Steph’s Thoughts On Vietnam

In which I let Steph take over

Now I’ve blogged about my Vietnam adventures, I wanted to let Steph do the same. I wanted to let her share her thoughts about the things we did together. She regularly does an email with information and pictures, and may I say it, she’s hilarious, (you’ve no idea how big this will make her head!). So the following entry is all written by Steph – I have not changed a word, although maybe the layout and some grammar to improve the flow and I’ve added her suggested pictures, although also mine too 😉

I often think it’s a shame they can’t televise the running commentary that goes on in my head but alas they have not become that sophisticated yet………….. my thoughts or technology? ………. I digress.

A week in the life of Sarah Bennett: Due to the fact that the mid autumn festival is a national holiday in China, Sarah, who works for Aston but in China (after I told her at 2 in the morning she was one of my only friends who could cope with such adventures upon my return from my Chinese escapades) swung by for a few days. This somewhat accelerated – from the stalling almost zero to really quite a lot – the amount of stuff I have done in my first month. ben thanh market
District 1 is the centre of the backpack universe and referred to semi-unaffectionately by locals as ‘the foreign city’. When I go down Bu Vien, which is HCMC’s version of Bowness on Windermere but with a disproportionate amount of shops selling tex-mex or into any of the grander areas, I revert from my status as an ethnic anomaly into the sea of white to which I most associate with home. Sarah, who lives in an unknown place in an unknown province somewhere between Shanghai and Hong Kong, is no longer accustomed to white people or conversational level English and so I’ve diagnosed her with Caucasian fever.

impression of Ho Chi Minh - backpacker's street

Backpacker’ street

This is a sudden change in excitement and also stress levels/ perspiration at the sight of people who you associate with your place of origin and not your current location which results in gibberish speech and an unwillingness to go into the first restaurant you see because you don’t want to head in the same direction as all the white people but really want to talk to them at the same time: when love and hate collide.

district 1 restaurant

In a District 1 restaurant

It should be noted that Sarah is/has/or will read this depending on how prompt you are at reading my chronicles (if you don’t do it at all then this doesn’t apply to you but since you’ve not read this you can’t possibly know that so I guess it doesn’t matter anyway) and I am sure that I would get an email along the lines of I can’t believe you told people about that, so Sarah I’m expecting your email, but maybe you won’t, perhaps you will blog about it instead, oh what a conundrum life is. [Bennett’s note: Here you are – I’m not ashamed!]

I have concluded after my extensive researching and extraordinarily large sample size that white people become scared of white people when exposure is reduced significantly and also social media really is making the resulting communication so predictable (bad facebook) …. Discuss…. […]

Coffee:I like to believe Sarah flew a significant way across a large part of a corner of the globe to see me, but I suspect it was largely coffee motivated. Luckily Vietnamese coffee is very good at living up to expectations especially cà phê sữa đá which is coffee-milk (somewhere between condensed and normal, bought in cans)-ice as well as the various cookie/caramel milkshake coffee derivatives you can get at most slightly more upmarket places.

vietnamese coffee with Baileys

Baileys with Vietnamese coffee, plus iced tea of some kind

Drinking cocktails at altitude for beginners: The Bitexco Financial Tower was designed to look like a lotus leaf, completed in 2010 and has 68 floors above deck and 3 basements.

Bitexco tower Ho Chi Minh

The Bitexco Tower

Its 16 elevators can reach any point in the building within 45seconds and I have to say when the sign said going up,

going up

Fast lifts to the top!

I didn’t think it meant quite so fast, especially given the smoothness of the ride. If they speed it up anymore it will become a time machine. We just missed sunset which was a little disappointing but the city’s neon lights and general high octane buzz does look a lot more commendable when viewed from a sky deck 49 floors above. I have to say it felt a bit like how the other half live drinking raspberry cocktails and gazing down at the ants scurrying below.

It was then that I noticed the helipad – now that is how the other half live – they arrive at this height of sophistication via luxury aircraft not xeom and a scurry-across several pedestrian crossings- and I was back down to Earth with a thud.

The second point I did not appreciate was that, due to the nature of the stools all looking outward so you could gaze at the view and the location of the stairs, all the people on the sky deck were gazing first at the view below and then at the view above them and up the girls’ in cocktail dresses skirts, height of elegance – not at all dignified- welcome to Vietnam. I did however appreciate the fact that they serve the highest tea from 4-5pm, I really want it.

highest tea at Bitexco Financial tower

Highest tea anyone?

If you suffer from mild vertigo or have the inclination for round two our second venue of choice was the roof terrace of the famous and prestigious Rex Hotel which was where loads of the journalists congregated during the Vietnam War.

Rex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City

Mmm, cocktail time

It offers nice and tranquil views (well almost tranquil, this is HCMC) across the colonial – is it Paris? – part of the city. The lights, which were made to look like silhouettes of birds in cages, really caught my attention here as did the Saga holidays crew which, given the price, I realise I have to expect. Still, every time I go into District one I am always surprised by the fact ‘club over 55’ is out doing club 18-25. Other than the fact there are simply more of them the only other viable solution I have come up with is that the youths are nursing hangovers and they aren’t seen until 9 or 10 when I have gone home. […]

Spending the day with the Don Bosco Volunteers:We then jumped on our motorcycles and set off into the sunset, mass convoy style, an hour and 5 minutes out of the city passing paddy field after paddy field.

view from back of motorbike

Darryl driving to the disabled children’s home

The most notable landmark on this trans-paddy cruise was a curious looking place selling all manner of life-sized African animal statues including 2 brightly coloured giraffe. I was carried by a guy – he might be called An and he might be a student but I am not really sure – his English was ok but it was difficult to hear him as Vietnamese are softly spoken and drive like lunatics so all the conversations were overruled by the roar of 5 million engines.

Steph on motorbike

A new boyfriend? At least an interesting conversational partner

During the journey Sarah and Darrel made several attempts at getting lost which, given the fact they were following a sea of orange polo shirts, was impressive, we arrived. I was fearful, very fearful. Was it unsafe, no, was it full of rats, probably but let’s not think about that, was the driver dangerous, no he was lovely, so then why was I  scared? I knew for a fact I would not be able to stand as my lower body had completely given up the ghost so my choice was fall from the bike as it went down the hill to the parking area or residential centre, or fall near the bike as my legs gave way.

I went for the latter and managed to steady myself on a fence. So I was standing- just, and as I waited for the blood to seep to my toes I gazed around and the questions, where the heck am I and why, came to me. I decided it didn’t really matter and my legs began propelling me again. I went inside the residential centre for children with special needs, many of whom seem to have hearing impairments, and we were graciously fed soup and baguettes.

eating with Don Bosco volunteers

“I told them Sarah would make them famous by blogging this pic “

For me the low point of the day was having to eat more moon cake as I had already had it for breakfast, lunch and high tea. The highs were plentiful and included being given a lantern to play with,

Steph and her lantern


watching deaf kids perform a sign language song perfectly in time with some music and trying to figure out the gender of the performers and whether anyone else was as confused as I. My xeom, as well as several others, were eager that I wasn’t left behind and ushered me over to his bike. On the way home, just like the way there, we had some good and very broad ranging conversations including asking about how the gays were in my country so I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly- I had. What a question. I think this question related to the girl-boys we had watched earlier.

vietnamese drag

Not a clear photo, but the one in pink was the most confusing…

His most ridiculous suggestion went like this: as it was getting late I noticed people sleeping on the back of motorbikes and he noticed me noticing people sleeping on the back of other people’s motorbikes and so he said if you’re tired you can go to sleep, just rest against my back, it’s easy. SLEEP ON THE MOVE IN HO CHI MINH CITY SWERVING AROUND PEOPLE…ER NO NO NO NO NO NO NO, besides he might not mind at the moment but he would certainly change his mind when I started slobbering in my sleep!! […]

How to cope with the rain – The Mekong Delta: It took about 2 hours to get where we were going. We then went on a paddle steamer to one of the islands where we watched the coconut sweet making process, learnt how to make the various Vietnamese bread wraps and tried lots of traditional dried fruit and sweets. I was very pleased that I had already tried all this stuff on past visits to the supermarket adapting like a pro to local life. I was also amused that our tour consisted of all the people who lived in Asia and the other tour, which was much more expensive, consisted of all the people who lived in the English speaking world.

After a pony and trap ride, a journey through the mangroves in a small boat which resulted in a lot of screaming from the petrified Korean (hehehehe), a lunch of soup and pork and rice (what a surprise), some honey, lots of tropical fruit and a little folk music it was time to head back to the mainland but not before Sarah, eager to get a profile picture of her in a traditional hat, (I’m considering buying 2 of them to make into lamps) got a little over excited and slipped on the sloshy mud wiping her out and covering herself top to toe, as well as the waterproof jacket she was very graciously lent by the South African

fall over at Mekong Delta

Mucky puppy!

(how am I going to explain that to him- oh wait I already told him 3 times what she did to his coat just because I like the story).

How to cope with the rain – Dam Sen Water Park: It’s warm enough and wet enough you will almost not notice it’s raining- that last parts a lie. It’s such a strange sensation, everyone lying there on ringos, looking at palm trees, the waves going and the heavens opening. Going down a slide in the rain is equally as weird. We started, as any adventurer does, with the fastest slide first. My favourite part was when Sarah didn’t realise that with a name like “kamikaze” the ride would be fast. [Bennett’s note: I hadn’t read the name before going on!]

I loved the zip wire because I’ve never done one where you drop off into water before. I also loved the Australian dad briefing his 12 year old daughter like she was going to skydive solo for the first time. Seriously dude, the worst thing that happens is she doesn’t make it to the end- she still falls into the pool = no problem so chill the heck out. I did not like the fact you could not sit with your knees on the ringo, seriously what do they think is going to happen to me, it’s an inflatable, I’m in an enclosed space and I can swim?? The waves are fake, I am not going to be dragged out to sea, tut tut. The ride pictured was also a first for me.

dam sen water park

Whizzy slide then drop!

It starts like any normal enclosed slide then you are spat out into a bowl which you whizz round a few times before you lower yourself dropping in to the pool below, of if you are me you just fly round once and zoom straight out at high speed, hurtling into the churned area below much to the surprise of the lifeguard who for a brief second contemplated rescuing me until I started laughing. […]

Xeoms: So as well as an xeom for business I also have 2 xeoms who hang around on the street corner opposite Aston 2, they wave and say hello and when they drop me off (they took Sarah and I to several places) they say have a nice day in the most broken yet brilliant English ever. If you are going to learn one phrase it’s a pretty good one. The xeom that took Sarah tried to give her a complementary guided tour on the way – in Vietnamese of course- it’s the thought that counts. There are also many maniacs who play dodgems with the traffic but mainly they just sleep on their bikes or read a very torn looking book and wave or more commonly make a motorbike revving hand signal. If you have a spare moment watch xeoms, imagine what they are saying, they all seem like such characters I would love to know what they would say to me if they could communicate in English. Some of the local xeoms recognise me now- I do stand out so nothing especially in that, but instead of trying to tout a ride they now just wave frantically and shout hello.

Well, I hope you enjoyed Steph’s take on our Vietnamese adventure. Remember, hers still continues and I will definitely blog about it if I hear anything interesting from her in the next few months – there’s publicity for you, Steph! 😉

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Author: Bennett

2 years as an expat in China and now doing the same in New Zealand, Bennett sure likes to experience "slow travel!"

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  1. I love the time you take to write your posts. So much detail, I almost feel the atmosphere. I’ve reading several of your posts as I’ll be in Vietnam in the next 10 days. Your stories are making me even more excited!

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    • Wow – hope you enjoy Vietnam Rashad! Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

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