Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) : Bedazzled by the lights, the bikes, the madness and sights.
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog› entry 132 of 268 › view all entries
Time to cross another border. My shamefully short dash through Cambodia concluded, itâs farewell to Mike (off to Sihanoukville) and âGoooooodâŚ ahemâŚ afternoon Vietnam?â for Gray, Mario and I as we take our 6 hour coach from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City /Saigon. Somethingâs toying maliciously somewhere in my immune system this morning so I actually bid farewell to Cambodiaâs capital enthroned and unbalanced upon the toilet that mercifully is housed within our coach. A most surreal moment. Sat cringing and convulsing whilst staring out of the (hopefully) one-way window glass of the coach-crapper at swarms of bikers and tuk-tuks barging shoulder to shoulder with the coach and I through the early morning chaos. The question on the Vietnamese Visa Entry Card handed out later asking as to whether one is âcurrently displaying any symptoms of diarrhoeaâ is cause for both mild concern and a little white lie.
[ INFO : Our coach tickets with Phonm Penh-Sorya Transport Company have cost only USD$8.50 (about as cheap as youâll get). A/C bus with toilet ( âPhew!â ), bottled water and obligatory incessant Cambodian karaoke DVDs ( "Aaaaaagh! No more. PLEASE NO MORE!!!â). Importantly you can stay on the same coach all the way to Saigon. Certain companies force transport changes upon you at the border. There are no Cambodian âexit feesâ or Vietnamese âadministration feesâ beyond the USD$35 30 day âvisa fee. Vietnamese visas must be obtained in advance but can be processed on the same day at the embassy in Phnom Penh. Just drop your passport (fee + 1 photo) at the embassy in the morning and return at 16.
âSaigon. ShitâŚâ this place is AMAZING! What a fabulous sensory rush. and, yes I will refer to it as Saigon if ya donât mind too much. It just sounds cooler, is more historically evocative and is the name almost all the locals use to refer to their city. No offence Uncle Ho! Within half an hour of dumping our bags at the cheapest digs we can be bothered to track down (USD$4 per person per night, private room with bathroom) itâs only half an hour before Gray, Mario and I are becoming mesmerised by the strangely beautiful carnage of this city. Motorbikes! Oh my lord, soooo many motorbikes it defies belief. Nowhere in my travels to date; not Cairo, Alexandria, Rome or Kathmandu can compare to the automotive insanity that exists here in Saigon! At a principle crossroads or junction motorbikes swarm past, around and seemingly through each other, almost as numerous as the atoms in the air.
Strung through the city skies, the ubiquitous spiders-web; the constant Cats Cradle of black power cables. A common enough sight, draped above and through and along so many streets in southeast Asia but here they seem to have spread and bred to a whole new level. The skyline is often thick, near obscured by their tentacle-like reach and twine across the avenues and lanes of the city.
This city is so quick! So relentlessly kinetic.
The boys and I are really enervated by our first experience of this city. We spend our entire first evening and night on a directionless, intentionless walking tour of the streets about. A boy and girl in their late teens, Fom and Fung (Cousins whose names Iâve just spelt with gross inaccuracy) latch on to and accompany us for some time, extremely friendly and desirous of practicing their English. In a public park groups of friends play a game where a small spring like, feather-tailed shuttlecock projectile is kicked from one to another in a mass game of âkeepy-uppyâ.
Walking in the direction of Ban Thanh Market an unusual experience. As I navigate the crowds a woman in her early thirties (maybe?) clutching her shopping in one hand, heading in the opposite direction on the sidewalk, reaches out with her free hand adroitly and firmly gives my right nipple two pinches and a little twist before continuing on, her face straight, her flow unbroken as if this had been as normal an âenquiryâ as to asking the time of day. â?!?â. Most odd. Less than five minutes later a smiling girl in her teens, likewise does a âdrive-byâ firm-handed grab and squeeze of my right side midriff and a quick inquisitive poke to my abdomen before giggling and melting into the crowds.
Approaching 18.00 under covers Banh Thanh Market is beginning to wind down for the evening but still buzzes with great bustle, colour and noise. Coloured fabrics piled ceiling high; sprawling rainbow-coloured fruit and sweets stalls; piled silver tin containers of fine grade coffee beans (including those first consumed and then excreted by a species of weasel); âtraditionalâ paintings and other handicraft objects and trinkets.
Out onto the streets once again. The night market in the process of whirring into action, its coloured plastic canvas, piles of T-shirts, bright bulbs and neons in late evening bloom. We walk along streets still gob-smacked by the infinite waves of motorbikes, now made all the more disorientating for being shadowed blurred forms with streaking head and brake lights. A row of Hairdressers salons populated by large numbers of identically, immaculately and seductively dressed model-like female attendants.
The boys and I sit down for a bottle or two of Saigon Green at a street-front shop/ bar. I love these places already. Everyone perched on tiny plastic chairs, facing into the street; an almost expectant air about the place as most people face forward as if to observe an oncoming festival parade or street show. But there isnât one. Other than the captivating narrative flow of Saigon street life.
One evening in Vietnam only. The ink on my 30 day visa barely dry. Hardly an introduction so far. Not more than a passing, a metaphorical inquisitive tweak or twist of the nations nipple; a cheeky prod to its waist as of yet. But I like what I feel. Will the positive opinion of this orange haired, blued eyed stranger wobble or stand firm?