Day 18 Friday 2 January 2015

Leaving at Cai Be at 9 was relatively simple – during check in the previous day we saw one couple unable to settle the bill as the credit card machine was not working and having to go into town and use an ATM to get cash – the wife is prepared with cash!

With guide and driver we head for the former capital of the south – then Saigon and now Ho Chi Minh City – and on the way get to travel on one of the two toll roads in the country.  Apart from the toll road most of our way appears to be built up – at least in a ribbon strip alongside the road with a continually changing variety of little outlets – food, cafe, wood store, cafe, engineers, food, clothes, bridal wear shops – seemingly without break.  A lot of the time one can just see that there is countryside behind the shops with no doubt farming of rice and other items, but the roadside is developed most of the way.

The other notable element throughout this journey, particularly visible on the toll road section is the graves and / or monuments to deceased family members in the centre of the field, or at one side.  These typically are elegant structures which look as if they are made of marble and are well maintained.  Obviously there is huge respect for the older generations.

They have not quite got to motorway service stations but we do stop at a busy service area where we get coffee and a toilet break and the place is busy with foreigners on a variety of journeys.  The crossroads of the Mekong I rather think.

HCM City has grown.  It is now larger than Hanoi and has a population of over 9m.  Our guide later explains that following unification the people of the south were given land dependent on the number of family members and in consequence there was for a long time pressure to have much larger families to ensure the maximum area of land was received.

I cannot admit to a great sense of direction but I feel we looped around the city to provide access to the Chinese market and to gain some idea of the size and infuence of the Chinese population.  This is perhaps even more cramped than the other markets we visited and is an absolute riot of colour (as usual there are photos).  Very bright and very busy.  As we found in Hanoi Chinese involvement in Vietnam was important in the first millenium of the Christian era (approx) and Saigon was always an important port on the route to and from the Far East from western Europe so the strength of the Chinese community is hardly a surprise.

Originally there was a separate town here – Cholon – but as they grew the two towns became linked and eventually merged, with Saigon becoming the dominant name after independence from the French.  Photographs:

Near to the market is the Thien Hau Pagoda which is a buddhist temple.  Much of the buddhist related temples we have seen so far have been derived from the Indian heritage with which much of the area is linked.  The chinese heritage however brings different facets to buddhism.   Within the pagoda they especially venerate the Lady of the Sea (Thien Hau) again reflecting the links to the seafaring Chinese.  The photographs again show the roof detail which mirrors that on the Chinese house is Sa Dec.  Internally there is much burning of incense.

Dinner this evening was at the recommendation of our guide – a BBQ outlet.  Careful (mis)ordering means that one of the dishes (wild boar) requires cooking at the table and after we have consumed much of the other food they turn on the hidden burner in the centre of the table and pour some oil on the steadily getting hotter metal plate.  Luckily my wife is travelling with me and so after nearly three weeks without having cooked my dinner she is poking and prodding and turning to ensure that the boar is good enough to eat.  It mainly tastes like fatty bacon!

However we are out of doors, it is a warm evening and the food was certainly freshly cooked.  The rest of the meal was also pretty good.  It has become clear that few restaurants in this part of the world have any concept of “courses” even if they have sections labelled as “starters” and “mains” as the food inevitably seems to arrive all at the same time.  It was all tasty and it was only walking distance back to The Grand Hotel where we are staying but we pass en route, outlets for Versace (turn right), Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin, amongst many other major brands.  This City may be in a communist country but there are obviously people capable of paying the prices these concerns demand.