Ho Chi Minh City - Moto Madness
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It's been a while since my last entry so got a load to catch up on. I've been travel ling round most of Vietnam with Bryan and a couple of guys Cambridge, Max and Mark, then meeting up with a couple of Mancunian Jews, Marc, Jonny and Dan, who we bumped into along the way so it turned into a bit of a lads on tour vibe, without the Rooney chants. Hence my lack of writing recently.
From Siem Riep, myself and Bryan got a night bus down to Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon which ever name you prefer. First impressions was how large and loud and neon it was. Not sure how the Vietnamese developed such a penchant for neon lights but the whole of Saigon is plastered with them. The motos in the city as well were just in a league of their own. I'd seen motos all over SE Asia but nothing comes even close to compare to what you're subjected to in downtown Saigon. Traffic lights and street signs exist as a mere suggestion as to what the right course of action might be at a given situation. It's laughable at how late these guys (and girls) run red lights, mix that in with someone jumping the gun and you can probably guess what we saw a lot of. Myself and Bryan were considering renting Motos to drive down to the Cu Chi tunnels and the evening previous we saw three people stack it. And there was very little sympathy for the fallen either. One guy was blind sided by a taxi, and as soon as it became clear the guy wasn't dead, he just drove away! Not much empathy on offer on the road it seems. Needless to say, we decided against driving to the Cu Chi tunnels and booked ourselves on a tour instead.
We managed to get ourselves a place at 'My House' hotel just off the back packer strip which meant similar harassment as before from all the motor bike drivers. Not to start on a low note or anything as I really enjoyed the city, but the people are a little direct. I say direct when I mean rude as anything but I think that's the Vietnamese character. There are blunt and don't bother with pleasantries. You'll be walking along and be TOLD to buy something from some stall or other. Not asked, told. It's funny but after a month the best coping mechanism I've found is to tell them off as if they were children! They actually react more to you raising your voice and berating them like you would an badly behaved child instead of telling them nicely that you're not interested. We've had some comical moments where in the group we switch from English to French to Hebrew without the Vietnamese person ever changing her spiel, obviously not understanding a word of what was being said in any of the languages. So Ca'moo means 'no buy' which if said with enough volume usually gets them to leave you alone. Or on the occasion it didn't work, we all stayed perfectly still and quiet, until eventually the peddler women lost interest and just wondered off! That was hilarious and fairly difficult to keep a straight face.
So, the Cu Chi tunnels are one of the main attractions in the south,. They're a network of 200km of underground tunnels ranging form 2 to 10m deep. Used by the VC to hide from the Americans as they were fighting them. They hid in fox holes during the day, covering the entrances with grass and sticks so after the boys passed over the top they'd spring up and unleash hell onto them. We got to go down one of the holes and it wasn't exactly comfy but amusing to see how clever the Vietnamese had to be in Guerrilla warfare. We also got to walk/scuffle through one of the tunnels which was probably one of the most uncomfortable things I did on tour so far. The tunnel that we passed through had actually been widened for us fat foreigners. The Asians have this weird ability, as I guess the Africans do to, to be able to sit on the flats of their feet with all their weight on their heels, without touching the ground. Mainly cause the Vietnamese are tiny people so probably weight about half of what we do but it's that nimbleness that allowed them to live in those cramped underground conditions.
We also visited the War Remnants Museum which is a pretty comprehensive A-Z of what went on in the war. Lots of stories of courage and loss which gives it a sober feel but at the same time it is always interesting to learn about modern military conflict regardless of how shitty the reality of it is.
Fell in love in Saigon too. With Pho. Not a Vietnamese lassie, but steaming hot noodle soup which for some reason was fine to eat in the heat, so long as you didn't spice it up too much with chillies. I ate oodles of the stuff. We went to Pho 2000 which is were big bad Bill Clinton ate when he visited shortly after he opened up trade with Nam. Seemingly trade restrictions being lifted have had a massive impact on life in Nam over the past 15 years. Our tour guide used TV channels to compare old vs new. From 2 state TV channels to over 40 now. He loved going to KFC and was well excited by McDonalds arriving which is pretty funny as they're seen as being the worst of our society at the mo. Interesting fact while i'm on the subject of food, the average South Korean is 4 inches taller than the average North Korean because of the diet, and that's over only 50 years of segregation!
We had a couple nights out and met up with the two Manc-Jews who we'd met in Siem Reap. Ended up getting our dance on at the crème de la crème of the nighclub scene in Saigon. A club called Apocalypse now. So wrong it's right.
Next stop Delat, in the central highlands. Same same but different.