to make the most out of the workday.
My first excursion found me going on a motorcycle cruise around town, to see the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants museum. Typical tourist spots, I thought – with straightforward visits that could only leave a vague impression of all that the Vietnamese have endured during their darkest years. Hiring a guide might have provided a bit more insight – but then again, I had my budget to watch, and I was not about to part so easily with my funds; especially not on my first day.
Unfortunately, what I thought would be a good start to the day only lasted three hours, and my lack of sleep from the night before prompted me to take an afternoon nap before heading to the Go2 bar.
Agnes, Cecilie and Stina, from Norway. Truthfully, it didn’t matter so much where they were from – I’m just glad I finally had people to talk to. Drinks and chatter arrived effortlessly, and in no time at all, they invited me to join them on their DIY tour of the Mekong Delta. It didn’t take a lot to convince me, since I was alone and had nothing planned.
The next morning, we got on the mini bus for a three hour ride heading south towards the township of Ben Tre. We had some trouble locating our guesthouse, the Thao Nhi – none of the locals knew about it. By some stroke of luck, the owner himself rode by on his bike and quickly rounded up a posse of three other riders to fetch us to his very welcoming establishment, which was a good seven kilometers away from the town center.
After checking in, we immediately took up the owner’s offer to tour the Delta for no more than US$15 per person. That sounded a little steep in the beginning, but by the end of it we realized we definitely got our money’s worth.
I’ve always been told that if I ever got to Vietnam, the Mekong Delta would be something I would have to see. Truth be told, I never understood what the big deal was, until now. As we cruised along the river and its smaller canals, it seemed somewhat polite that the boatman would cut the motor every now and then, to allow us to fully take in the serenity offered by this well-known river. With the occasional passing boat, makeshift jetties and floating fishing houses flanking both banks on the river, there was no way either of us could resist the urge to whip out our cameras and enter a photo-taking frenzy.
This was how we spent the day: a private boat for the four of us, a tour of the various coconut-based riverside industries and a trek through lush orchards and bee farms, ending with a firefly catching session in the evening. Value for money indeed.
We were keen on keeping our stay in Ben Tre as short as possible, but not without touring the town on bicycles on our own. The girls truly enjoyed the riverside marketplace, located at the heart of town – but for me, it hardly differed from the wet markets of any Singaporean neighborhood. The exercise was good though, and nothing beats a good song coming on as you cruise the streets with locals smiling and waving as you go by.
As the evening crept up on this quiet haven away from the hustle and bustle of Saigon, we pondered about the next leg of our trip. By five thirty, we were already on a local bus headed straight for Saigon. Tomorrow, the girls would be off towards the North of Vietnam, and I would be by myself once more. My next destination? Phnom Penh, Cambodia – a city I have been longing to revisit. I’ve spent less than US$40 for an amazing three days at Saigon and Ben Tre, and decided that I could not ask for a more solid prelude to my first solo experience.