First up, enjoying the urban pleasures of exotic Saigon. With one eye on child friendly activities we set off to Dam Sen Cultural Park in district 11. Well, I say cultural. The park consists of a boating lake and gardens surrounded by crude and distinctly third world entertainment. A small circus houses bicycle riding bears and monkeys whilst outside four elephants spend their day doing a never ending shuffle back and forth, due to a chain wrapped around a leg and shackled to the floor. There is also a gigantic ferris wheel locally nicknamed 'the death trap' (by me) with small boilers attached that you are supposed to sit in as the ride rotates. Such contraptions inspired the final destination movie series...hence, I passed. All in all, distinctly underwhelming and led to a feeling of being de-cultured. Perhaps it is the most brutally honest cultural park going - 'This is our culture - it's shit'. (It isn't). Note to Vietnamese tourism authority: exploit your fantastic country and its culture by redeveloping Dam Sen because it could be very lovely.
|Elephants chained up at Dam Sen|
However, the Dam Sen complex is salvaged by the fantastic water park. Now 'wet and wild' it is not, but as a venue to take the kid(s) it's exceptional (all relatively speaking for Vietnam). Get there early before the crowds and only go on a weekend if you really really like humanity.
Saigon Square was an important stop off point for a stock up on Kipling Bags, apparently the latest in-thing in England. Available here for peanuts.
Phu Quoc beckoned.
French owned Mai House was just right. Beautifully manicured gardens leading down to a large beachfront area covered with tall, swaying palm trees. The sea, clear and calm.
There were trips to Bai Sao beach and Mango Bay (Ong Lang).
|Bai Sao Beach|
|Louisa at Mango Bay|
|Mango Bay Sunset|
To highlight the comedy value of Vietnamese infrastructure, getting to Phu Quoc island takes the same amount of time or less as getting to Mui Ne. Mui Ne is only 200km by road. Average road trip to Mui Ne, about 5 hours. Phu Quoc is 400km away and in the sea. Flight time less than an hour.
Santa was not garunteed to drop by such a random location so just to make sure notice was posted in the bungalow window. It worked.
Seeing in Christmas Eve with a seafood BBQ on the beach is never too shoddy.
A return to HCMC and a short stay at Anoasis at Long Hai concluded our trip, where once again returning by car took 2.5 hours despite being under 100km. The Cat Lai ferry shortcut to the Phu My Bridge didn't quite work out. Although it was very entertaining to see the local militia forcibly turn away a taxi and another car who were trying to skip the line, sending them reluctantly to the back of a very long queue.
Life is quite normal wherever you live and work - there's no getting away from the humdrum of daily existence. But having South East Asia on your doorstep is not a bad perk at all when it comes to holiday time.