Vietnam is another of those handy to get to destinations. Or at least it is if you are starting from Kuala Lumpur and only going as far as Ho Chi Minh City. Our flight lasted less than two hours and from the air I was able to see the canals and channels of the Mekong Delta.
We’d arranged electronic visas in advance but whilst mine worked fine, there was no record of Jen’s. The immigration fellas were pretty good about it though and simply made a note on her printed copy that I assume said something like ‘looks ok to me’.
We saw a few of the sights. The war museum struck me as a little biased, as I’m sure both sides were more than capable of the odd atrocity. It’s the winners who get to decide the history though, particularly in their own country.
We also had a wander along to the Presidential Palace in the hope of seeing some seventies furnishings and an umbrella stand made from an elephant’s foot. No such luck unfortunately, but we did get to go upstairs, look out onto the front lawn and imagine the tanks breaking down the front gates as Saigon fell to the forces from the north.
Good as all that was, I was primarily in town for the match and with the pavements seeming to accommodate as many scooters as the roads we took a taxi for the short journey to the twenty thousand capacity Thong Nhat stadium.
It was fairly busy outside and as we stepped out of the cab we were met by a tout who wanted a hundred thousand dongs for each of the two tickets that he had for the main stand. As that works out at three quid fifty a pop I wasn’t really too bothered about whatever mark-up he’d added and was quite happy to take them off his hands.
A later scrutiny of the tickets revealed that they had a face value of seventy thousand and so we’d paid an extra quid for the convenience of not having to find the ticket office.
There were plenty of fans in our covered stand and around five hundred or so home fans on the terrace opposite. They had a brass band and fireworks. Proper fireworks with showers of sparks, not just smoke flares.
Up at the back of the home fans terrace were a small group with a union jack that identified them as the Ho Chi Minh City UK Supporters Club. I presume they now live locally in Saigon rather than travelling to games from the UK, but you never know. It’s a funny old game, as Greavsie used to say, and you’ve got to get your fix whatever way you can.
There was a decent turnout from the visitors too, although I’ve no idea how far their hundred and fifty or so supporters had to travel. They had a high flag to fan ratio and every now and then would run across the terracing behind the goal waving their colours in a half-hearted attempt at riling the home support.
The home side were in red, with visitors Hai Phong in yellow. I didn’t think the standard of the top-tier game was too bad but maybe watching the Boro has lowered my expectations a little. The big number nine for Hai Phong put himself about a bit without ever really seeming to get the ball under control.
Ho Chi Minh had a skillful left-winger with a trick or two and a tendency to embarrass the defenders in a way that put him at risk of being launched into the distance.
Whilst the hosts had generally looked the most likely to score it was the away side that broke the deadlock when one of their strikers followed up his own saved shot and put them one up. Ho Chi Minh put the pressure on in the final minutes but the single goal was enough to seal the win for Hai Phong.
We flagged down a taxi and headed off for some nems.