Published: September 21st 2010September 21st 2010
Buy a can of beer. Try to look slightly cool, just once in your life.
At the domestic terminal no one grabs your hair and tries to drag you into their ‘taxi’, but they still lie. “Bus? No. No airport bus here... where are you going? Come on, I’ll take you.” But the bus will come; not a coach nor a minibus; not going to a resort or a hotel. It will look exactly like a normal municipal public bus should, with a number 153 (or maybe 152) on its front. But, like everything else in this pointless city, it will attempt to deceive you. By the time it gets here, the bus is empty. There is no bus stop. It stops on the wrong side of the road. Its door will not open conventionally onto the pavement, but into the middle of the road. No one gets off. You're the only person getting on. If you had not read this, you would wait another 20 minutes for the next one. Just get on. Have 3,000 dong (10p) though they have change of tens and twenties. (I told you to buy beer!) It is the wisest 10p you ever spent. You are about to have the only pleasant half-hour available in Saigon.
Observe that the bus is not packed with hustlers and hawkers, selling sunglasses, cigarettes, ear-cleaners, DVDs, Lonely Planets, full body massage, tofu, baseball caps, wallets and mammoth shuttlecocks. Notice how no seat contains an unsavory man in a baseball cap, chain-smoking. Walking up the aisle, you do not set off a chorus of ‘Motorbike. Motorbike… YOU!’ and ‘Marijuana’. Sit in any seat you like, and watch Saigon pass by, in peace. Ordinary people, people with no connection to tourism or travel get on and off the bus. No one pays you any attention at all.
The funeral parlours and coffin makers who once lined the road have mostly passed on. There is nothing to see along the route, but there is nothing to see in Saigon: a pathetic sports stadium, miserable old tanks and rusty fighter planes, Saigon’s much under-rated Shit River. Shit River defies my descriptive powers. It simply is. Its splendor is unmatched even by the open sewers of Sao Paulo. Crossing Shit River, enter the real Saigon. Drink it in. Doubtless someone is already carving up Shit Riverside property and planning condos. Only World Heritage Site status can save it now.
About fifteen minutes after Shit River, on the right will loom a monstrous lime-green French style lido from the 1930s. Despite being at least 70 years old, this place was definitely not here ten years ago. Check it out later. If you find anything interesting about it, beyond incongruity and ghastliness, let me know. The bus goes right at the lido, then left soon after and you get off. You are in De Tham, the centre of the ghetto you have almost certainly chosen to stay in. And the fun begins, but not for you.
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