5/9 Saturday. I am seated in the domestic airport restaurant in Saigon awaiting the arrival of my farewell spring rolls. Last night after an in room pre-dinner rev up of French champagne and local kettle fries and a pre timed ten minute power nap, we then made our way to the hotel’s sea breeze restaurant for the long anticipated BBQ dinner we coveted the night before. Perched high up on our bar stools overlooking the Saigon River we toasted ourselves on the ‘free flow’ wine beautifully chilled and presented and enjoyed the ambience complete with piped music seemingly handpicked from our iPods.
The seafood bbq exceeded expectations as a square plate of scampi, mussels, prawns and fish were presented to our ravenous eyes. The smoky flavours didn’t fail to please. The ensuing two glasses of wine was the one glass too many that sent us giggly exhaustedly back to our room.
Unaffected by jetlag we managed to stay up till 10pm local time (3am NZ time). Still with 10% left in my battery I prepared for bed with a little jasmine tea to go. Karen slipped between her sheets never to be seen again till the morning while I surfed the channels from my vantage point. I lasted for one cup of tea then succumbed to my stretched stomach and lay cast between the pristine multitudes of thread counts.
6/9 Sunday. Awoken by the pulsation of my bladder at 5.30am, I tiptoed elephant-like to the WC. Upon my return, Karen had risen, Jesus like on Easter Sunday, and we discussed a quick march into the city before breakfast and our tour pick up at 9.30am. I opted for ten more winks so we dozed till 6am. K showered and I pulled on a pair of shorts as we ventured out in the opposite direction previously travelled.
K officious with her map led us up the road whereupon we were beset upon by a local cyclos rider who had us on his radar and was determined to show us a good time (for 10mins and $50,000 dong) whether we wanted it or not. After chivalrously accompanying us across the already manic throng of traffic at 7am in the morning, we were slightly grateful and after chasing us on foot over the bridge we reluctantly gave in to him as he studiously ignored our continual protestations. ‘Bernie’ insisted we stay put while he ran off to get his buddy ‘Wah’’ as the cyclos carried only single passengers.
While we waited outside the Ho Chi Minh museum contemplating our decision, K accidentally tripped and stood upon an innocent rodent spread-eagled on the sidewalk. He was already dead and even deader after K’s foot impression. With a corpse at around the size of a teenage cat, K did well to regain composure in only 2-3 minutes. Rooted to the spot inwardly reeling, her grimaced face contorted in revulsion as I did the neighbourly thing and caught the entire ordeal in a series of photos, I will name “The Saigon Situation!”
Recovered but unhealed, we leapt aboard the returning twin cyclos and were driven directly into the oncoming traffic further from our hotel into the unknown. Swinging between euphoria and uncertainty we weaved deeper into the seedier side of town and mentally sized up our captors. ‘Bernie’ had said he was 43 but looked a good 63 and ‘Wah’ looked older still. I decided together we could overpower them if needs be and returned to enjoying the sights and sounds of the local food market we were passing through.
Fruit lay resplendent at stall after stall as meat hung dead but proteinly appealingly to others. The rubbish truck with half its load spread out the back smack in the middle of the market didn’t do much for our appetites or nasal passages. After experiencing the visual symphony we headed back to the hotel with only a bridge and five million motorcycles and two aged cyclists between us.
We offered to vacate the seat on the uphill ride which was gratefully accepted and we hand pushed the cart alongside the throngs of mostly petrol driven vehicles. Back on board of the summit we glided at speed downhill as K’s chariot overtook my leading one and she whooped competitively past me.
We pulled up to our side of the road taking on the might of large Mac trucks and speeding cars as our antiquated, leg driven cyclos brought us safely to a stop at the front door of the Majestic hotel. K waiting with the ‘boys’ while I returned to the room to obtain payment.
The risk had been taken and was worth the increased heart rate as we congratulated ourselves on a great adventure. With the clock ticking we regrouped in the room, decided upon dashing out on foot to purchase local souvenir jewellery then back for brekky and a farewell swim for me. “When you have a five star pool – use it!” We reluctantly left our ‘home’ with our tour guide for the airport.