'Hot child in the city'
Trip Start Jan 06, 2012
34Trip End Apr 12, 2012
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construction down our road, but stayed in bed until 9am... How inconsiderate on a weekend haha!) and grabbed some breakfast and then made our way to the Botanical Gardens and Saigon zoo. From my guidebook I assumed it was mostly a botanical garden with a few animals at the back of the park but in actual fact the whole area is scattered with every animal imaginable. I don't really believe in zoos (I just thought it would be nice to walk around some pretty gardens, which actually didn't really exist!) and I've heard horror stories about zoos in South-East Asia but me, Kat and Kevin were quite surprised. It was strange though because most animals seemed well looked after and had adequate space and facilities whereas others such as the elephants, lions and hippos were not kept in great conditions at all. The elephants had nowhere near enough space or vegetation. The lions did not have enough vegetation or any water to dip in. The hippos were the worst off having a tiny area of filthy water with a few plastic bottles floating on top (stupid, ignorant, annoying visitors) and hardly any land to rest on. Other animals had enough space, stimulation, water and vegetation so we found this strange. Also, the whole area is MASSIVE so there isn't the excuse that they don't have enough space to expand (maybe its money? Entrance was 12,000d (40p) and although there were lots of people there, they could charge more and improve the facilities... Simple logic). One of the most infuriating things was some of the Vietnamese visitors apparently don't understand that the animals should only be looked at: they were banging on glass and throwing bottles of coke to the orangutans (which caused me and Kat to instinctively say to them 'What the hell are you doing?') and taking flash photos really close to the animals faces. So overall we were surprised by the zoo and slightly disappointed by the 'botanical gardens', which didn't really seem to exist! But it was a really good morning.
We then wondered through town all the way to the backpackers district (about 35 minutes) and had Mexican for lunch. We then walked to Tous Les Jour (standard!) and had two pastries each (they're just too good, please come to England soon!). After we made our way to the Saigon River and had a walk along it. It was really lovely because it was so quiet compared to the madness we had just walked from and had a very welcome breeze. The infrastructure and buildings on that side of town are extremely modern and impressive, however it is only on the District 1 side. The other side of the river is comparatively poorer eg landscaping, fancy street lighting and nice walkways on one side, dirt paths on the other. There were lots of people fishing along the District 1 side suggesting that there must be fish in the river, however I thought it definitely looked too dirty for anything to be living in there! We then walked back to the centre through what we can only assume is the business centre of HCMC with lots of glass buildings and fancy restaurants. Our last stop was the Saigon Centre, which is a really nice but small selection of fashion and homeware stores. Kat bought a skirt but I wasn't tempted by anything (I was just happy to browse and feel the benefits of air conditioning!).
It was a great day (not bad for $10 all in!) and I ticked a lot of things off my list of what I wanted to do in the city. Last night was Pho Ga for dinner and a little bit of lesson planning because I have a crazy amount of lessons next week (14 instead of the usual 10) and I'm teaching most of them by myself!
Today was another great but exhausting day, I don't think I've ever walked so far around one city! We got up quite early (aided by the construction noises again!) and caught the bus at around 9am to Cho Lon ('big market') aka China town, which took about 45minutes. According to the guidebook, all there is to see in the area is markets and pagodas but we heard they were good so we wanted to take a look. The only indication you get of being in China town is a large, yellow Chinese dragon statue in the middle of a park and a couple of stalls as you head into the area with Chinese lanterns and the like. Firstly we went to Binh Tay market, which it is suggested is better for 'sightseeing' than actually shopping... Definitely accurate! I've never smelt so many different (and often disgusting!) smells or seen so many things. There was stuff EVERYWHERE, so much so that we could hardly walk through. There was everything you could imagine and it looked like chaos although most 'stalls' we walked past looked like they were doing some sort of stock take so I can only assume its organised chaos! The smells came from a mix of the mountains of food, rubbish, hoards of people and motorbikes... Wasn't the best! We only stayed for about 10 minutes because it was a little bit overwhelming. We then caught a cyclo (another thing checked off my list!) to another market that is supposed to be better for shopping, An Dong. This market was much more organised and when you walked in there were signs telling you what kinds of good were where. There were a couple of things I picked up but the people were completely unwilling to haggle so I became bored! Also the clothes weren't as nice as what we'd seen elsewhere. One nice thing we noticed about both markets was that sellers weren't yelling at you and grabbing at you trying to get your attention. We only browsed for about 45 minutes and then caught the bus into District 1. We went for a coffee and cake at the one and only (Tous Les Jours!) and then wondered to the backpackers district so I could book my trip to the Mekong Delta next Saturday and so Kat could look for presents. We then went to Saigon Square, which has lots of clothes and electronic stalls and you can actually haggle a little bit!
We were supposed to meet Tu, one of my students from VAA, at 1.30pm outside Ben Thanh market but we waited for half an hour and didn't see her (I called this morning to confirm and apparently she called the house to find out where I was so not sure what happened there!). So me and Kat decided to come back to the house and try out a local vegetarian restaurant, however it was closed when we got back and there aren't really any other restaurants around us! So we caught a bus to another restaurant, Olive, which was gorgeous. We then tried to catch a bus back, couldn't find the right bus stop (there are so many one way streets here the buses go different ways to get to town and back) so we decided to walk... And got lost! When we didn't know where we were we tried to flag down a taxi but they were all full (we weren't in the right area to catch taxis at all!). So we just kept walking because we knew we were generally in the right area. We eventually recognised a supermarket that we were told about when we first arrived and Kat had the map we were given with her so we managed to find our way home after about an hour and a half of walking haha! No tourists come into this district so people were staring, waving, shouting hello from their motorbikes and giving us the standard Vietnamese peace sign... Was quite funny! We got back exhausted and in desperate need of a shower after walking so far in the heat. I then booked my solo trip to Phu Quoc island for four days on my last weekend (EEK!) so glad I've done that now, no turning back!
In the evening some of the local volunteers took us to a really cool coffee restaurant called Blue Coffee. I thought we were walking somewhere but we were actually going by motorbike apparently! Being away makes you do silly things like go on the back of a motorbike with someone you just met wearing a vest top and shorts (although I did wear a helmet!). The traffic is crazy and the volunteers try and talk to you as they're driving... PAY ATTENTION TO THE DAMN ROAD!! You don't go particularly fast but it feels like you're going fast because of all the craziness around you. The coffee place was really lovely, pretty lighting and music and a water feature etc. We then took a much calmer ride home (less traffic), I did some lesson planning and now is bed time!