Well - finally got around to finishing my HCMC report - again, can also view it here. Hope you like :-)
Arrived on the bus to Ho Chi Minh City from Can Tho at night. Wow. There are a few motorbikes in this city, and they all seem quite intent on getting to wherever they are going as quickly as possible, regardless of who is in their way. I ended up splitting a taxi with a few people from the bus to head to the backpacker area around Pham Ngu Lao – quite sure we overpaid for the ride – make sure you look into how much taxi’s should cost and don’t let the driver try to tell you it is going to be three times that.
After paying for the taxi, I hit the streets and ended up finding a decent place to stay down one of the “quiet” side alleys. As per the usual, dropped the bags off and went out to check this place out. Not more than five minutes of walking and I found myself being approached to buy drugs and other questionably legal things. Now, I won’t say that I ever felt unsafe, but I also wouldn’t say that some of the people mentioning that this area of the city can be a little bit seedy were wrong. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that the next night I went out in a similar area down the road and it was not at all bad, so perhaps it just depends on the night, or changes by the block.
Up in the morning, I was off to meet a friend of a cousin who lives in the area. We met for my first taste of Vietnamese iced coffee. Now, I am not a coffee drinker by any means, but it wasn’t too bad – or, I drank it anyway. We had broken rice for lunch and talked about the country for a while. After that I was off to a few of the sites – War Remnants Museum, Jade Pagoda, Botanical Gardens. The war museum was really something else – a sobering experience to say the least, and I could probably just leave it at that. The Jade Pagoda was a good detour, and the Botanical Gardens were a nice little break from the constant assault on your senses that Saigon is (though seeing animals in the zoo kept in the tiny cages was a bit sad). Spent the night out around Pham Ngu Lao, and got to witness the town go crazy as Vietnam won its soccer match.
The next morning, sleeping in finally happened – 11am! Had a tasty Pho breakfast (oh, how I will miss that…), did some motorbike dodging, walked through the Ho Chi Minh City Museum to get another taste of Vietnam’s past, dodged a few more motorbikes, then hit the Reunification Palace – a very cool place to go walk around and picture what it was like just 35 years ago. After that it was time to go scope out the Ben Thanh market – a maze of corridors and stalls, filled with anything anyone could ever want or need. The vendors will literally pull you into their stalls to show you what they have, and kindly suggest that you purchase it. Along with the merchandise, there’s a whole heap of food stalls selling some tasty looking dishes on the cheap.
Finished up the day by deciding to trim a few hours from tomorrows trip to Da Lat by flying instead of bus (at least that was the intention – did not exactly pan out) – bought a ticket, and headed out for a few beers on my last night in Saigon. Walking around the city, it really is noticeable how rapidly it’s growing – modern skyscrapers, old buildings being knocked down and new ones being thrown up in their place.
Now, I feel no report of Saigon could be complete without a quick mention of the traffic, or whatever you call the hordes of motorbikes roaming the streets. There are a lot of them – too many of them – the city seems to be developing a serious traffic problem, but no one appears to be doing anything about it, and it can seemingly only get worse. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of rules – honk as much as possible, hold on, and hope for the best. Getting across the street on foot is like a real life game of frogger, only if you lose, you die. By the time I left though, I was getting quite good at it (at least I am here writing this, anyway…).
My last few hours of Saigon were spent having lunch with another friend, followed by a motorbike out to the airport where my flight to Da Lat left an hour late. Goodbye Saigon – you really were a blast – not much else like it (in my experience)!