A slightly longer flight, almost two hours, and we were in Vietnam! My 40th country, not long after my 40th birthday (I'm now using a combination of the pointless criteria, with a caveat for actual separate stamps in my passport, so Hong Kong and Macau count separately, not as part of china, but I've removed the Vatican from the list.
Our taxi ride to the hotel was a lot of fun, with a thousand motorbikes swarming around us, lots of good natured tooting, and the enjoyable game of trying to outdo each other on the heavily laden scooters, our favourites being whole families of four, sandwiching children between adults and handlebars, huge boxes on the back, containing TVs, beautiful girls riding side saddle and my favourite, 15 full water-cooler bottles, strung on every available surface.
With three full days we didn't waste too much time, so we braved walking around the block in 35° heat, and buying crisps and sushi (and obscenely cheap beer) in a grocery store, and called it an afternoon well spent.
For the evening, we met up with Paul, who has been living in Ho Chi Minh city for a few years now, and had already provided us with all manner of useful advice for our arrival. He'd found a nice restaurant just down the road, and we ate honey chicken, tofu, and morning glory with garlic (our new favourite thing), and Lisa's wine was about a quarter of the total cost of the meal!
We walked back via the big town square, where pretty much everyone was just hanging around and enjoying the cool evening (it was down to 29° by 10pm.)
Day one proper we spent on a proper tour, taking a fast boat up the river to the Mekong delta, visiting families and drinking coconut milk and rice wine, admiring the various uses of the river bank, from rice production, timber treatment, heavy industry and general fishing and farming. Lunch was a huge affair with many courses of spring rolls, tofu galore for lisa, and chicken and fish for me. It was at an orphanage (although mostly it seemed to be more of a foster place, where kids can get an education without having to work on a farm as soon as they are old enough) so some of us played football with the kids afterwards
, before being dragged back to the boat. We took a ride on little rowing boats, and visited a farm, which was also home to the biggest snake we had ever seen.
Our second day, Paul was off work for most of the day, so he showed us some of the prettier outdoor bits of the city, taught us how to cross the roads, we visited the cathedral, and the post office and found little cafes and exciting lunch places. One of the cafes was just in what looked like an apartment block, but when you looked closely every apartment was a different cafe.
When he went to work in the evening, we visited the opera house, where they have the AO show which is pretty much the Vietnamese cirque de soleil- taking various aspects of Vietnamese culture and turning it into a thrilling set of dances and acrobatic skits.
That evening (having had a hefty lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, introducing us to wonders such as lotus flower seeds) we went to the bar on the roof of the xxxxx hotel and looked down at the fountains on the square, and the statue of Uncle Ho, while drinking cocktails (and in my case eating chips. Yes, sorry, I fancied some chips.)
Day three we spent the morning in the National art gallery (which was really good, contrary to the comments in our guide book) while the other museums were closed for lunch, then we visited the palace, and the War Remnants museum, before finding dinner at the Secret Garden - a rooftop restaurant serving amazing food with cockerels in (not too tiny) cages and nice views.
We left Ho Chi Minh city early the next morning to head to Hà Nội.