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Good Morning Vietnam!

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 18 December 2013 | Views [1207] | Comments [2]

Notre Dame - Ho Chi Min City

Notre Dame - Ho Chi Min City

Ever since the film I have always wanted to wake up and be able to say that, trite as it may seem. On my first morning here, that is exactly what I do! Afterall, that's part of what travel is about. Being in a place you have only seen through someone else's eyes or words and then seeing those images in your own experiences, creating your own personal story.

Getting on and off the coach a couple of times and hanging around at passport control finally gets us into Vietnam about 7 hours later. The sun has long since set and so first views are limited to the brightly lit shops that line the roadside. Almost immediately you notice that there are far fewer shacks and that real poverty seems to have been left behind at the border. It is almost 10pm before we finally pull into the bus station and the journey, not to mention the extended route taken by the metered taxi to the Ruby Hotel leaves me stunned. The place is vibrant, buzzing and closer to New York than neighbouring Phnom Penh! I can hardly believe the festive lights, shopping malls and people! So many motorbikes, so many people!

I have long ceased doing too much reading ahead of arriving somewhere and I have to say I was totally unprepared for Vietnam. I had expected something more drab, more regimented, less modern than Ho Chi Min City has revealed itself to be. Beautiful buildings, including the Notre Dame strongly announce the ex-French colony status but there is a definite flair in the style of the local people which is clearly their own. The Opera House and Town Hall are among several buildings that look as if they have been transplanted straight from Provence in France, right down to the green or blue slatted window shutters. The contrast between here and Cambodia is striking and it's hard to believe they are neighbours. Vietnam has a socialist government as opposed to a monarchy and I find my perceptions about this being challenged. Looking around I can't help but wonder if there is a case for socialism, but of course I am viewing this through tourist eyes And no facts or political leanings to go on.

I had specifically organised my travels to include escape from the commercialised charade that Christmas seems to have become. The plan was going to schedule with no more than a half-hearted occasional acknowledgement in Cambodia. Here, however, there are Christmas trees, Christmas music and shops, restaurants and hotels are all festively decorated. It hits a trigger somewhere deep inside as for some reason I find I have a lump in my throat and, embarrassingly in this crowded coffee shop, my eyes are fliling up. The three Vietnamese with whom I am sharing a table are looking at me curiously and so I mask the uninvited emotion with a sneeze or two and I am again forgotten. Aah stop playing Christmas music! I do not know why it is having this effect on me but I drink up the hot coffee with condensed milk which will set me buzzing for several hours, and escape to the chaos of the pavements.

Getting to grips with the money is proving a challenge. It is when you get tired and have not familiarised yourself with the notes that you become a real target. The waitress has already given me a friendly word of caution and so I take a moment to organise my purse along with my concentration. Once you step outside you will also need your wits about you when crossing the road. I have heard much made of it but, other than the sheer volume of traffic, it actually seems more orderly than many places. Why wouldn't you expect the odd motorbike to use the pavement when needed? It's like a kind of dance where everyone is moving, not always in the right direction and at varying speeds but as long as you don't do anything unexpected, like stop or backtrack, you should come through unscathered.

I decide that I will explore the city on foot randomly stumbling across the sights for the first two days. The must sees can be done later. Souvenir shopping, like Bali, is a pleasure and there are some genuinely lovely handicrafts. Everything looks lovely together but in isolation I wonder whether the effect may be lost; which in turn means knowing when to stop buying. The 'antique' shops sell Zippo lighters and watches, the only visible remnants from the war but as I approach the display cabinet I can't help but wonder the fate of the soldiers who may have owned such items. It is likely that they are replicas anyway but the thought disturbs me and I move on. I then spot a few souvenirs that could be made from ivory and in disgust I avoid all such shops. There are real shopping malls with boutique international brands as well as Saigon Square which accommodate local stalls. This is very common in SE Asia and there were a few times in the early days that I went inside expecting a lot more than I found. Only some places accept the US$ here and it certainly won't get you a discount.

The people here have been friendly and vendors no more persistent than anywhere else. I arrived with perceptions based on stories of other travellers and have only been pleasantly surprised. I cannot comment on anywhere other than Ho Chi Min City of course. The Ruby River hotel proved to be a great choice and in addition to an upgraded room without request, the staff have been most welcoming, efficient and professional. I have booked in for the two nights on my return from Kenya and they are willing to let me leave a bag here. I am hugely grateful whenever I can travel a little lighter.

I'm finding it hard to give Vietnam my full attention as I am massively excited by my next adventure. Kenya was never on my agenda, but the invitation to go and spend Christmas and New Year with some of my oldest and dearest friends in the beautiful area of Malindi was just too alluring. Just as I felt I needed to start my journey in Africa, now through good fortune and a massive detour, I will all but end my travels in the country that was home to me throughout my teenage years. What a fabulous finale to a truly incredible year. Stay with me, we haven't finished yet!


Tags: french influence, ho chi min city, ruby hotel, saigon, scooter traffic, vietnam



Having lived in Vietnam and worked there for a number of years, they are socialist in name only. In many aspects they are a capitalist society.

  Rudy Dec 19, 2013 7:06 PM


Thanks Rudy, appreciate your first hand knowledge & insight.

  Butterfly-freed Dec 21, 2013 7:34 PM

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