Much of the time I’d write notes on my iPad at the end of each day. I knew I’d forget so many details otherwise. Here’s part of what I wrote on Sunday 23rd Sept. (unedited)
“Up and at breakfast at 8 am in spite of my late night. Perhaps I’ll manage a siesta later. It feels like it might rain, so am off for a walk along the river soon. Want to work on itinerary later. Will have a lazy day today perhaps. Need to get money first thing though coz I’ve none left.
Withdrew 4,000,000 Dong and went to Elle cafe for a cappuccino. Might need to change my choice of drink; they charge 68,000 which is about $3.40. A bit pricey for Saigon, although the artistry on the top is very cool.
Walked down to the Saigon River, only a couple of blocks. It was very hot through the cloudy day. Was approached by a very persistent Vietnamese man who stuck to me like glue when he sensed that I might want to go on the river and offered to take me on his junk for an hour for 400,000 Dong. He said we’d go up a subsidiary of the river and see all sorts of things e.g. pineapple plantations, coconut trees etc. After spotting the big touristy ferries with dining tables all set up, his offer appealed to me, and when he dropped his price to 300,000 Dong I was more interested.
I said I needed water. He immediately led me to a woman (probably his wife) who had bottles of water in a bucket of ice, and I bought two small bottles at 10,000 VMD each. He then snatched the plastic bag containing the water from me and began to walk towards the jetty. (I need to get him over to Australia working for my girlfriend. She could do well with a sharp salesman like him). I could do little else but follow, and I did.
I said I needed a hat but he hurriedly replied that I won’t need one.. his boat has a roof. (Yeah, right. What about the reflections off the water. I come from a country which has the motto “Slip Slop Slap!“ ) Tossing it around in my head as I followed like a sheep to the slaughter, I decided to continue on; afterall, I’d put sunblock on my face and hands before I’d left my room.
I followed him down the concrete steps and onto the small flat-bottomed junk. There was just me, another younger man, and him, and off we went.
The “subsidiary” turned out to be nothing more than a creek, and I saw no plantations of any kind. On both sides of the waterway grew thick vegetation but nothing looking remotely like a “pineapple plantation”. However we did pass a couple of rickety old boats, which were home to the people who lived on them, their washing hanging on lines at the back.
I also saw a man up to his shoulders at times, in the water catching fish (shellfish?) with a net and putting them in a floating basket.
The boat stopped twice, and one of the men disappeared overboard each time. I wondered if he’d gone to pee, but it turned out that mangroves, banana leaves and/or other foliage floating in the water had wound around the propeller, and he was in the water trying to free it. Both times it took him about 10 or 15 minutes. (Time stood still, just like the boat!), and here we were, idle in a creek off the Saigon river, with not another soul in sight. The possible danger of such an event (me and two strangers who happen also to be men, in a boat, with 4,000,000 VMD in my pocket, my camera and my smartphone both of which I’d been avidly using to take photographs – I hadn’t taken a bag but used my pockets, oh and also my visa debit card in my pocket,) had not elluded me, but I felt completely safe. When the propeller was freed, they’d crank the motor up, and the diesel fumes were thick and choking. I held my breath and blocked my nose.
Once back on the Saigon River proper, we cruised up the river saw some interesting sights on the banks opposite the city; a local bar (in a ramshackled old hut); a dredge, dredging the river and pumping the sand onto a barge about 50 yards away through a plastic pipe hanging over the side of the dredger. From there the barge takes it’s load to the bank of the Saigon; land that has been cleared to make way for the development of a new city, according to my “skipper”. He also told me that the people seen digging on the banks of that “island” were scavenging for metal shackles (he showed me one that he had on board) which they would sell. I realised that these were foot and hand shackles used on prisoners during the Vietnam war.” The photos below are of the various scenes along the “creek” and Saigon River, opposite the Ho Chi Minh City CBD.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with these local Vietnamese men, who spoke little English. They were pleasant, courteous, and enterprising. I got the impression that they enjoyed their time as well.
Travel tip learned that day: Front pockets in pants are really sensible and useful. It’s great to be “hands-free”.