My health has been 45% most of my journey this past three months. Dodged with chronic tonsillitis, heavy chest infection, sneezing and coughing. Despite numerous trips to the doctor and hospital for an Endoscopy, steroid nasal spray, saltwater sinus wash, Codeine, Antihystamenes, not much has changed except my ability to continue to get up each day and find the strength to leave the flat.
Month three and things have gone to plan to a degree, some of the major pre Vietnam
ideas have fallen to the wayside, but generally the “plan” has materialised enough for me to make decisions and take action. As I write, I am sitting outside one of Saigons major tourist (local) markets. Ben Thanh Market where you can purchase anything from frogs to bed linen. Back in 2012 this market was my haven and I loved wandering the limitless alleyways to see what I could find. Now, I dash in purposefully armed with photos of what I am looking for and no waivering eyes. “madame what you looking for” – for those that have never been, the trick is to know where the cold coconut water is and how to negotiate that $15 fan which is worth $1.
So mostly consideration for my health has been my driving factor as to what I do and provides an excuse to travel with my base being in Saigon. The need for fresh air resulted in a trip that I planned and executed 5 minutes after I got out of bed. I wanted to do a river cruise, get some air and see river life and the city from a different perspective.
I had heard about a fast ferry that you can hop on and come back in a day. I didn’t want to do a tourist Mekong Delta tour – I wanted the luxury of no commitment and no coconut candy to which I am addicted. Greenlines offered the ideal trip. I made my way to the ferry terminal with a small backpack (undies, toothbrush and sarong just in case I wanted to stay overnight) and booked the 10am fast ferry. Ticket purchased with return ticket for 4pm that day I waited on the dock. It’s a 2 hour journey (although their website says 90 minutes). The ferry is modern, clean and air-conditioned with entertainment I didn’t watch as I was out on the deck facing the wind and river spray, whilst the sick bags were distributed inside. Although you are allocated a ‘seat’ – number dependent you can choose where you sit. The journey s pretty smooth for the record. I can’t vouch for bad weather – but either way you are on the river most of the trip.The WiFi is also excellent.
The trip was wonderful and you get to watch the scenery of Saigon’s large city skyline dissipate into mangroves and jungle. You follow the river all the way to Vung Tau and disembark on a tropical beach. As I had no idea as to what I was going to do, I headed straight for a Cafe Den on the water to plan my next move. Not before I met Quang the 55-year-old Grab Xe Om ( pronounced sah omh) who convinced me to go with him. So finishing my coffee and deciding to stay over night, I picked The Green Hotel on Back Beach. Found Quang ( I don’t think he ever took his eyes off me to be honest) swung my leg over and off we went. I love using Xe Om (motor taxi in Vietnam) you get to see things and if you are lucky you get to meet Quang. Delivered safely at Hotel at half the price of online booking – I had a seaview room, with balcony and breakfast thrown in for about $46 AUD. You can get much cheaper but as I say – my health was the point of the exercise.
I have learnt to pack really light, in this case literally a small Sea to Summit backpack that folds up to the size of a passionfruit. Only essentials and provides hassle free travelling and exploring. I was tired and burnt after the two-hour trip so found lunch and walked the beach. I didn’t make it to Long Tan – I will do that one day but it was to take more time than I had so it was great to meet an Ex Vet on the wharf the next day. Red Flanegan had been staying at Hotel 95 near Belly’s Bar which apparently is an Australian institution. I spoke to Red for some time and he came from Perth and did the trip once every year. I didn’t take a photo with him, it seemed disrespectful, although I am sure he would have relished it.
Red told me a story about about an Australian solider and Vietnamese woman and an unplanned pregnancy. Nothing unusual in that, but there is more to this story and has left me with another avenue to follow. I will return to Vung Tau – I liked it, I really liked it. The food was different to Saigon and the chilled beach atmosphere 2 hours from HCMC. Red told me to visit Belly’s Bar where he assured me a meat pie and sausage roll could be purchased. As we stood chatting quietly on the wharf he said to me, you must come back here, I explained that I had not really packed for longer than an over night stay. Red said “53 articles” hey? I looked at him and he said ” a pack of cards and a toothbrush” – the history and horror he had seen was in his eyes. I’ll never forget you Red Flanagen and yes I will get to Belly’s bar one day.