Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Cycle Saigon to Hanoi with Explore! Day one walking tour of Saigon.

EXPLORE! Cycle Saigon to Hanoi. Day 1.

We met the tour leader and the rest of the 12 strong group in the lobby of the Huong Sen Hotel in Saigon.
The tour leader introduced himself  as Tran Van Hoan, he then explained the way names work in Vietnam and advised us to call him Hoan ( sounding like Quan). we then had to introduce our selves. There were 12 of us, 3 couples from the UK, 4 men, three from the UK and one from the USA, 2 ladies one from the UK and one from Canada. A mixed group, as some people had only just arrived there was an optional walking tour of the city, not many did this as most of the group had jet lag, but the group was told that we were to meet in the Lobby at 19.00 for dinner, Hoan had booked this.
Hoan then took quite a long time to tell us not to complain at the end of the tour that we did not get chance to take photos or stop at locations; I felt there had been complaints in the past regarding this issue. The greeting also consisted of asking us to contribute to a 'kitty' of $45 each for tips for bellboys / porters etc. Also to contribute to money for water and fruit I think that was another $15. It was odd being aske to tip up front and a few of the group did question this. I didn't have US$$ so paid in UK ££.  
Setting off to explore the city of Saigon, we had done a bit of it in the morning as we had visited the very big a busy Ben Thanh Market and had lunch at a food stall. My chop sticks skills were improving daily! We had also sampled some very odd Bubble Tea, ice cold.
 Saigon central is quite an easy place to walk around, despite the mad traffic. Crossing the road ?? If you wait for the traffic to stop you will wait forever as it doesn't, you just walk into it! Just step into the traffic and let it avoid you, it took some doing but we did get the hang of it.  We walked to the War Remnants Museum, to see among other things weapons of War including Guillotine that was used until recently!! As history is always told from the side of the victor, this was our first exposure to what I later called ' the daily propaganda', this Museum was overflowing with it, war is horrendous and this is a reminder of just how destructive it can be.

War Remnants Museum, Saigon
War Remnants Museum, Saigon.

War Remnants Museum, Saigon
War Remnants Museum, Saigon
We also visited the Notra Dame Cathedral and the very grand and impressive General Post Office, it has the original phone booths as well as a large portrait of Ho Chi Minh looking down at me posting my postcards with Year of the Rooster stamps on.

As we made our way back to the hotel we walked down a promenade; the Nguyen Hue,  that later in the evening was the focus of night time activity in Saigon for families and admired the Ho Chi Mihn statue.
Back at the hotel; The Huong Sen, we made use of the roof top pool, this is also where breakfast is served and it is a vary nice area. The hotel has a large ornate lobby, shabby corridors and good rooms. I would stay at it again.
Later that evening the group met up and Hoan took us to a restaurant located in The Palace Hotel, the food was good but expensive, the cocktail a 'Saigon Martini' was one of the best I have ever had. But the restaurant lacked the atmosphere we had experienced on the food tour the night before, really in this hotel I could have been in any city in the world.