Thursday, 11 April 2013

... Indochina: (Don't) Miss Saigon

Flight VN 1313 was to take me from Danang International Airport to Tan Son Nhat Airport in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). It was only going to be about an hour give or take. It was one of the worst hours of my life and then some.

I was stuck at the back of the bird. The row behind me appeared to be speaking German and every time they spoke it smelt like death. Did someone forget their morning oral hygiene routine?!? It was rank to the point where I was frantically searching for something in my bag to sniff. Please. Stop. Talking!

The male next to me was on his laptop and cell phone.... he was still on them after the announcement to power down... And again when we were lined up on the runway. Did the rules change since my last flight? Now I know there is huge debate about whether or not electronics interfere with avionics and several airlines have relaxed the rule somewhat. However, until such time passes where I'm acutely aware that it is ok during take off I am going to sit next to this strange man with mild concern. He didn't even stow the laptop when we raced down the runway but merely closed it on the pullout tray-table which I always thought was supposed to be upright at this point. Kind of odd behaviour if you ask me.

The male sat directly in front of me spent the entire flight analyzing the flight, the plane, the wind direction, the sound of the engines and talking about safety & crashing. Gee, just great! I managed to doze for part of the flight and block him out but as we began our descent we hit really bad turbulence and he started up again. Can someone please eject him from his seat? Shut up. SHUT UP. SHUT. UP! And of course during all of this my brain reminded me the flight number was 1313.

I was glad when we were on the ground. Disembarking took forever - a group of people just in front of me decided to have a mother's meeting. Not that that made much of a difference to how quickly I left the airport. My luggage seemed to take forever and served as a reminder as to why I usually avoid checking in any luggage. Matters didn't help when I was sent flying by an Australian woman at the carousel to the point where I nearly went round on it. I figured it was just an accident, people tend to push n' shove in the fear that they're going to miss their item. Perhaps they think that once it has been round once it goes off to the great big suitcase abyss or something? A man stood near the woman started commenting to his male friend about how rude I was, even though I was stood right there. Excuse me!?! I was just stood there minding my own business and instead I've a nice huge bruise to show for this woman's rush and push to get to her not-yet-here luggage. So I looked at him and asked "Do you have something to say?" to which he replied, "I'm not talking to you." Oh so he wants to play that game does he? "No I realize that, instead your talking about me. Perhaps you should be commenting on how rude your wife was for barging through a crowd of us you ignoramus or at least get your facts straight prior to finger pointing." Yes, I used the word ignoramus. He actually clenched his fist but I just stood there and ignored him. Neanderthal. I was glad to leave the airport.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE flying. Aviation truly fascinates me. It's why I watch Air Disaster shows and scare the bejesus out of myself when my over active imagination kicks in. Hmmm, I've never ever denied being a little weird. However, crazy passengers I will gladly give a miss thanks all the same.

Saigon. Well let's start by saying it's full of crazy motorbikes. I guess Vietnam wouldn't be Vietnam without them. And here they will drive on the sidewalk even if you are walking right in the middle if it... And they expect you to move.

Now known as Ho Chi Minh City, it's the largest city in Vietnam. Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochin-china and later of the independent republic of South Vietnam from 1955–75. It has seen a lot and been through a lot.

Yet now it looks forward to a future with a high-octane pulse. There are skyscrapers including a skydeck (looks like a CD rack), neon lights, huge malls yet it still holds on to it's colonial vibe in amongst the Gucci, the Hermes, Burberry, Ralph Lauren and the designer hotels. Saigon has it all. There's even a Notre Dame Cathedral, which looks a tad out of place but beautiful nevertheless.

An early evening walk to take in some of the sights makes you realize Saigon is nothing like the rest of Vietnam. The Reunification Palace, originally built as South Vietnam's Presidential Palace in the 60's, screams Ocean 11 (as in the original) or Connery's Bond yet is a site of huge importance. The first communist tanks in the city crashed through its gates on 30th April 1975, the day that Saigon surrendered to North Vietnam and the inside of the building has not been changed since.

The Rex Hotel's first guest were 400 US Army soldiers in December 1961 and it was famous for "the 5 o'clock Follies", a derogatory term given by journalists for the American military command's daily conference during the Vietnam War. The Opera House has an elegant colonial style about it but unfortunately I was unable to go inside to take a look. However it's close proximity to the Cathedral and Post Office made it easy to incorporate into a walking tour of the city core.

Interestingly the Central Post Office was designed and built by Gustavo Eiffel, of the Eiffel Tower fame. It is worth peeking inside to purely take in the architecture as well as wonder if Uncle Ho moonlighted as a postie when you see the huge portrait of him staring at you from all the way at the other end of the building.

Despite the insane heat and humidity, the skies decided to open and I got caught in a tropical thunderstorm. I also happened to be taking part, well more stumbled upon and started flinging my limbs around flash mob style, in an outdoor public aerobics class in the middle of a park walkway. It was hilarious and a lot of fun. Everyone danced and wiggled to the music, yes there was music, until the rain was so torrential that I expect there was a fear of the music system blowing up and electrocuting everyone. Giggling I ran, soaked to the bone, to shelter whilst the lightning illuminated the sky.

What better way to dry off (to the best of my ability) and kind of warm up (I wasn't cold in 90+ degree heat post-limb flinging funnily enough) than with a steaming bowl of Pho?

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