We only had a few brief days left in Vietnam after we left Hoi An. What to do with them? The one main place that we wanted to check out still was Dalat, but it really didn’t seem like we had enough time to. So, we decided to just fly back to Saigon and spend the last few days there. Coming back to Saigon, it really struck me as to how big of a city it is. It didn’t really hit me as hard when I was coming from the US, but after traveling around the rest of Vietnam, returning to Saigon with it’s 20 story buildings and bustling downtown was quite a shock. It really seems like Saigon should be the capital here, not Hanoi… but I guess that’s what happens when you are on the losing side of a civil war. first thing we did upon getting in was to have some pho at Pho 24. this chain is super big here… practically like starbucks as you can find one on every other block (yeah, yeah, if it was really like starbucks there’d be 2 or 3 of them per *each* block!). later that night, we went out to a few chi-chi bars… one of them being on top of a fancy hotel with great views overlooking the city. It’s pretty trippy being at a bar where if you grab a cigarette, the waiter will run over and light it for you.
There is this religious sect in Vietnam called Cao Dai. Their religion is an interesting mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, and spirit worship. At one point in time, the religion was growing like crazy here, and it’s leaders pretty much ruled a huge chunk of the country. But, after the war, they lost a lot of the power they once had. Their main temple is in a town called Tay Nihn, which isn’t too far from Saigon, so we decided to hire a car and do a day trip there.
The temple was all bright and very colorful, and the worshippers were too. They wore white, red, yellow, and blue robes which stood for various things though I cant remember what. All of the worshippers filed in, walking in even rows, and then sat down to pray while some people up in the balcony played instruments and sang. It was really cool, and super unique. I’ve been to tons of churches, synagogues, mosques, Buddhist temples, but never something like this.
The second thing that we had wanted to check out that day was Ba Den mountain. But before that, we had to get some food since we were starving. Our driver pulled over at a random restaurant on the side of the road. When we walked in, the few people who worked there went nuts. This area gets pretty much no western tourists, and so they were totally not expecting us at all. Everyone jumped up, and frantically started pushing chairs and tables around, putting table cloths on, etc etc while shyly giggling the whole time. Finally things were ready… but none of them spoke English. Hrm. One of them ran to the car to get our driver, but as they ran off, I knew it would be hopeless… our driver knew pretty much no English either.
So there we were. Everyone staring at each other, laughing, and not knowing what to do. Finally, someone hopped on a motorbike and raced off. They came back with another girl who handed us a menu. The menu, of course, was written in Vietnamese. So, we pulled out our guidebook and laboriously tried to translate the menu. Unfortunately, hardly anything we saw on the menu was to be found in our book… but luckily, we did find one thing, so we ordered that and also agreed to some shrimp when the girl pointed to a picture of shrimp. We were then herded back into our car and driven to this other restaurant (apparently the first one, despite setting the table etc etc, couldn’t make food?!), where we finally got fed. The whole episode was really damn funny, and is a great example of what I love about traveling… whacky confusion like that just doesn’t really happen at home, but here you never know what to expect!
At the mountain, it was a long and hot hike up… but somehow we made it up in half the time the guidebook said it would take us. We didn’t really know what top expect at the top, and you couldn’t really ever make stuff out through all the trees until the end where there was a long narrow staircase that I raced up… at the top, there was a large beautiful temple with a huge reclining Buddha a bit farther up the hill. Monkeys ran around from tree to tree and pestered people for food. There was some kind of ceremony going on inside the temple, and when we came to watch it, this old nun, with only three teeth, hobbled up and with a huge grin, gave us some tangerines. It was really cool.
huge dragon on the hillside
caryn, glad to be almost done
We took a gondola on our way back down the mountain. Looking to the side, it turned out that there was this huge metal slide that goes all the way down the mountain and you can rent these little carts to zip down. That would have been so crazy fun! back in town we had some delicious sushi, and then decided to go check out a club for a bit. This club, Apocalypse Now, was one of the longest running clubs in Saigon. The atmosphere inside was so random. There wasn’t much of a dance floor per se, mainly just a bunch of high tables scattered throughout the room, with a small dance area to the side. But people were dancing and stuff at their own tables, or between the tables, or wherever. And then, the soccer game was on and people were watching that too. This was like a cross between a bar and a club all mashed together. The music was all cheesy top 40 hits etc, but people were really digging it and it was actually a pretty fun atmosphere.
It was our last day in Vietnam. Started off the day by going to Pho 2000. I got the vermicelli bowl. I usually like to add chili sauce and hoisin to my vermicelli, even though I do realize that those are mainly for pho. So, I reach for the chili sauce, and just as I do that, the Vietnamese girl across the table totally jolts up, looks at me with a horrified expression on her face, and starts shaking her head frantically. It was SO funny. She really really freaked out! Well, I went ahead and added it anyways… I like it, what can I say?
We spent most of the afternoon rushing about and trying to buy souvenirs. A lot of frantic and fast bargaining, and I think we did a fairly good job of buying junk. We were in a hurry because we had an appointment for that afternoon. Now, I’ve never been one of those sissy boys that likes to go around getting facials or anything… well, until that day. One of the things that sucked about Vietnam in comparison to Thailand, was that there was no Thai massage. Dude, I wanted my Thai massage dammit! well, actually, there were *some* massage places, but those were the kind w/ the “happy ending”. So, on our last day we decided to go to a nice place and get real good massages. We both got these 3.5 hour packages which included a massage, a foot massage, and… a facial. Ok, now, why anyone would want to sit around and get a bunch of gunk rubbed on their face is beyond me, but it was included, so I figured, why not?
In the end, the whole massage experience was hella dope actually. It started off with this sauna part, which I actually didn’t really enjoy at first. It was soooooo hot, I could barely breath from all the steam, and it was pretty much painful. Eventually I got used to it though, and when they brought the iced tea in… dude, that shit was soooooo good. Next came the massage. 1.5 hours, and the chick did a really good job… crazy relaxing. Then, the facial part. Even though I thought it was gonna be lame.. I actually really enjoyed it. It was like an hour long face massage, and surprisingly, even all the various creams, towels, and this-and-that’s that they used were super cool. It was definitely a bit odd.. like sometimes they cover my whole face with a towel with just my nose sticking out so I could breathe, but still really cool… and my face was damn shiny afterwards! The last part, the foot massage, was great as well… and I left there feeling like a new man. Sooo chill and relaxed.
We had a one final dinner at “one of Vietnam’s best restaurants” which actually ended up being unimpressive, and that’s it… Vietnam was done!!