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Stowing Away I stood between two facing mirrors & almost caught a glimpse of infinity, but my bloody head kept getting in the way


VIETNAM | Saturday, 1 September 2001 | Views [3122]

Streets of Saigon

Streets of Saigon

I started off just over a week ago in Saigon (Ho Chi Min City), Vietnam, after some very long flights there.

Saigon is an incredibly busy place, traffic is mad - motorbikes, more motorbikes, trucks, bicycles and even more motorbikes. Currently it's monsoon season in this region, so it's hot, humid and usually buckets down for an hour in the afternoon.

Getting out of the airport I was surrounded by touts & taxidrivers wanting to take my backpack (and me) to their taxi. I eventually chose a driver who didn't appear too dodgy, negotiated a fare, and gave him the address of the place where I was staying.I'm sure I paid more than the going rate but it was still only $10 US, so I'm not really going to complain about being scammed.

After being driven for ages into the outer parts of the city, I was getting worried that I was being taken for a ride (so to speak). I was deposited in a fairly dodgy street with nothing looking like the hostel I was meant to be staying at. The driver insisted it was the address I had given me & pointed to a non-descript building. I went in & couldn't find anyone who spoke English, but the general vibe was that there wasn't any accommodation here or nearby. eventually they found someone who did speak English, and they looked at my bit of paper with my booking confirmation & address. It turned out that I was at the administration office of the people who ran the hostel and the actual hostel was on the other side of town. I had been pointing to the wrong address on my piece of paper & the taxi driver had taken me to the address I had pointed at.

"Not to worry", said the man who explained it to me, "My brother will take you there". And sure enough, a few minutes later, his brother turned up on a small postie-bike style motorcycle, and gestured to me to get on.

With much trepidation, I got on, and somehow survived a trip through Saigon on the back of one of that tiny bike - with my 25kg backpack on my back & 10kg daypack on my front, no helmet, hanging on for dear life to the local driver while weaving through the manic traffic. Very scary stuff. A number of times during the journey I looked up at the blue sky, took a deep breath and thought to myself "Today is a good day to die".

I arrived at the hostel safely, in one piece & yes they had my booking & a nice airconditioned room!

Out of all the places I have travelled to sofar, Saigon is the first place that I have ever had any real 'Culture Shock'. it took me about 3 days to get over it.

After a few days, I have gotten used to the 'simple task' of crossing the street here - you just wait until there aren't too many trucks and only about 15 motorbikes coming each way, and then walk out straight in front of them - keep walking at a steady pace in a straight line, don't stop, and the traffic magically weaves around you.

I visited the Cu Chi tunnels, which is part a very extensive network of very small (but crawlable) tunnels where the Viet Cong lived & fought the yanks during the Vietnam war (or "The war against American aggression" as the Vietnamese call it). The Vietnamese also used their tunnel system to help successfully defeat the French years earlier.  So much for learning the lessons of history... I also did a comparison test fire of AK47's vs M16 at their firing range (AK47 is far superior)


Next, I'm taking a minibus to the Cambodian border & hopefully I'll get another bus from there.

Tags: airports, ak47, cu chi tunnels, ho chi min city, m16, monsoon, motorbikes, siagon, traffic, vietnam



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