Well another travel day with a short flight to Phu Quoc the island off the south coast of Vietnam.
Check out from the Grand hotel included the now usual hold up at Vietnam hotels while they check you haven’t run off with the pillows and sheets.
The Grand is somewhat of a misnomer as it is clearly living on past glories. This was the hotel that during the Vietnam war housed most of the war correspondents and each evening at 5 p.m. the Americans briefed the press on how the war was going. The briefings quickly became known as the Fantasy at Five briefing.
Apart from three floors of old rooms nothing remains of those days. The hotel is just another high rise of 20 floors. They do however take thieving seriously , so much so that in your room is a price list of everything that is there including the TV, all the bedcovers, the spoons, saucers and cups, the kettle, the desk ,all the lamps and the chairs. Quite how or why you would want the desk only they know but you aren’t released until the security guy reports that everything is still tied down.
The Villa Aria in Mui Ne did the same thing . Some Americans checking out before us had left their beach towels by the pool and were to be charged for them if they couldn’t go to the pool and find them. They were joking ( they hoped) that they were about to subjected to a cavity search next.
I have only come across this before in Delhi, India but it does seem to be becoming more the norm in Asia.The Delhi experience was a little more nasty as they held our passports and took the credit card away until three security guys who were sent to the room returned to the lobby.
With check out at noon and an afternoon flight there was time for a little retail therapy before the third degree.
Saigon is famous for cheap clothes and there are a few key shopping areas to be hit
Saigon Square 1 and it’s newer cousin Saigon Square 2 cover the clothes, shoes, handbags and all things North Face especially the rucksacks.
Saigon Square 2 near the Legend hotel is more spacious and you still barter for the stuff even where they say fixed price only.
I went there
Tons of Zara stuff, loads of Abercrombie and Fitch some fake, some seconds and all cheap before you barter. $40%-50% off is the goal to keep in mind but show no enthusiasm and walk away at least three times and wait to be dragged back. if they don’t hit another stall selling the same stuff.
If you want fake paintings go to Tran Phu Street where you can pick up any Old Master you want or they will do one for you.
Suitcases are best on Le Laa Street but there are great fakes everywhere and looking at the Kipling bags it would be hard to tell the difference.
The big old market in Saigon is the Ben Thanh Market. Certainly from the Grand it is an exciting walk as you cross several large roads all with cavalry charging motor bikes coming at you from every direction.
There are fashion stalls there packed in like sardines. But it more a real market for locals to shop .
There are spices.
Plenty of offal stalls
and fish stalls , this guy tried to get away by jumping out of his bucket but the owner found it and by now it is probably being served for someone’s lunch.
The meat stalls all conform to the latest EU directives on hygiene and display of meat directives
The airport is just 15 minutes from the downtown area and the cab was under £6 including a fee to enter the airport.
Check in was surprisingly easy given the reputation Vietnam Airlines seems to have with the on-line community , plenty of staff and they kept opening more check in counters as the crowd grew.
Very unlike Air Asia Thailand whose check in agents have discarded the uniform for jeans and seemingly are inputting your entire life history into the computer in triplicate .
Oh and I now have a new job selling coconuts. Let me just say this is back breaking work
Quite amusingly the guy whose business i borrowed for 2 minutes was a very small guy and he said to me “I’m so much smaller than you because I have had to carry this all my life and you haven’t !”
Within 2 mins that wooden spar was digging into my shoulder and the idea of walking miles trying to sell a few coconuts almost impossible to envisage. I tipped him well.