Landing in Ho Chi Minh City I felt that I had now really arrived in Vietnam. Phu Quoc is just too lovely to be part of any real country whereas HCM felt like the big, busy, Asian city I had expected. The first thing I decided was to call the place Saigon – mainly because it’s a far better name but also it’s much less of a mouthful.
I checked into my hotel and went straight back out to accomplish the first task I always set myself in a new city – to get lost! This isn’t intentional as such, more inevitable really. But if I tell myself that that is the plan my ego doesn’t take quite the knocking. The first major feat was crossing the road with my life intact. India had prepared me for insane roadways and maniac drivers. What I didn’t know how to deal with were the thousands of motorbike drivers each trying to be the first to almost kill you as you put your first foot on the road. There are lots of pedestrian crossings in the city but it seems they are purely decorative. They function solely to punctuate the greyness of the streets.
I was in Saigon for three days. The first was spent achieving lost status. Day two was visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Main Cao Dai Temple both out of town. Day three was back to the original plan of skillfully losing my orientation but on this occasion with added leisure and time to visit the atmosphere laden pagodas in Chinatown and to decide who served my favourite coffee in town.
The coffee in Vietnam is incredible. After two months of disastrous coffee in India, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos I am finally in a country that knows what they’re doing albeit with a local twist. Their coffee is extremely thick and ridiculously strong. It is universally served in a cup with a metal filter on top through which the coffee slowly drips with a molasses consistency into a thin layer of condensed milk below. I realise this sounds as appetizing as toe nail soup but trust me – it’s a knockout taste sensation. One of the very best things about Vietnam.
On my second morning I must admit that I did not wake up in bed alone. Hey – when you are in an exciting big city you got to go with the flow no? No! for I was not intentionally with company. I discovered four bed bugs had been enthusiastically appreciating my presence. I have never moved so quickly in all my life as I leaped out of bed in both disgust and terror. I had only just about calmed down enough to have a conversation as I checked out of the hotel minutes later. There are bed bugs in the room I informed the receptionist. Now, I am not entirely sure what reaction I expected. Personally if I was her I would have chosen to ring some alarm and gather all the guests into the street outside and dramatically yell at them through a megaphone that there was no need to panic – everything was under control. At the very least I would have imagined a hotline to the exterminators being employed – again sirens would not have gone amiss with this option. What I absolutely did not expect was a big smile and a response of yes sir, of course. Of course? I repeated in disbelief there are bed bugs – IN THE BED – BED BUGS!!! The exclamations were communicated through my puzzled and shocked furrowed brow. Noticing my not so subtle expression the lady went to fetch the manager and after speaking some words together in Vietnamese the manager meekly said I believe you wish to book a ticket for a boat trip. At that point I ran over to the computer in the corner and with flailing arms googled an image of a bed bug and found a big scary mean one that filled the entire screen. In my bed I shrieked while gesturing at the screen. The women grimaced together and immediately apologized and offered me a whole $1 off my room. That’s 25cents for each bug I found I thought – I should have just gone and ordered that boat trip! I left the hotel in a hurry in search of one those famously strong Vietnamese coffees – in the absence of any alarms that was the next best thing.