3 January 2011
Arrive in Darwin - welcome to Satan's summer palace. 33 degrees and about 7000 percent humidity. Darwin airport is absolutely nothing to get even remotely excited about and we have 6 hours before we set off again. The predicted storm is already making itself at home. The skies are very grey indeed and the air is heavy. Unanimous decision - get us out of here! We decide to jump in a cab and head for the city to look at pearls. Every second cab in Darwin is a Prius. We have a lovely Indian driver who speaks so softly I can barely hear him. On the way to Smith Street we remember that we'll need a good lunch because Jetstar doesn't provide dinner. We decide to be near the water in the vain hope that it will be cooler. Our driver drops us off down at the Darwin waterfront and we look out over the harbour as the skies become darker and darker. There is a beach there very much like Kodak Beach at Southbank and it's packed to capacity with those trying to glean some small respite from the oppressive heat. We wander towards some new looking buildings and discover a beautiful Italian restaurant called il Lido. We go in and are given a table near the glass windows with a lovely view over the harbour. From there we watch as the storm gathers momentum. It's coming closer and closer and getting bigger and bigger by the second. The sky is black. Suddenly it hits and it's showtime. Thunder, lightning, lashing rain and high winds. Fantastic!! We watch as the birds try with futile determination to go against the air currents, which are swirling water everywhere. Just as well we're indoors and not walking around in the mall. We enjoy a lovely lunch in the air conditioning and are grateful for the opportunity we been given to see Mother Nature in full flight. The storm pounds the city for about 2 hours.
On the way back to the airport, we have the most fabulous, fabulous cab driver. He's a Filipino man called Louie, and he's about 50 years old. He has the most gorgeous manner about him and he's very chatty. Like cab drivers all around the world, he knows everything about any conceivable subject and he waxes lyrical about Julia Gillard, driving, eating in Asia and anything else we can cover in the time it takes to drive back to the airport. He's a structural engineer by profession and spent quite some time in the Middle East. Clearly he has spent years working with Indian people, because he ends every sentence with 'isn't it?' Even if the rest of the day was a disaster, it was a real treat meeting Louie.
We arrive back at the airport, go through security (where I get pulled aside yet again for the 'special treatment'). I swear my face must be that of the Angel of Death because, without fail, I get pulled over every single time I travel.
Head upstairs to international, where we are locked out of the departure lounge because there are too many people in it. The flight to Singapore is running late and there are people everywhere. Oh the humanity! Far too much of it for my liking, just quietly. Lots of smelly bodies pressed closely together. I feel faintly nauseous. We amuse ourselves in the duty free shop for awhile where I pick up the most sensational bargain on bourbon for a friend. Go and collect back the GST I paid on my camera and we're good to go. Just another 2 hours to kill before we board. We amuse ourselves further by counting the number of tattoos on all the people around us - lost track somewhere in the high 600s.
Finally we board the flight. It's packed to the rafters and nowhere near as enjoyable as the TV show of the same name. What followed was almost 5 hours of the most uncomfortable hell I can recall in some time. The less said the better.
Finally arrive in Saigon not a moment too soon. Again, it's hot and humid, which I suspect will be a trend to be continued for the duration.
We go and change money - for the princely sum of $400AUD, I receive about 8.5 million VND. Hilarious. We're met by our lovely driver and we head off to our hotel. Even at 11pm the streets of Saigon are packed with taxis, motorbikes and people everywhere one cares to look.
I spy hundreds of young couples enjoying romantic moments - they sit together on their motorbikes on the side of the road, in parks, outside restaurants and anywhere else they can find and soak up each other's company. It's very cute. There are approximately 4 million motorbikes in Saigon and I think most of them were out on the street. The traffic requires every ounce of concentration available and I'm relieved that our driver isn't as sleep deprived as we are. Neon signs flash everywhere, and there are lots of Western seasonal ornaments around - Christmas trees bulging with lights, Happy New Year signs flashing in every colour of the rainbow and a large banner welcoming the first tourists of 2011 to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
It's very exciting! It's a pity it's so late for us (about 2am) and we're so tired.
I desperately need a hot shower and a cup of tea.
We arrive at our hotel and check in and are shown up to our rooms. Very quaint and we have a bit of a laugh. The girls go and sit in the fire escape with a beer whilst I fall face first into the sheets. Good night Saigon. See you tomorrow!