Crazy Vietnam

Trip Start Mar 01, 2009
1
18
23
Trip End Dec 21, 2009


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Where I stayed
A very narrow and tall hotel

Flag of Vietnam  , Hồ Chí Minh,
Saturday, October 3, 2009



Saigon was insane. Insanely brilliant. I’ve never seen so many bikes in my entire life. We arrived off the bus, grabbed a taxi and headed to check out a couple of places which had been recommended to us. A Belgian girl called Barbara came along with us as she was travelling alone and we ended up finding a very fancy room altogether. It was considerably pricey compared to Cambodia but that’s just Vietnam prices and so there’s not much you can do. Still it was still only about 5 for a private, air-conditioned room with TV, breakfast and wi-fi included so you can’t really complain. And it was cock roach free which is always worth an extra couple of dollars.

However that afternoon it rained. It rained Cambodian style in fact. And so for the first few hours we didn’t get up to much. When we did eventually brave the outdoor world (prompted mainly by my stomach) the only thing we had had the opportunity to eat was when we stopped on the side of the road were deep fried cock roaches or tarantulas. Not really my cup of tea so I hastily declined and fled back to the safety of the bus. Free from the crunching sounds of what should legally be inedible substances. Miriam wasn’t so lucky though. When she joined me on the bus she was in a bit of a state. She had been taking photos of the dead/fried tarantulas when the woman asked her if she would like to see a live one. Miriam declined whereupon the woman obviously thought it would be hilarious to lift up the collar of her blouse and reveal the rather large tarantula that was living underneath it. It was absolutely huge apparently just sitting there - instead of taking a photo as she afterwards wished she had - I believe she let out a scream much to the woman’s delight and ran back to join me in the relative safety of the bus. However the incident left a rather large scar on Miriam for quite some time. I was just rather relieved it wasn’t me!

Meanwhile back in Saigon or as it’s now known Ho Chi Minh we were tucking into some Pho. A rather tasty Vietnamese broth. We decided to attempt to defy death crossing the busiest road junction ever. There are no traffic lights or pedestrian crossings anything like that - just simply a sea of bikes and you just have to walk. Slowly and steadily and the million or so bikes just swerve around you as you continue chatting or panicking quietly inside when you see you still have another 3 lanes to go or a big bus is coming for you. It’s quite an experience.

We had a quiet one the following day - just wandered around the city for the day seeing sights and getting to know the city a little better. We decided on booking a flight half way up the county the following day to get out of the rain and to save on time and 2 long painful overnight buses which we didn’t think Nathan would appreciate straight after flying in from London. I decided to take a day trip up to the Cu Chi tunnels the following day as otherwise I wouldn’t get a chance to see them and we headed for an early night after the experience of sharing a motorbike taxi across the city and through the madness. 3 on a bike is always proves for an interesting few moments.

I was up and gone in the morning as we headed up practically back to the Cambodian border by bus. The first stop was a temple for a small minority religion particular to this part of Vietnam. It was a combination of Buddhism, Catholicism and the Muslim faith. The temple was amazing. It was so stunning and exquisite and different to any of the other temples I’ve seen in Asia. We stayed for a ceremony which was amazing to watch - after visiting so many temples in this part of the world it’s quite nice to actually get to see one in action. Not that I’d really thought about it too much but once I’d seen the ceremony it became clear that that was the only way to get to experience a temple properly.

We stopped for lunch enroute to the Cu Chi tunnels which were on the road back to Saigon. They proved to be a highly interesting if slightly narrow and cramped. The tunnels we actually experienced had been reconstructed in recent years to cater for westerners and even at that they were a squeeze even for me. The originals had been constructed to protect the Cu Chi guerrillas during the war as they were a minority group of Southerners who actually fought with the Northerners against the Americans and for Communism. This led to this particular part of the south being heavily bombed and attacked by the Americans and they’re all too well known B-52’s. We saw bomb craters and tunnels and all sorts of traps used by the Cu Chi’s and then got to experience the tunnels they spent the majority of their lives down as it was the only place they were out of immediate danger from the bombings. The tunnels were horrific - small and cramped and so so hot. I emerged after 100meters of extreme discomfort covered in sweat, mud, dust and cramps from a sort of crouched/squat/shuffle movement adopted for the tight squeeze. Apparently the Cu Chi’s themselves used to crawl on their elbows and knees as that was all the space the original tunnels would allow. Very glad I didn’t have to experience that. My later experience of the Moc Bai tunnels further up Vietnam a week later turned out to be a much more pleasant and cool experience. However the highlight of that particular experience was the decision to shoot an AK-47. I was in two minds as to whether to try it or not as I’m not a fan of guns to say the least and being in Vietnam and experiencing a county that has so recently been completely torn apart by war and guns much like it’s neighbour Cambodia and where the effects of the war and it’s aftermath are still everywhere shooting an AK-47 sort of went against the grain. But then I got back into backpacker mode and in the same mind frame as going to visit San Pedro prison in La Paz where I really don’t morally agree with everything I’ve done on this trip I do sometimes have to think - when am I ever going to get the chance to shoot an AK-47. So I coughed up $2 and got 2 shots. The noise was deafening. And the sense of power tangible.

It was then on the way back to Saigon that my whole plans for Australia were thrown up in the air. I had met a Brazilian girl that day who had been couch surfing in both Saigon and Hanoi with ex pats teaching English. So we were chatting away and I was telling her about my plans to go back to Oz and work until Christmas when she mentioned how easy it was to get English teaching jobs in Vietnam and how much they paid. So I began thinking. Always a dangerous occupation. Initially as I had been so excited about going back to Oz and had a flight booked I immediately dismissed staying in Vietnam thinking it was a good idea but bad timing. However after a sleepless few hours on the bus and my brain doing overtime I cautiously ventured questions such as - how much does it pay, how easy is it to get jobs, what about visas and accommodation. Andrea had all the answers and I was beginning to recognise that all too familiar sensation in my stomach. I think it’s a mixture of possibility/regret at going against my initial plans/excitement plus an overwhelming feeling that travelling is just far too exciting and my ability to make decisions with ease is not improving with experience. A rather disappointing revelation after almost a year of travelling and decision making. Regardless the conversation with this almost stranger had turned the nice organisedness of my head and plans for Australia upside down and inside out which is a pleasant yet mildly disturbing position to find oneself in. The wheels were in motion.

I got back to our accommodation to find myself enveloped in a big bear hug by Nathan as I opened the door and after a quick and wonderfully cold shower we headed out to celebrate both his arrival out to Vietnam and his 23rd birthday.

It was time to say good bye to the impressively hectic Saigon in the morning which I did with style. With my rucksacks on a motorbike all the way to the airport. In Saigon traffic. It was fun. Got many a strange look from comfortable travellers in the back of spacious, air-conditioned taxis but I also noticed a hint of envy as we flew past and I prayed we were actually going to the airport and hadn’t been misunderstood by the little Vietnamese driver who had not a word of English.
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