It's hot here in Ho Chi Minh City. Really really hot. Last night, arriving in Vietnam, was super overwhelming. We got our visas ok, much less trouble than I expected. Then we got a taxi, he sort of spoke English but not really. He drove us to the address of our hotel. The drive was mental. People just drive here. It doesn't seem to matter if you have the right of way or anything. They just go. I think that the driver said that there are 50 million motorcycles in HCMC, I think I saw them all last night.
Anyway, so we get out of the cab and all that I can see in the spot of the address we're meant to be at is a small, dark alleyway. So we hike up our bags and wander down it, looking for some sign that looks familiar. We had to ask 2 different people where to go. Turns out that it was down another smaller and darker alleyway. We were passing small houses with 10 people sitting around the living room and people cooking and washing up the dishes on the street. Or, I guess, in the alley. I could probably reach out both hands and touch the walls on either side.
We finally found the hotel and it was really friendly. The family were watching tv and the children playing. Our room is really basic but does have a fan so HURRAH! And our own bathroom, where the shower is just a showerhead over the toilet. Still it's clean and secure and now that we know how to find it, easy to get to. The Gentleman Caller and I both were so so so thirsty but were too overwhelmed to go out, luckily the hotel sells cheap 1.5L bottles of water for 6000 dong (about 40 cents).
In the morning we were up and out by 9am, which is very unusual! We decided to walk a bit to get our barings. Oh my goodness. This is the busiest place I have ever seen. Ever. Scooters everywhere. And there doesn't seem to be any rules, I mean they all pretty much stick to the right side of the road but turning left? Everyone just goes any old time. Crossing the first street this morning was a stressful event. Taxis, cars, buses and a million scooters are wizzing by. And there's not really any crosswalks, or there are but people don't stop. The trick is just to start walking at a steady pace and all the traffic will adjust a tiny bit to flow around you. So scary though. And there are women in high heels, sitting side saddle with their legs crossed, barely holding on to the driver. And I've seen a family of 4 on a tiny scooter!! 4 people! All looking relaxed and natural as they blend into the fast paced river of traffic.
We walked to the Reunification Palace. I don't know much about Vietnam's history, I'm ashamed to say. We joined in on a free tour and it was really interesting to learn about which presidents lived there. The last president of South Vietman (before they were liberated by the North communists from the evil invading US, or at least that's how they spin it) was only president for 2 days. Then he surrendered to the liberation army. While we were waiting for the tour a Vietnamese girl started chatting to us and recommending where we should go in Vietnam and where we should eat for a resonable price. She was very friendly and it was nice to have a chat with her. She assured us that her home town of DaLat was the most beautiful place in the country.
We decided to walk to the War museum only to find that it wasn't open yet. No problem! We wandered down the street to a coffee shop. And they gave us free iced green tea! So we played some cards to fit in with the group of Vietnamese men smoking and drinking tea while yelling at their card game.
The War museum was very good, but very propoganda-y. History is written by the winners and so at this museum it's not called the Vietnam War, it's the US war in Vietnam and Communism is the right thing and Vietnam had to be liberated from the US. Very interesting. Very sad. From what I can tell it seems like everyone in that war was wrong. There were lots of photos and displays of the torture and destruction that was caused by the US army. And there was a whole section on Agent Orange. It's hard to believe that even through this happened in the 70s, there are still children being born today that are disabled or deformed because of it. Very very haunting and sad. I just can't understand how people can do this to other people. I'm glad we went but there were a lot of times that I almost started crying.
After that we walked to a market. Wow. If you make eye contact with any of the sellers or if you pause to look at their wares they are on you, selling like crazy. The Gentleman Caller needed some new shoes so the girl was trying to talk us into buying 2 pairs, we'd get an even better deal. I managed to say no and he managed to talk her down a little. The aisles were so cramped and piled high with stuff everywhere I turned. Sensory overload. And everyone asking 'what are you looking for? I have nice bags. Shirt for you, I have big sizes!' (thanks a lot!)
For more photos go to Mind the Ramp.
Today I am thankful for new and totally different experiences.