Miss Saigon – a visit to Ho Chi Minh City

After some delays we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and crashed for what was left of the night after the long delay in Cambodia as we waited out the tropical storm/typhoon. We awoke early to a buffet breakfast that was included in the price of the hotel. We were filled with anticipation to get out and explore the city before heading off to the beach in Mui Ne. From the 9th floor restaurant I could see the city streets and a park across the road. People were already out and exercising before the heat of the day. The park, like those in China, has interesting equipment to work out. A few couples were dancing down the sidewalk and weaving around others walking, or sweeping away the remaining debris from the storm. Further down the sidewalk was a small parking area for all the motorbikes and mopeds. Cars are a huge luxury here and everything travels on motorcycles! Speaking of luxury looking out over the skyline there are few skyscrapers and most buildings are 10 stories or under, very different from the fancy architectural delights that line Shanghai and we have become accustomed to. I remember hearing about how different things would be here and the most important travel tip given to us was “keep an open mind, and not everything will run smoothly, so again KEEP an OPEN mind!” I also knew traffic would be crazy, even more chaotic than Shanghai… if that was possible. Soaking up the sights and sounds and feeling the welcome warmth  I watched the motorcycles zoom up and down the 2 lane road 4-6 bikes wide at times…

More 2 Wheeled Traffic than 4

A taxi stopped at the hotel beside us let out a few newcomers to the city. Bags in hand there they stood there with their heads bobbing back and forth like they were watching a tennis match as the traffic continued in a steady stream and it looked like it would not let up any time soon. The taxi driver sensing their hesitation and probably very familiar with this got out of his taxi, rolled his eyes and started to cross weaving between the bikes and motorcycles. Turning back they still had the look of fear in their eyes, so he motioned to them to come on and held his hand up high to show motorists he was there. They eventually made it across. I had to giggle as I totally understood the fear since it took me maybe a month before I felt somewhat comfortable crossing the streets here in Shanghai… and this was even more intense and congested.

Breakfast done we went for a walk to organise our transportation to Mui Ne. There are so many travel agents, every other shop almost. We found one and went in and ended up booking a car since the next bus was going to be very late that afternoon. With some negotiation we got a reasonable price. We allowed ourselves a few hours to look around the city before having to leave. We were staying in District 1 which is the “backpacker” area so there are many reasonable hotels, travel agents, laundries, tourist shops… we walked about 2 blocks from there to Ben Thanh Market. Along the way we saw a few downed trees that fell during the storm. The roots were now facing skywards and the rest of the tree was cut into large logs for easier removal. (I added a picture of this last week).  The tree had fallen on a store front and part of the awning was now torn away from the building. Life goes on and all around the businesses were open and ready for customers as workers diligently worked to repair the damages and remove the debris. We passed many restaurants with Western names and menus with staff calling hello and inviting you inside. We made it to a large intersection and the first stoplight we have seen along our walk. Traffic was thick and motoring through as bikes were loaded down with people or items to be transported elsewhere. Families of 4 held on and weaved through traffic as well as busses and a few cars. At the waiting red light so many motorcycles awaited the change to green. It reminded me of all of a sudden seeing a bunch of motorcycle gangs waiting to spring into action. Once we crossed this intersection we were more into the ‘local area’ where rundown buildings, sidewalk restaurants that spring up in any empty section of pavement with folding chairs, tables and stools house locals drinking iced coffee and breakfasts. Across the street another park was filled with people strolling along or resting in the shade. The market was across a busy intersection and no traffic lights to guide us, so we had to dive right in, or stand and wait all day for an unlikely break in flow. Crossing the street was actually much easier than Shanghai as a pedestrian we DO have rights here and bikes will slow down, go around you and beep to warn you of oncoming traffic. We just waited to cross when no large busses were barreling along.

So many things... where to begin?

Inside the market it was jammed floor to ceiling with bright colours, clothing, bags…. you name it. No individual stores, but countless stalls squeezed in every available space. Vendors called out to us “Lady what you want to buy?’ Some even reached out to touch your arms to tempt you with their wares… that was a bit freaky. My experience of markets and no eye contact got us around with little hassle. The market was divided by sections into like with like… clothes, shoes, bags, souvenirs, food, and produce. We left the crowded aisles and moved into other areas to explore. The most interesting was the produce area with women cleaning and gutting fish, washing vegetables and chopping and crushing ice. Families all worked together and small babies slept on counters as their parents went about their daily work. Locals came along with their interesting coloured and patterned outfits and typical cone-shaped hats haggling for a good price.

Funky Purses in SO Many Outrageous Designs

After snapping a few pictures we left the market and back into the sunshine and humid temps. Walking back to the hotel we passed people carrying the balancing scale type baskets filled with items to sell to those on the street. Back in the backpackers area we were approached by those selling everything from sunglasses, bracelets, CDs and tall stacks of books. Here you don’t have to look for them they will find you. Some travelers told us to beware as these sellers sometimes pickpocket and stealthily take cell phones or cameras, that tourists leave on the tables for quick and easy access, to easy targets of theft. We had time to sit in a cafe on a little narrow street and watch the locals and tourists go by and we enjoyed fresh mango smoothies… YUM! Lots of young people, hippies with dreads, and older men wandered by. I guess this is what Europe used t be so many years ago. Now it is so easy to go there and explore more daring, adventurous and different travel is sought after… and South East Asia being so cheap and easy to get around is starting to become the destination of choice.

With time almost up we returned to the hotel and checked out ready for our ride to the next few days of vacation… a sleepy little fishing village that has started to be less of a diamond in the rough and more bright star attraction.

This is my second post for today (my first was my second blog award :))and I was thinking for those of you who don’t know you can have an email sent every time I add a new post that way you don’t miss anything 🙂 All you have to do is hit the follow button and a link to each post I write will be sent to you seconds within being posted. Click on that link and voila… easy peasy! Give it a try.

Stay tuned for more… I haven’t posted the weekly photo challenge yet this week and if I find a good example I will do that later… next week more from Vietnam!

As always these pictures are all property of ME and have been watermarked with CTB 2012. Use is prohibited unless given written permission. Thanks and stay tuned for more…

Categories: Culture, everyday occurances, post a week, strange adventure, teaching overseas, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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6 thoughts on “Miss Saigon – a visit to Ho Chi Minh City

  1. I’ve never been, but it’s on my list now that I’ve seen a Rubik’s Cube purse! Snaperiffic!

  2. lesliekb

    When you talk about crossing the road. I remember visiting Italy with a tour group and the girl I was with had never seen really busy traffic. For a while I was patient waiting for her to be comfortable to cross the road. Then one day I just grabbed her hand and pulled her accros. She was so surprized but realized it was the only way to go =)

    I’m looking forward to hearing more! Do they react to your hubby here the same way they do in China?

    • No we didn’t have people stop and take photos or want to be in photos with John the same way they do sometimes here. The Vietnamese see a quieter people and maybe they take notice, but are more discrete or shy about it. Or maybe we were do busy looking around at all of them? The area we spent most of our time is a big haven for Russian tourists, so maybe they have had their fill of big “hairy” men and this is nothing new??? 😉

  3. Freda Goulet

    I love reading all about Viet Nam…what an experience! My eye also caught the “purse” stall! I have seen similar purses in a boutique in Texas…they must come from Viet Nam. I bought a pink bustier purse at that boutique! Looking forward to your next blog.

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