Happy New Year from Vietnam

Writing this from an internet cafe in Ho Chi Minh City at 6:45 in the evening. We’ve been in the city since Saturday morning. Unfortunately a blunder on my part set us back a day and we had two days exploring Macau before arriving in HCMC for the weekend. A few days prior to our departure a lady from Viva Macau phoned me to tell me that the times of our flight had changed to 7:05 in the morning. Either she didn’t make it clear, or it just didn’t register with me, that the flight had actually been shifted forward a day as well. So we rocked up at Macau airport for the night (all the cheap hostels were full, didn’t make sense to pay for a night when we would have to check out in the early hours) and discovered Friday morning that there was no flight out to HCMC that day. Apart from that slight set back, and a couple of rough nights in the airport, we made the best of Macau and saw as much of the quaint ex-Portuguese colony as there was to see. Quite a contrast with its traditional Portuguese architecture alongside the money grabbing casino’s that give the region it’s reputation as the “Las Vagas of the East.”

Saturday morning we arrived in HCMC and got the bus in to De Tham where the guidebook listed several cheap backpacker places. We were very fortunate in that an english speaking elderly lady caught sight of us as we got of the bus in De Tham and explained she had a cheap room we could stay in. She took us down this dark alley to a private guest house and showed us a very respectable, basic two-bed room. So we have stayed there the previous two nights and will spend one more night there tonight. Very nice little place to have a base, with a great family atmosphere.

Saturday afternoon we had a look around a temple and the war museum. We spent the evening in the park just around the corner from our guest house, where there are several stages set up and lots of food stands with lots going on each night to celebrate the coming of the new year. Really quite an impressive welcome to HCMC and Vietman.

Yesterday we went to a district to the West of the city by motorcycle taxi, dubbed the “Chinese Ghetto” because of all it’s chinese influenced markets spilling out onto the street. Spent the day there walking around the streets and explored a couple more temples. Yesterday evening we headed back to the park for the usual evening entertainment. But a completely impromptu spectacle unfolded as the evening progressed. After sipping some bears on the road side we took a walk past some bars/cafes and I noticed that everyone seemed to be watching a football match. We soon figured out that it was Vietnam vs Thailand, current score 1-0 to Thailand, and it seemed to be a pretty big deal as everyone was watching it in bars and on street corners. Then all of a sudden the mood of the streets seem to drastically change, there was a sudden buzz to the place. We then discovered that Vietnam had equalised, and people were shouting and cheering. Turns out it was a minute to full time and the match was the second leg of the final in the Asian Cup, a pretty big deal for Vietnam. The equaliser had secured the trophy for Vietnam. Within the space of a couple of minutes the whole of the city were out on their motor bikes waving flags and celebrating wildly. Everyone was out, families, mothers, children. The streets were bursting with motorcycles and it was absolute chaos. Quite the spectacle. We spend a couple of hours just observing the craziness as it unfolded. Completely unexpected.

Today we have taken it easy, had a bit of a lie in and checked out the Reunification Palace and Cathedral. Tonight will be our last night in the city, and tomorrow morning we head off on a three day organised tour through the Me Kong Delta and across the border into Pnohm Pen in Cambodia. Looking forward to seeing a different side to the country.

Overall impressions of HCMC are that this is very much an up and coming place, full of life and energy. In contrast to my experiences in Tanzania, which is devastated by poverty, the Vietnamese people really seem to have a vibe about them, that they are progressing forwards in the right direction.

I’ll leave it there for now. Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and wish you happy new year celebrations. Doubt I will be in touch for a while so happy new year to you all!

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