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Peps and Pete Travels "On pleasure bent again"

4.5 million Scooters

VIETNAM | Friday, 29 June 2007 | Views [750]

Ho Chi Minh City (herafter Saigon) is a real shock to the system. We had thought that our weekend in Bangkok would be a nice way to ease us into the SE Asia experience, but realistically NOTHING could have prepared us for the sensory assault that is Saigon. In the taxi from the airport I felt as though we had entered in a timewarp - the buildings that lined the road looked like they were straight out of a Vietnam War movie, as if they hadn't changed since 1975. I liked the place immediately.

The roads swarm with scooters, there are 4.5 million scooters for the population of 9 million people that live in Saigon. Crossing the road here is a real test of courage, but after a day or so you make like a local and just wade into the traffic - and once you step off the curb (as long as you remeber to look the right way) it is so much easier. Saigon hums with life, there is a bustling vibrancy to it that we've not encountered anywhere else on our trip - we'll soon see if it is true of the rest of 'nam as well.

I call Saigon a sensory overload, and that is exactly what it feels like. I have never been to a place that engages all you senses to such a degree; smell (some good some not), taste (always excellent), sound (it is always humming), sight (the beautiful people and strange produce - Dragon Fruit any one?) and feel (the omnipresent humidity that leaves your skin feeling damp).

We spent our time exploring the city of foot, and being assaulted at the local markets: we went looking for clothes and found a huge market full of people and clothes but no tourists, it was a little much for us - even I, the most determined market shopper ever, had to bail. We did find the more touristy market which was only slightly more easygoing - people are constantly taking your arm and dragging you off to their stall to find 'same same but different' wares. We also jumped right in to the local food - with an exceptional experience being the Pho (vietnamese beef soup) at Pho 2000, the Pho shop that hosted President Clinton during an official visit. We have yet to have an unexeptional meal (and we've been in 'nam 2.5 weeks now).

We took a trip out to the Mekong Delta where we visited the floating markets. These are a wholesale fruit and vegetable markets that are based on boats. Small canoe sized boats approach the larger boats and load up on their desired items and then move on to the next boat. It was cool to see a boat cruising down the Mekong loaded up with Rambutans! I liked the delta, we got to see a different way of living, one with water at the centre.

We also took a half day trip out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, and this was a pretty confronting experience. I had thought that it would be confronting - visiting war things always is - but it was worse than I expected. I think that the fact that they have a firing range where tourists pay to shoot pistols and kalashnikovs heigntened the experience - you're tramping through the jungle, sweaty and uncomfortable, looking at the awful spike filled 'booby traps' built in the ground to the accompaniment of gun fire. I found it pretty hard to deal with - I never realised that guns were so loud! We also crawled along 110m of the underground tunnels, it was hot, claustrophobic and dark - I can't imagine people living down there and fighting a war from those tunnels!

While I may not have had the best experience, I think that it was a worthwhile trip, I don't think that you can come to Vietnam and not be confronted by the Vietnam War. You see the amputees and the other disabled persons, and you just can't avoid thinking about it. I can't stop putting myself in the place of the soldiers who were sent to fight here, many of whom were younger than I am now.

Tags: Food & eating

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