Monday, April 7, 2014

A Beer in the Grand Hotel

Day 3 .. Vung Tao

We both woke before the alarm .. obviously our systems are still at least partly on Aussie time.  Breakfast on the roof terrace then off to the bus company office to get our bus to Vung Tao.

Anyone over the age of 35 will remember the Redgum song “I was only 19” and the reference to drinking tinnies in the Grand Hotel on a 36hr rec leave in Vung Tao .. well that’s what today was all about. 

We booked seats (110,000dong – about $5.10 each/one way) on the 9am bus which arrived right on time.  Only problem was that these buses are generally for the locals and most of them are under 5’6 – or have short legs – or both.  Our seats were 29 & 30, in the corner on the back seat with barely enough legroom to satisfy a hobbit… it was going to be an uncomfortable 2 ½ hours!

Several months ago they stopped running the Saigon-Vung Tao ferries after one of them caught fire and sank … fair call actually.  There is a shiny new expressway – well actually only part of a shiny new expressway and it took almost an hour to get out of the city and onto the new bit of road. 

We stopped about half way for a toilet/food/drink/driver ciggie break and arrived in Vung Tao about 11.30am.  Vung Tao is an unusual city – somehow laidback but still busy – something like Kampot in Cambodia but bigger.  In fact it is a much bigger city than I had expected. 
I had figured we could just wander from the bus station to the beach and we’d find the Grand Hotel … aaah no!  We walked to the beach – but Vung Tao has several beaches –  named Front Beach, Back Beach and Later Beach. We had walked to Later Beach and we needed to be at Front Beach.  We had bought a map (labelled entirely in Vietnamese) and realised it was a long walk, and it was hot, very hot, so we grabbed a taxi for the   trip round to the Grand Hotel.

It is actually rally quite grand – though I doubt it looked like this in the late 1960’s.  Lunch cost us $12… including beers.  Our old neighbour Ray is a Vietnam Vet who asked us once to go back to Long Phouc Hai and find his leg (he lost it when the armoured personnel carrier he was in drove over a land mine).  My beer was for him.

We wandered down onto the beach, checked out the fishing fleet but without shade, it was too hot to walk too much along the sand – which is clean & fine  & white.  Conscious of the time and how long it would take us to walk back, we headed back into the town itself and found a little coffee place to sit & watch the world go by – and take photos of some of the strange things they carry on motorbikes in Vietnam.

We caught the 4pm bus back and stopped again about half way ... on the opposite side of the highway - at the original drive through.
Desipte the evening peak hour traffic, we reached the bus station just a couple of blocks from our hotel just after 6.30pm.  We were both surprised how busy the roads around this part of town were – crawling with motorbikes – ti seemed that half the population of Saigon was out.  Rather than brave the bikes, we chose to walk down a couple of blocks to a set of traffic lights – something new since we were here last time – traffic lights with pedestrian crossing lights attached.  Past the locals playing badminton and the high energy/high volume exercise/pump/dance class happening in the park. 

Our original plans for dinner tonight had been to eat at one of the little street food stalls that spring up along the alley our hotel is in, but sadly when we got there just after 7.30 there were no tables – and none of the people looked like they were going to be finished any time soon so we headed out onto the main drag and found a likely candidate… ‘The Viet Restaurant’ .. serving Vietnamese cuisine … funny that!  We had Vietnamese pancakes & stirfried noodles with beef and beers for about $15.

Back to the hotel via a little coffee place for another iced Vietnamese coffee.  We have an early start tomorrow – off to Hue on a 9am flight.

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