Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Soundtrack of SE Asia (Long Train is Long)

We decided to spend the day just wandering around Saigon and seeing some more of it’ sights today. We wandered out of the hotel after another breakfast of a fresh bread roll and some jam. We stood on the edge of the road trying to figure out how to tell who was just riding a scooter and who was actually an ex om motorbike taxi rider. We took a guess that the ones sitting around with peaked caps were the people we wanted to speak to and approached them. They jumped into action on our approach and we agreed on a price to take us to the Jade Pagoda that we’d been told was amazing. After flying through the Saigon streets on the back of a motorbike we were much more in sync with the city. It is really an amazing place when you just go with the flow.

We got to the Jade Pagoda and realised that it wasn’t just a tourist attraction, this place had a steady stream of worshipers that were moving around us going about their prayers. The building was quite unimpressive when you saw it from the outside. But once you got inside the rooms were filled with beautiful statues and amazing carvings and wall frescos. There were many Taoist myths and stories that seem to be shared across many religions in the area. There were some amazingly vivid pictures of the 10 levels of Hell. We took our time and slowly and respectfully made our way around the area and then finished by patting the mane of a giant horse statue and ringing it’s bell for good luck in travel.

We headed out and our riders had hung around so we negotiated another amount to take us down to the water front area. About half way they stopped off at the Notre Dame Cathedral which is opposite the beautiful post office built by the French when they were in control of Saigon, The drivers let us jump off and go into the post office (which was open on a Sunday) and post a card home.

We then headed down to the water front which we’d been told was amazing and beautiful and after saying goodbye to our bikes we wandered for a bit, the area was silent. There was nothing much happening, no one was around and all the shops looked so stuck up that we couldn’t be bothered to really stick around. We had lunch at a Korean food place that turned out to be very nice and pretty cheap and then started walking back through the city towards our hotel. We shopped at some local places and had a drink on the way.

We headed back to the hotel and tried to book our tickets for the train the next day. Sadly the train station office was closed so we figured that we’d just risk it the next morning. We wandered around the area and I had another blind massage. This one was pretty hairy. No one spoke any English and the only thing I can say is “thank you” in Vietnamese. After getting through it and heading for a dinner of Pho Bo, Drew and I went to the Crazy buffalo.

This is a bar that specialises in cheap drinks and the soundtrack of South East Asia. The music varied from classic hits of the 80's and 90's such as some classic Red Hot Chilli Peppers and AC/DC to I Swear by All for One. I hadn’t heard this song since probably my year 8 high school dance. There has actually been a lot less soundtrack of your life going on in Vietnam and never was it more prevalent than in Thailand where every second song you heard led to the conversation starting with ‘omg! I remember this song’ and then proceed to remember all the words much to your own dismay. Drew wanted me to mention that the toilet in this place was crazy and that in the boys urinal you were peeing on a LCD television.

The next morning we got up early and headed to the train station with our fingers crossed that we’d be able to get a train. So with much nervousness we checked out of our hotel and after being told it was booked out and to catch the bus we made it to the train station. We walked in and were immediately pointed in the right direction and headed to the ticket counter. We grabbed a numbered ticket and were about to sit down when one of the lovely train ladies approached us and asked what train we were planning to catch? We told her and she checked and double checked with us that we didn’t mind that it meant we were in 3rd class and only had fans and windows that could be opened. We told her that sounded perfect and she did a bit of a ‘ok, well if you’re sure’ and helped us buy our tickets.

Each ticket cost us 95.000D which works out to be about $5 US to get both of us from Saigon to Na Trang. We headed out to the train and we ushered aboard. We found that there was a family in our seat and the train guy was trying to get them to move for us, but we insisted that we’d just find a spare seat and with many smiles on both sides, as I don’t think they understood we found our seat. It was another lovely hard wood seat number like on the Thailand trains, but this one wasn’t nearly as busy. We made ourselves at home spreading out in our booth and watching all the locals get on the train.

Pulling away from the station we opened our windows and prepared for our journey. We were surrounded by families with kids and Drew played peek-a-boo with a kid who was about 6 for most of the trip. We had some of the food off the trolley’s they brought around and enjoyed the experience and the people. Drew went down to the dining car at one point and on his return said that without a doubt we were the only western people on the train. They smiled at us and we all had our non-verbal conversations. When Drew and I were taking photo’s of the countryside and marvelling over the rice paddies and then the mountains and then the sand dunes and the sea some of them jumped up to see what we were so excited about. It was great to see their faces light up when they realised that we were just appreciating the country. We got into Na Trang a bit after dark and after both waving enthusiastic goodbyes to the kids and their parents and having them shout first attempts at “good-bye” back we headed to our hotel.

Yet again we had no booking, but on rocking up we got a room with what we guessed would be a great view of the ocean but it was to dark to tell so we headed out to dinner. We didn’t spend too long out in Na Trang. It didn’t feel like Asia at all and was like a western resort town. After much discussion we decided to head to Da Lat the next morning and booked a bus with the hotel before we headed up to bed for the night.


  1. No wonder you,re sick! What were you doing up at 4am! This blog will make a great book when you get back by the way. You both write really well. Oh and you only put apostophes before an "s" if it belongs to someone eg "Mac's coat", not on words like "trolley's". Sorry can't help myself! Love Mac

  2. Oh, so cute. I missed having my English corrected :D