I had a romantic notion of Saigon; I was filled with the imagery from stories of journalist and photojournalists from the decades on war during the twentieth century, and I was also filled with imagery from Graham Greene’s book The Quiet American. As we drew close I was excited to see what this well taled city had to offer and as per the norm we were dropped off for the last time by the magic bus.
We arrived early morning and were greeted with a city rising, but not like the city I had imagined or like Hanoi, it was very different, it had a different vibe but seemed also very modern and cosmopolitan. We were staying right in the heart of backpacker territory, so we hit the hotel, dropped off our stuff and headed out into the emerging day.
We had a few days in Saigon (also Ho Chi Minh City a.k.a. HCMC), The first place we went was the military museum, but I wrote about that in my next blog. So after that, on our agenda was a few key tourist stops, the Lonely Planets walking guides and some shopping. The shopping was actually quite specific, we decided when we were in Hanoi and Sapa that we would not buy two things we wanted because we would be traveling so much that it would be hassle to lug around. The first item that Steph wanted was a wicker basket that the locals use to carry produce around and I wanted a propaganda poster that I had seen and liked! I will come back to these items, but remember as we wandered Saigon, we were also popping in every store that looked like it would sell what we wanted.
When figuring out what to do we knew we had two room 101 challenges, the first was the Bitexco Financial Tower the tallest building in Saigon, it was $10 per person to go up! The second was the Sheraton Hotel which had a great roof bar but again to stay there you had to eat and drink, cheapest drink $15! Both being budgetry problems.
Now several months into the trip and close to the end we have become very whily in all things sneaky we attacked each obstacle with military precision. ‘The Sheraton was actually too easy, we used the “going to get a drink” line to get up there, did our usual wander to see where to sit and what was on the menu, got some snaps and did the “I don’t really fancy that” and headed off! It was a lovelly sunset as well!
The Bitexco Tower was a little bit harder than we thought and we knew we did not want to pay but there were enough barriers to match even the mightiest of Park Avenue buildings, so it had to be legitimate reason to get in. We spied the restaurant advertising; that was it, easy, within 2 minutes we were in and on our way upstairs. However when we arrived we were in the core of the building there was no real view as they had blinds and things in front of the window. We could not get to the space surrounding us and the windows. Foiled! Not to be outdone just yet we asked for the menu! It was expensive…..Latte $8…..Oragina $5! We had a silent debabte as we looked from the price list to each other and back again! Finally we realized this was still cheaper than going to the viewing deck! Today we splashed out! Luxury in the early afternoon!
Moments like this when you pamper yourself with the simplest of things makes the world of difference and makes for some of those special and magical moments in life! In NYC buying a latte for $8 does not even raise an eyebrow, here it meant a lot! Sometimes it’s the simple things; I will remember this smiley face forever!
Now back to shopping, so during several days in Saigon it had transpired that despite every market, shop and stall we had visited it looked like Saigon did not have the basket Steph wanted, she was most upset, so if anyone is going to Sapa give us a shout we will put in an order! On the poster front however we had been successful, but we had a problem, compared with China were its cheap as chips to get propaganda posters, in Vietnam they have cottoned onto the fact it is good business with the tourist!
After visiting every propaganda store in Saigon only one had the one I wanted, it was the same company that I had seen it in, in Hanoi, except this store wanted $15 for it! In Hanoi it was $12! The lady in the store was steely faced as well and she was not budging and she did not believe our story on the cost! Now your probably thinking Fran is being a right pikey right now, but don’t forget that’s nearly 10% of our dailt budget and we had just had a $8 Latte and a $5 Orangina! I was not going to settle for $15, its not like it was a little old lady on the street, for 3 tone poster on cheap paper, they were making a killing in the land of fakes!
Now after finding out the price I tried to do the Cheap A** Photo tactic, but I tell you what these Propaganda Vendors are pretty tough people to beat, you're never able to be alone with the posters and they are watching people like me, with camera’s around their neck like a hawk! So for the first time the Cheap A** photo tactic failed. If I wanted this poster I was going to have to go back to one of the shops cap in hand.
After 4 visits over a couple of days, we made one last attempt to negotiate, she finally decided to call the Hanoi shop to ask them there costs….after what seemed like a painful conversation, she got off the phone……Her Boss had agreed to let us have it for $12 as a one off! She was miffed, Steph and I were gloating! A small victory!