Existing Member?

Are we there yet?

Spending in Saigon like it'll save my life.

VIETNAM | Sunday, 5 December 2010 | Views [1794] | Comments [2]

The most interesting aerial photo of an alleyway ever taken.

The most interesting aerial photo of an alleyway ever taken.

Yeah, I brought an expired credit card with me overseas. No worries for the naïve. Move money around like its millions and I can spend dollars like they're Vietnamese Dong. It's good karma keeping the economy going. Before long though, Westpac caught wind of my inclination to fits of abstract consumerism and halted the haemorrhaging of cash before it reached 'nervous phone call to Nana' stage.

I don't know why I chose this holiday to make up for all the previous trips I had taken without buying a single present. Having a backpack big enough to hold a small car made me less concerned about carting the crap home. A large portion of my budget had been set aside to blow on needless things, but I had initially intended to be the sole recipient of such a savage spend-up. Everything is so cheap in Vietnam that even blatant rip-offs seem like good buys when compared to prices back home. The whole country is like one big $2 shop. So I spent my time in Saigon shopping like the act of purchasing was a panacea for all of life's woes.

Without needing any encouragement, I nearly opted for a new laptop when 'old faithful' stopped charging. Watching sparks fly whenever you plugged something into a socket was a common and enjoyable occurrence. Anyone less enthralled by something so simple might have considered what effects such a volatile connection could have on the innards of valuable technology. Fortunately, the components weren't cooked like a curry and only the charger itself copped the excess electrical current.

The laptop was out of service long enough to remember how to write, and also how much simpler computers make the process. I penned a few notes about valuable things I wanted to write or remember. A week later, I've lost the note pad and forgotten what I wrote. As usual, the process of recording events became redundant when it seemed far more valuable to just experience them. It was the last two days with Uma and only vague possibilities exist for us travelling together again, so we wanted to make the most of our time.

We stayed in the Pham Ngu Lao area, composed of the densest concentration of backpackers in Saigon. The bus had dropped us there, with the likely intention of delivering us into the waiting hands of Hotel touts. Never one to waste time looking for bargains, the price was fair, the location was ideal, and near by, and the need for independent thought was removed entirely. But, the price would have been fair if it had have been what he quoted, and a seedy alley is an ideal location if shadey deals is your highest priority. Five floors up just to see a room AGAIN, and neither of us had the intention of going back down and up into the attic of another place.

Further removed from China than Hanoi, Saigon had a certain softness to it that made it feel more welcoming. More Western is probably the best way to put it, as the straight lines and hard edges of communist simplicity and functionality were smoothed out by a more cosmopolitan and global approach. I would like to offer a far more in depth look but my time there was not spent with such an awareness. More than enough awareness was taken up avoiding traffic, even though I never made it to the worst areas where millions of scooters oozed through the tightly packed streets.

Our only adventures beyond the main tourist drag were to the two most commonly visited tourists sites. The first was the Reunification Palace, where power was finally wrested away from the South Vietnamese government to end the 'American war'. A decommissioned helicopter sat forlorn on the roof, a solemn reminder of the iconic desertion by the Americans being airlifted to an offshore sanctuary on 30th April 1975. As the site of a tense turning point in history, the place hung lost in limbo ever since and a feeling of time suspended permeated the environment. Looking at all the empty government rooms was a study in 70's interior design and boredom unbalanced the tranquillity of an otherwise peaceful part of a manic city.

The imagery on show at the War Remnants museum was more than enough to further unbalance my emotional tranquillity. Some of the images were so shocking, my lunch would have reappeared undigested were I to have looked closer at the victims of Agent Orange. The most haunting image turned out to be a villager suspected of VC ties begging for mercy from his captors. The somewhat biased representation of American brutality leads the viewer to believe he would not have been shown any. In one sense, it was refreshing to see the other perspective of the conflict, but it was utterly demoralising to see, yet again, exactly what humans are capable of doing to each other. The pleading eyes of the old man held my attention like his entreaties were directed at me. My heart was bracing itself for another teary goodbye with Uma and I had to walk away from the display before it started to represent all the things I was about to miss.

The last days passed in a blur of bargains and emotions. The sadder I felt about leaving Uma and Vietnam, the more reminders of the moment I tried to accumulate. Another pith helmet and 16 DVD's containing the first 108 UFC events were essential items, but my purchases were more indicative of my personality than the recent memories I was hoping to bolster. Bangkok was tempting me with a wider range of goods and was one flight closer to home to lug my bag of bricks so some belated control was eventually exerted.

Some control over emotions had always been present as self preservation, knowing that Uma was heading home to the other side of the world. Belated amends must be made about the way Uma was portrayed in my journals as well. She was an amazing travel companion, far more entertaining for her company than her hijinx, although the latter made far more interesting reading. Her sense of fun and willingness to experience everything travelling had to offer was admirable and inspirational.

Being with Uma has reminded me that my life is a constant process of lessons in letting go. It is my most important lesson because it is what I find hardest to do. If I really enjoyed something or someone, i just want to hold onto it, or even just the memory of it. Yet, it's like practicing voodoo on yourself. That is why learning exactly what letting go truly means is so important as well. It isn't about moving on to something different with only pleasant memories to keep. It's also about working out what to incorporate into my personality that was changed by the experience. Letting go of the historical aspect of it, but utilising the positive, influential part of it. It will always be special to me, but the important thing is to shift the relevance from an everyday proposition like it was while I was there, to an integral part of what makes me who I am now.

Tags: friends, shopping, sight seeing



Hi Harry,
I burst out laughing when i read this bit:

"The laptop was out of service long enough to remember how to write, and also how much simpler computers make the process. I penned a few notes about valuable things I wanted to write or remember. A week later, I've lost the note pad and forgotten what I wrote."

I always enjoy reading your tales, have fun with your latest travels.

  stowaway Dec 6, 2010 11:15 AM


love the messy whimsy of he first couple of paragraphs

  jp Dec 14, 2010 5:16 AM

About homeless_harry

A new profile picture was well overdue

Follow Me

Where I've been


Photo Galleries


Near Misses

My trip journals

See all my tags 



Travel Answers about Vietnam

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.