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Published: April 7th 2010
CHAPTER 24-SAIGON- SOUTH VIETNAM
Arrived here a few days before Chinese New Years Day, the day I have to leave. I was not sure what to expect in this festive time; could be interesting, chaotic or both.
Saigon or Ho Chi Mihn City is the southern city who lost out to Hanoi in the north in 1975. Even thought the Americans where here for a long time and it is easier to get around, and even though it is slightly more Westernised than the Capital, Hanoi, it is still a very Asian city. The people were just as friendly and there were just as many motor-bikes everywhere, but there did seem to more room on the footpaths to walk in a straight line without manoeuvring around parked motorcycle or other obstacles.
I had to check my flight home booking at the local Qantas office on the second floor of a building. There was actually space in the office to move around and everything was well organized. It was like being back in Sydney. However, back on the first floor and street level, it was all back to crowded and hectic Asia. I did not think I would really enjoy it
saigon from the ground
Ho chi Ming City is OK. very easy to get around, except for motorbike everywhere
before I arrived or be interested in seeing much, but I did enjoy it and there was a lot to see without much hassle.
Even though Vietnam is an old French colony, it seems to have been superseded by English as their second language; at least where foreign tourism is concerned. The Europeans and other Asians who travel here all seem to use it. There are many French people travelling here and even they seem to need to speak English to the locals most of the time, which must really piss them off.
When I say that the Vietnamese ‘speak’ English, I mean that they ‘sort of’ speak English. Every country has its own particular accent, but I find theirs really hard to understand. Their own language seems to use short quick words. When they use English, they seem to shorten them also; leaving off the end of words. A 3 or 4 lettered word may be shorted to a 2 or 3 lettered word. For example, when getting information for a day tour, they may say ....
“ De day tou is eigh dolla. Fir we go by bu, then we go by boa. Den
we have shor lun. In affnoon you can wa roun or go by bi”
“The day tour is eight dollars. First we go by bus, and then we go by boat. Then we have a short lunch. In the afternoon you can walk around or take a bicycle.
The accent does take some getting used to.
GETTING AROUND AND DAY TRIPS
I stayed in centre of old area again. These are usually the most interesting parts and very central to everything, so walking around is easy; even the maps seem to work. Back of motorcycle or even air-conditioned taxis are also cheap and easy.
For longer distances, you can just put your hand out and a motorcycle will stop. Sometimes I get lazy, especially if it is hot. Bargaining the trip price goes fairly fast after a while. A couple of kilometres will cost less then a dollar. When they ask for “ten dollars”, I just laugh and say “one dollar”. They always take the one dollar because they know it is good deal. I could not be bothered bargaining for less then one dollar nowadays (many other tourists do)it is too difficult dealing with
taxi to hotel
Mother Mary on dash board so you can pray that none of the electricity wires don't fall down
the many denomination Vietnamese Dong ‘wallpaper’ money. I find just using one US dollar notes much easier than 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 1000, 500 Dong and even smaller Dong notes which are a real hassle; Especially when there are about 18,500 dong to the dollar! So then it’s on the back of bike pretty quick (with the compulsory helmet on, a rule which actually seems to be enforced here), hang on tight, close your eyes and you are down the street before you know it.
Another slightly more expensive way of travel is by air-conditioned taxis. The legal ones are very good; clean with good service and no rip-offs. I accidentally got an illegal one one day. As I got closer to the destination, the metre price started going up very fast to about ten times the expected price. I only paid my realistic estimated price in the end. He did not complain just cried ‘poor’ a bit. I don’t think I ever paid more than $2 for a taxi, except for the long trip to airport.
The best people to ask about getting around are the hotel staff, since ‘real’ tourist information places really don’t exist. I like to plan
ahead and get options for future possible trips. The problem is they want you to make a commitment then and there. They want your money and will do everything to seal the deal. ‘Just looking’ or ‘window shopping’ is not in their vocab. Sometimes things can get complicated, but there is never any aggression or hard feelings, just fast talking.
I was surprised at how well preserved the old French area was in the centre of Saigon. Away from Saigon however the old French infrastructure is not preserved as well; but it still looks incredible, especially the huge Notre dame cloned churches covered in moss and algae.
The Cu Chi tunnels made by the Vietcong were another interesting day trip. It really shows how much the people were willing to fight for their country. Over 250 kilometres of tunnels from Cambodian border to Saigon. The original ones were like mini cities underground.
The final day trip was into Mekong Delta by bu and boa (sorry, I mean bus and boat). It was the dry season, so we were getting into smaller and smaller boats ending up at a nice island for lunch surrounded by tropical fruit gardens
In my wanderings back from river to hotel I came across a street that was being prepared for part of the festivities. Coloured lanterns seemed to be the thyme here. I actually had a good vantage point for viewing the concert live, but I was also next to a huge TV screen, since it was being televised live . At night it started with singing and dancing. I had a great view, but then a lot of VIPs (in suits of course) came and stood right in front of me, so I had to watch it on the TV screen like everybody else. After standing , waiting for hours, I got pissed off, so I went home and watched it on my own TV.
PARKS AS PLANT SHOPS
The last few days before Chinese New Years, is a time for buying plants and flowers. The local parks, especially the one close to my hotel become plant nursery supermarkets where you can buy anything from miniature bonsai to huge fruit trees in pots. They also make all kinds of sculptures and knick-knacks. There are dragons made out of cumquat trees and other exotic looking sculptures; it is like a
huge outdoor showground open day and night.
They are all small family businesses with there own speciality and they sleep and eat in the park for the few days. It is well organized with portable toilets on the edge of park and cleaners.
The day before new years, most of the plants are sold and taken home. Once again the usual delivery vehicle is the family motor bike. It is interesting to see how they manage to sort out wife and kids on the bikes and the often huge plants. The best I saw was a metre and a half tall yellow flowering apricot tree in a metre round pot being taken home. It was tied onto the back seat of bike and the driver was holding onto the stem of the plant with his left hand above and over his head; so he was driving thru heavy traffic with one hand; amazing!
On New Years Day the park is deserted and the remains are being cleaned up. It was fairly quiet days except for the city centre where many people were out for the day. (see video).
So, Saigon was OK in the end and I hope to
be back on my next ‘Chinese teaching winter holiday’ to visit some of the areas I missed between Saigon and Hoi An/Hue.
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