Running the Gauntlet

I think today is the first time Jade and I have elected to forgo an additional activity. The appeal of saving a bit of money and having some relaxing time to explore ourselves was too strong. As was the want for a lie-in. Not that we stayed in that late, we were ready to check out and at breakfast for 9am. This trip is really making me get up early – I suppose it was about time, if this trip wasn’t worth getting up for then what is. It was nice to get a good sleep in before the unknowns of the sleeper train tonight as well!

Everyone who was visiting the tunnels disappeared early morning, so as we ate breakfast, we formulated a plan of attack for Ho Chi Minh City that day. AS much as the tunnels would have been a very interested visit, I wasn’t up for another historical talk, and I struggled at the Killing Fields, so I decided it really wasn’t for me. That, and the opportunity to save a little bit of money for later in the tour. The few of us who stayed behind decided to stroll around the city, check out the Ben Thanh market, and post some postcards home – at the most impressive post office I think I might have ever seen no less!

We decided as a group that we were all going to by a bracelet of a similar design to remember the trip by/so we all had something to sort of unite us. This meant going to the market without Thuy, a dangerous move for us. Jade managed to get her glass laser souvenir, and we found a stall that sold the sort of bracelets we wanted. Sally did well, and she wasn’t budging on the price, so in the end we got a pretty good deal for us all., especially as we needed to get them before Kev left (his last day today!)

Every time you walk through the market, people are shouting things at you, offering you good prices and same same but different, and touching you. I undertsand they have to make a living, so I have no issue with them constantly bombarding with offers and sales pitches. I do hate being touched in there. It was hot and sweaty as it was, but that just tipped me over and made me irritable. You should never compare shopping to running the gauntlet in gladiators. It put me off looking for anything at the stalls where they used that tactic, not that I was doing any buying for myself.

Once we all escaped, we departed for the post office, and dunkin’ donuts. It made such a good meeting point in out defence! We were there to meet Thuy, who has had a problem banking. Now, without being overly critical of HSBC’s service, they were pretty darn useless in helping her. I know she is a UK account holder, but they were adamant they weren’t going to help her until she cried and I reasoned with them. So much for the ‘world-wide’ bank. Once her money issues were resolved, Thuy and I had a proper Vietnamese iced coffee, and then went in search of Converse and Topshop. First things first, the coffee here is good. I mean really good. Secondly, even though they are made here in Vietnam, Converse are not that cheap. Thirdly, Topshop in Ho Chi Minh is impossible to find, and no-one seems to know where it is, they are just sure it is a 10-15 walk from wherever you are. We raced the rain home, we didn’t want to be soaked through, or be carrying wet clothes on a sleeper train.

Once goodbyes to Kevin had been said, we left for the exciting prospect of our first sleeper train. We have all heard, or read, some horror stories about the conditions on these, and so none of us were expecting much at all. When it pulled in and we boarded, we found our 4 man cabin. OK, cosy would be a very appropriate description, but other than that, it was nice. We all had decent sized beds, clean linen, it was air-conditioned, and there were plugs to charge things. And of course, the most important thing – western toilets. As much as I don’t mind too much if a squat toilet is the only one available when I am on an excursion, I don’t want to be using one on a moving train.

Thuy, Leianne, Jade, and I all brought snacks, and were chatting away with Pete, and seemed to become very tired at the same time. Despite the bumps, rocking, and sudden stops, the train wasn’t too bad to sleep on – got a pretty good night in. I am not sure getting to the station at 5am is my cup of tea, but it wasn’t too bad. I did accidentally say the immortal last words ”How bad the can the next one be” though. Oops.

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