Yes, we got lost in Saigon but I will get to that shortly. Our next port stop was Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon, Vietnam. It was renamed by the Communists in 1976 but is still called Saigon by most people who live there. It is located on the Saigon River, a few miles from the South China Sea. A city of over 13 million people, it is the largest city in Vietnam and one of the fastest growing cities in Asia. From Singapore we had sailed up and then back down the Gulf of Thailand. We were now sailing in the South China Sea around Vietnam.
Today we had an excursion booked to Saigon, an hour drive from where the ship was docked. It was an early day with our guide meeting us at the pier at 7:30 A.M. We had to have a Vietnam visa which we were able to get on the ship. We were then given a “landing card” which we had to carry with us whenever we went off the ship in Vietnam. Vietnamese custom officials were waiting to stamp our landing card as we left the ship.
Just like in Bangkok, Saigon has crazy traffic, in particular the motor scooters/cycles that zoom haphazardly through the streets.
Our guide told us we were lucky because it was the week of “Tet”, the Vietnamese New Year and therefore lots of people were out of town for the holiday which meant less traffic.
Our guide for today was named Tony. Even though he said he had been a tour guide for 27 years, he lacked in our opinion basic tour guide skills. Sidney, our Bangkok guide, gave us his cell phone number when we first boarded the bus so we could call him if we got separated from the group. Tony did not. Sidney wore a tall colorful hat that was easy to see in a crowd. Tony carried a small tan sign on a short stick, hard to see and follow. Sidney assigned each person on his bus a number and he would periodically stop and call out each number to see if everyone was present. Tony did not. Sidney walked at tourist speed. Tony did everything in one speed, fast.
Our first stop was at the Bitexco Financial Tower, which at 68 floors is one of the tallest buildings in Vietnam. In fact it was the tallest until 2011. Tony took us in there to use the Happy Room which evidently in Asia is how all the tour guides refer to the restroom.
Next up was a walk through a large open air pedestrian mall where large crowds had gathered for the annual flower festival in celebration of Tet, a Vietnamese festival. We were enthralled with all the sights and sounds around us, stopping often to take pictures. At some point we became aware that not only did we not see Tony, we didn’t see anyone in our group of 30 up ahead. Just behind us was a couple from Canada we had met at breakfast the day before. Like us, they also had become separated from our group. It was like our guide and group had simply disappeared. The four of decided to continue walking down the very crowded mall and hopefully catch up with our group. We walked all the way to the end of the mall with no sign of Tony or our group.
Above is the City Hall building. Did I mention there was bright sunshine and it was 95 degrees? At this point our options and bodies were fading fast. The guide might leave two people behind, but would he leave four? Bill, forever the Eagle Scout, suggested we make our way back to the Bitexco Tower where we had gotten off the bus. It was a gamble because police usually do not let buses linger on busy streets and it was entirely possible the bus had moved to a different pickup location, but we had no other option. We hurried to the Bitexco Tower and were immensely relieved to see our bus. We learned that halfway down the mall Tony had taken a left turn down a narrow side street back to the bus. An efficient tour guide would have stopped at that turn and taken a head count. But not Tony. He didn’t know we were missing until everyone was back on the bus. And what did Tony say when we got back to the bus? He shook his head at us and told us we must stay together. It wasn’t like we ducked into McDonald’s for ice cream or went off on our own on purpose. At the next stop he told everyone to stay together. One of the others in the group mumbled to him, “Maybe we could if you wouldn’t walk so fast.” So very true!
Here is a Happy New Year can of Coke.