Really, what can I say about my post-Ultimate Train Challenge time?

We spent a restful week at the Thien Thao Hotel through the kind powers that be at HostelBookers and I was ready to squat for a while.

Remember when I was gushing about potential rose petals?

Thein Thao hotel: Jeannie’s gonna roll around in that

Well, I never really got those, but I got this at least:

It was comfy. Housekeeping came everyday! Amazed I was at this prospect. In India, I was lucky if they changed bedding yearly, let alone every day. The other bonus? Free breakfast every morning, included in your hotel cost.

Kevin, the owner of Thien was an unexpected warm blanket, covering my shoulders.

We sat in the lobby area frequently and talked and talked.

Did you know that in the late 1800’s the French couldn’t penetrate China, so they marched into Saigon (after assisting a takeover of Hanoi), plied Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh with opiates and women, who basically handed the keys of Saigon to Napoleon III? Apparently, Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh was weak-minded and utterly selfish. Nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to royalty.

And the Vietnam War from a household’s perspective amounted to two motivating factors: oppression and starvation.

“When your tummy is empty, you don’t care about death,” said Kevin.

History can always be doled out in a bone-dry format through historical books, which is a terrific primer for the mind.

Frankly, what invigorates me are the personal accounts of that history, it’s always the best way to learn the rhythms of a culture.

So, most of my time was spent meeting some welcoming expats, locals who enjoy foreigners (like moi), and I did a lot of…




Taking pictures of the randomness of Saigon.

Look! I’m taller than a fridge!

And hibernating. I needed a serious rest.

Saigon is a city of spicy flavors, an ambitious and enthusiastic youth ready to tackle anything, but largely, I’m impressed with the development. Saigon invites international business, but retains her identity.

It’s funny, I came to Vietnam eight years ago on my very first backpacking trip (with the ex) and was blown away by its untamed, natural beauty, mountain peaks, untouched beaches and rice fields. Mostly, I fondly remember the people I encountered.

The plucky, young girl mock fighting with me about handing over our passports.

The moto drivers who would joke with me.

The strangers who smiled at me without provocation.

My toothless coffee lady who handed over a steaming cà phê sữa nóng (milk coffee), speaking  Vietnamese everyday even though she knew I didn’t.

All these characters reappeared again.

And I couldn’t be happier.

If you’re impressed with Thien Thao Hotel as I was, check out this cool list of unusual hotels (some odd). I’d like to stay in the floating hotel in Belgrade! On that note, thanks to HostelBookers for providing all our accommodation.