Sunday, February 5


Two days were about all we needed in Nha Trang, especially since the weather never did get better. So after the hot springs we packed up our bags and continued south on a night train to Saigon.

At 8 hours, it was our shortest train ride yet, which was good and bad. Good because it was a short train ride. Bad because we left Nha Trang at 8 pm, which meant that we arrived in Saigon at 4 am.

We caught a taxi from the train station into Saigon and plopped down at a street cafe to drink tea and watch the city wake up. Saigon... what a great city. There is something about it that I really like. It somehow feels more open, youthful, and brighter than Hanoi.

Anyway, by 6 am most of the guesthouses had opened their doors, so we began searching for a room in earnest, and after wandering around for a couple hours we finally found a place we liked. As they say, there are two kinds of travelers: Bag-Ditchers and Room-Searchers. You'd think that because we rarely stay in a place for more than couple nights, we'd be Bag-Ditchers (find a room - any room - drop the heavy bags and start exploring). You'd think wrong. I refuse to settle! I want that great room: $10 for a balcony and A/C and hot water, and yep, even clean sheets.

After we dropped off our bags and showered, we headed out to explore. Our first stop was the War Museum. As an American, it was a tough place to visit. But I'm glad we experienced it. The War Museum is very well-done, with numerous artifacts and some chilling re-creations.

This is a wax figure inside a re-creation of a POW cell

Another wax figure inside a cell.

War artifact

After the War Museum we felt like something a little more upbeat, so we headed to the huge market. On our way we passed a Christmas display of the sort I only thought I'd see on a lawn in Wisconsin (I can say that because I grew up there).

Yay, presents!

Frosty and Tom didn't hit it off

After tearing ourselves away from the tasteful lawn decorations, we entered the Market. It was chaos. For some reason the women selling t-shirts were especially aggressive towards Tom, in a pseudo-charming kind of way. They'd grab Tom's arm with huge smiles on their faces, grinning and laughing and saying "You buy t-shirt! You buy t-shirt!" It was funny for the first couple minutes, but then it got a little weird. At one point I was literally playing tug-o-war for Tom with a Vietnamese shop girl. Let go of my man!

Tom makes a run for it

I guess this would be a good time to explain that almost all stores in Vietnam are organized in districts: there will be a bunch of stores right next to each other that all sell t-shirts. Then suddenly the t-shirt district ends and you find yourself walking by shop after shop that only sells ceiling fans. Then the cabinet district. Then the Tupperware district.

Candy district

Flower district

Silk district

The silk was gorgeous

Fruit district

Once we tired of the market, we decided to head across town to find a pagoda in Chinatown. A woman at our guesthouse told us about a bus we could take to the pagoda, and we were immediately turned off. Tour bus? No thank you! But it turned out it was a public bus. A local public bus. Perfect! So we headed for the bus station and on our very first try we got on the right bus!

Unfortunately, once we got off the bus we had no idea where were going. Although Lonely Planet books are great for giving you a general orientation to a city, their maps are crap for navigating. We finally just walked into an office building and asked for directions. It was a good move. The businesspeople in the office building were incredibly nice. After sitting us down in plush armchairs, they proceeded to make 15 minutes of phone calls and poll almost everyone in the office before one man was finally able to draw us a map that lead us right to the pagoda. It turns out the pagoda was just a few blocks away, but we couldn't find it because the street names change every 2 blocks. Oh, of course.

The pagoda was really cool. Similar to the one in Nha Trang, it was an active temple, not a tourist site. There was a constant stream of people filing in to worship, so we didn't take too many pictures because we didn't want to offend anyone.

The red cone swirls are hanging incense

After the pagoda, we hopped on a bus and headed back to the hotel. We'd been going strong since 4 am and were pretty tired by this point. Drinking beers on the balcony had become something of a ritual by that time, so we opened a couple of cold Tigers and enjoyed the view.

Streets of Saigon

Yum, Tiger beer!

City sunset from our balcony

- Jessi


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