Sunday 24th Dec
Today was the last internal leg of my trip, flying from Da Nang to Saigon. Vincent had pre-arranged a taxi for me, so I had a couple of hours to relax, leisurely pack my rucksack (I’d gathered a few extra items since my arrival) and have some breakfast. My one slight worry was that my rucksack might now be too bulky to take on the internal flight as hand luggage. I doubted that this would be the case for the international leg home, but the internal flights had tighter limits. I pulled the straps as tight as they’d in order go to minimise the bulk as much as possible.
By and large, the Vietnamese seem an incredibly polite people. One thing they never say thank you for, however, is if you give way to them on the streets. Several times, when negotiating a narrow alleyway. I’ve pulled to one side to let a person or a motorbike pass me. They do not so much as glance at you, let alone say thank you. I think it’s an act that they total fail to notice. I may as well be stopping to tie my shoelace for all they care.
Breakfast was another quick egg and cheese sandwich, then I went for a final 30 minute walk. I was going to miss Hoi An - certainly the beautiful (and traffic - free) old town. I had no idea what to expect of Saigon. I’d soon find out.
When I want to check out, Vincent was sitting at reception with his son, who must have been around five or six. The boy had a military cap sitting on the desk, so I perched it precariously on my head, which he found hilarious.
"He wants to be a soldier," Vincent told me. I found this impressive, mostly because he was so young. I’m 55 and I still don’t know what I want to be
The boy showed me his two drawings. “What is this?” he asked.
“Oh, you speak English?”
“What is this?” He repeated.
One of the pictures I could clearly make out. I pointed to each part. “These are clouds. This is the sun.” I paused, and then realised what else I was looking at. It was so good that I’d been trying to over-complicate my perception of it. "Wow. This is the Vietnam flag, blowing in the wind!" It wasn’t just a rigid rectangle - the boy had made it look like a stiff breeze was moving it. The star was whole, but the material was rippling.
I settled the bill with Vincent and went to sit in a comfy chair to await my taxi. The boy came over with a book and presented it to me. I opened it, and I guess we’d describe it (at least historically) as a "primer". I pointed to the first picture. "What is this?" I asked him.
"Apple," came the prompt reply.
I flicked to another random page and pointed.
"Four," he said.
"It’s his first year of learning English," Vincent explained, almost apologetically.
I asked the boy his name.
I raised my eyebrows at Vincent, the football fanatic. "Like Roy Keane," he beamed at me.
Da Nang domestic airport was every bit as good as Hanoi’s. During the taxi ride I checked in on the Vietnam Airlines app, which also helped with ensuring there was no issue getting my rucksack through as carry on luggage. Security was quick and painless.
The inbound flight was late, which had a knock on affect to my flight. But I reflected that ground transportation would have taken at least 20 hours, so if I wanted to get to the warmth of south Vietnam (not to mention the location of my return flight home) I had no choice but to wait.
When we boarded I had a window seat, and could see that outside it had started raining once again.
As the plane climbed into the sky I took a last look at rain-soaked Da Nang, but any hopes of seeing beautiful Hoi An from the sky were soon dashed as we were quickly engulfed in cloud.
Within 15 minutes the cloud had largely dispersed, and I was finally treated to my first view of Vietnam from the air.
It was over 30 degrees C when I landed. I didn't have to wait around to collect any luggage, as it was all in my hand. I made my way out to the pre-arranged pickup point, and grabbed a quick can of beer whilst I awaited the driver. With it being so hot, I could finally lose my hoody, and I was glad to take it off. When the car arrived and I jumped in, the driver had the air-con pumped up so high I was soon reaching for my bloody hoody again!
I was greeted at my accommodation by the host. She proceeded to introduce me to all of the tech that the flat boasted, from touch keypads for getting into the building and then into the flat, to a (yes, seriously) "smart toilet". This device baffled me. It read the temperature of the room and warmed the seat and would auto-flush, but (without being too descriptive) if a man went to the loo, it was unable to detect it, and I had to wave my foot around a sensor to get it to flush. There was also an Apple mirror. All this seemed to do was have a light.
The entry and exit was the most annoying. I needed a code to get out of the building, and the touchpad would just not recognise my touch. I was trapped in the building for five minutes until the host came back to let me out. There was also a different code for my apartment compared with that to enter the building, and after coming back from getting some supplies, I could not get into the flat. Eventually the host set up fingerprint recognition for the main entrance (both in and out), and got me a card for the flat. Technology!!
The main problem with internal travel is that it did eat a lot into my available time. With check-in only being after 14:00, I was tending to spend the middle 3-4 hours of each travel day in transit. So by the time we had finally sorted out my access into and out of the building, there was not much of the day left. I went for a long walk, roaming the streets getting acquainted with the layout of Saigon, but there was insufficient time to really go and see any of the major sites. I had three full days left (my flight was after midnight on 27th, so it technically gave me all day on 27th), so there was no huge rush.
Until this point I had not had what might arguably be called Vietnam's most famous dish - namely Pho. My wandering brought me to a place that said it specialised in Pho, so this was a perfect opportunity. As it turned out, the broth arrived "deconstructed". Well, certainly the option I chose did. This was great in my opinion, as I could add as much or as little fragrance, and the beef could "cook" for just a few seconds. It was lovely!