Nov 19:  Ho Chi Minh City

Officially I slept 11pm-7am, but ran out of sleep long before 7am, so I guess I caught up.

Breakfast was included.  I had beef noodle soup, which was very salty and oily and yummy.

Our hotel.

Reunification Palace.  This was the home to South Vietnamese heads of state until 1975, and has been left in its 1975 condition as a tourist attraction.  I took the tour.  The back of the ticket says it's available to be rented out for "wedding party, merry-party, birthday".  Merry-party!  Like where people make merry.  I waited in a room with a random Aussie chick for the English tour guide, and sat right under a fan because I'd never sweated so much in my life.  HCMC is literally hot as hell.  The tour guide was almost incomprehensible--it wasn't even "Engrish", it's just that his accent was so thick you could cut the tension with a knife.

I think this is the view from the 2nd floor balcony.  On 30 Apr 1975, tanks came down that boulevard (Le Duan) and rammed the palace as Saigon fell to the Commies.

Helipad on the roof.  A South Vietnamese pilot was sent on a bombing mission to the North, but he was actually a spy for the North, and he turned around and flew back to Saigon and bombed the Palace where the two circles are.

View from the roof.  I included the flagpoles because the North Vietnamese flag was raised on one of them on 30 Apr 1975.

And without flagpoles.  This place was like any other palace (roped-off reception rooms, bedrooms, etc.) but also had a two-level subterranean bunker just like Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms in London.  Lots of maps and radio equipment.

Next I went to Ban Thanh Market near the hotel, and bought two of those ridiculous cone hats.  They were 10,000 dong each (US$0.67) so there was no need to bargain.  Money exchange is good here.  The hotel gave me 15,000 dong to the dollar which was slightly better than the bank rate.  Seems like everyone just uses 15,000 to make things easy regardless of what the real rate is.

At this point I decided I'd much rather be in my air-conditioned room and have a few beers from the minibar.  So I went back to the hotel and read some more.  By the way, my book of choice was Bill Simmons' Now I Can Die In Peace.  I think his style influenced my note-taking, as we'll see later.

At 6pm the tour group assembled for a meeting.  We had the standard 12 people plus the group leader Amy.  Why is every Amy hot?  Take out the couple (Henrik & Marina) and that leaves me and 10 girls.  Hey now!  It was the usual mix:  mostly Aussies, a couple Kiwis, Henrik & Marina from Brazil, Carmel from Ireland, Gwen from England, and Kristen from Florida but originally from Mayfair.  Two Philly people on the same tour!  Wendy (Katie's mom) was like having Mike's mom with us in Vegas--she fit right in.  At some point Amy asked me how I felt about the male-female ratio and I said "intrigued", after suppressing the first 20 answers that came to mind.

After the meeting we all had dinner at the market.  I used my new street-crossing skills to help get us there.  Motorcycles are easy to weave between but cars and buses are harder.  However I did get in front of a bus and make it stop, and immediately shouted "that was for Uncle Paul!"  (I watched a drunken Paul Szymanik (1923-2003)--excuse the redundancy--raise his fists to a bus in New York once.)  For dinner I had Thai fried rice, and I'm not sure why since we'd be in Thailand in a week.  I was disappointed that among the sauces at the dinner table there was no rooster sauce.  Dinner was followed by drinks at Allez Boo, a popular backpacker bar that had the Discovery Channel on.  Long Islands were 60,000 dong ($4).  Not bad at all.  It occurred to me that "dong" is an ironic name for an Asian currency, in light of the scientific fact I alluded to earlier.

The immediate advantage of being the only single guy on the tour is I would have a room to myself for the duration.  My single rooms tended to be in different parts of the hotels.  For example, in HCMC I was up higher and had a unique view of a Ferris wheel.  Who was it that asked "can we come up and see the Ferris wheel?"  Keep your pants on, dolly.