Thursday, 18 July 2013

Day Nine & Ten - Saigon to Chau Doc

The past two days have been a long journey to say the least! We left Hoi An at midday yesterday to travel to the airport in Danang for our flight to Saigon (Hoi Chi Minh City). We flew with Jetstar airways from this brand new airport that only opened in 2012. Our flight left onetime from this modern city that seemed to sparkle in the sunlight as we took off. The flight was just over an hour long and we landed on time in Saigon at a quarter past three.

As we descended into the airport in Saigon we saw its huge colourful suburbs spanning out for miles with the Mekong river flowing right through the centre. As you look over to the city centre you see a cluster of new skyscrapers representing the changing times in Vietnam. It was nice to fly into this city to see the huge scale of it that you wouldn't be able to grasp so well arriving on train or bus.

A driver picked us up and took us to our hotel for the night located just off a small narrow park that leads up to the city centre in District One of Saigon. Our stay so far in Vietnam had been amazing and run completely smoothly - everyone we have met has gone out of their way to help us get to our next location and to make our stay thoroughly enjoyable.

Last night in Saigon things were not quite the same. I'm not going to dwell on it but we ended up not staying in the hotel we chose because the receptionist said there was a 'stink' in the room. Instead she moved us to their sister hotel next door to a larger room - an 'upgrade' she insisted. It was a larger room but in a two rather than three star hotel like we had originally booked. There was still a 'stink' as well as a disused stone water feature in the corner, plenty of mould and a balcony (that constituted the upgrade) which resembled more of a WW2 bunker than balcony. Lets just say we made use of our sleeping bags and avoided the hotel until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer! I put it down to an experience!

We wandered along the big Main Street that lead up to the city centre to explore a little before dusk. My mood had been slightly dampened and there wasn't a great deal of time before dark so we decided to go up the Bitexco Financial Tower to the 48th floor sky deck and bar to watch the sunset. The tower reaches 262 meters and dwarfs everything around it. It was designed by Carlos Zapata and completed in 2010. The building and its views were amazing and we spent an hour up there watching the sun set on this ever changing city combining a taste of old and new Vietnam.

We walked back towards our hotel passing old buildings sitting next to banking sky scrapers. Traditional stalls selling soup and the usual market products sit next to French designer stores and trendy boutique hotels with rooftop gardens. The parks are full of young people playing sports and ballroom dancing next to big speakers. There's a lot of energy here and everyone is on the move not to mention the mopeds. They say in Saigon there are over for million mopeds - I'd say there's a hell of a lot more! Looking down at the streets it's like ant trails and the fumes are suffocating!

We stopped in at a few different bars and after paying home prices for drinks stopped off at a street stall for dinner. I had noodle soup for a change and it was one of the cheapest but best I had eaten so far. Regardless of the hotel I slept well and we woke up early to catch our bus to Chau Doc near the Cambodian border. We skipped breakfast after the smell of gas outside our room made us feel lucky we had made it through the night and instead went back to the place we ate at the night before for Vietnamese bread and eggs. A tour girl came to pick us up and made us walk about 500 meters down the road with our heavy bags to a car that would be taking us to the out of town bus station. We got to the car and twelve others were already inside the (five seater) car. The guide said it would be ok it's only an hour and a half journey! We backed out and after another hour of sitting in a s#*$ hole of an office that wasn't fit for a rodent we managed to book a driver for the 170km journey to Chau Doc. He turned up an hour and a half late ad we were on our way by nine.

We worked our way our of Saigon passing through various streets to the main road. It's funny but we noticed that each street seems to specialise in selling a different product here. One street just sold cans of imported baby milk powder then the next a road of fish tanks, then bird cages, bike tyres, cooling fans, plants and so on until we reached the highway.

They appear to be building a new raised motorway right to the border which you weave in, over and under the whole way. Our average speed we worked out must have been about 30km hour it's almost painful watching how slow kilometres are dropping off the journey. We headed south first then hit one of the largest tributaries of the Mekong delta then followed this west towards our destination. Though this area is renowned for some of the best rice production land in the country there doesn't seen to be as many paddies as in other parts of the country. In the north and centre of Vietnam all you see for miles are the emerald green paddies but here there are a lot more plantations of palms broken up by the odd paddy.

Like usual homes, stalls and bars line the roads but I also noticed that the bars had become even more laid back with huge shelters attached to the sides with dozens of hammocks hanging up underneath them. As we carried on crossing tens of small rivers lined also with homes on stilts either side you can see how rice production is huge here. You pass large barns at the side of the road with lorries parked out front with bags of rice being piled on. On the rivers too sheds with conveyer belts point out to the river are loading up large wooden boats with bags of rice ready for export.

Further along the road I also noticed lots of smoke the whole time on the horizon. As we got nearer large brick kilns dotted along the road and river side smoked up everywhere that appear to be producing red bricks. The production along these rivers is amazing and the way the rivers provides the best means of transport makes them an essential artery of the region.

We passed through miles and miles of flood land and all the homes are on tall stilts as we got closer to Chau Doc in the heart of the Mekong region. Rivers and tributaries criss cross everywhere all lined with people homes and businesses. We pulled into Chau Doc shortly after three and checked into our hotel. Storms are brewing now and the sky is dark and flashing with lightning - I'm sure there will be heavy rain soon. I don't think we will be venturing too far this evening, maybe just to the royal Victoria hotel, the only other hotel in this town. We will be up at dawn tomorrow morning to catch a boat up the Mekong delta to Phenom Penh in Cambodia which should be beautiful - I just hope it doesn't rain too much!

Location:Đường Bạch Đằng,Chau Phu,Vietnam

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