Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) : Bedazzled by the lights, the bikes, the madness and sights.

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog

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Saigon Wire 2 ( I love the shapes and compositions these cables cause on some of the skylines)

Time to cross another border.  My shamefully short dash through Cambodia concluded, it’s farewell to Mike (off to Sihanoukville) and “Gooooood… ahem… afternoon Vietnam?” for Gray, Mario and I as we take our 6 hour coach from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City /Saigon.  Something’s toying maliciously somewhere in my immune system this morning so I actually bid farewell to Cambodia’s 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 “currently displaying any symptoms of diarrhoea” 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 you’ll get).  A/C bus with toilet ( “Phew!” ), bottled water and obligatory incessant Cambodian karaoke DVDs ( "Aaaaaagh! No more. PLEASE NO MORE!!!”).  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 ‘exit fees’ or Vietnamese ‘administration fees’ beyond the USD$35 30 day “visa 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.

Stretch those arms ladies and gents. Communa evening excersise is everywhere in Saigon... and hilarious to watch :D
20 to pickup at days end. ]

“Saigon.  Shit…” this place is AMAZING! What a fabulous sensory rush. and, yes I will refer to it as Saigon if ya don’t 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) it’s 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.

Market life
  Akin to atoms, if any infinite tiny collisions occur, as they must, these remain invisible to the eye.  From point to point of your field of vision a continuous stream, a flowing river of spinning wheels, chrome exhaust pipes and comedy shaped and coloured cycle helmets.  Always in these environments the same question raised.  “How on earth do they all manage to avoid each other?!”.

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.

Market life
  We jest to each other, but I reckon it’s true, that you could quite conceivably own a first floor flat in Saigon where the view out of your window would be these solid black liquorice lace threads of modernity.  But through the skewed view of my visitor’s; my mind’s camera eye I find a certain compositional beauty even in these.  You have to accept cities mostly for what they are; what they have become or what they are rapidly becoming with all the aesthetic and social running sores this often entails.  The beauty of the urban does not appeal to all; but it is, I believe, often a beauty of sorts.  Albeit not in my favourite form.  Separable from more romantic beauties possessed of Nature.

This city is so quick!  So relentlessly kinetic.

Saigon Neon (abstract)
  Initially I feel like a little leaf, or plastic bag being tossed and whirled; dragged along and spun around by overriding slip streams of automotive and human movement along the pavements and curb sides.  Where to put ones eyes next?  The street vendor.  The book seller.  The beggar mother holding her child and small horde of tissues and chewing gum.  The elegant lady approaching in her traditional ‘ao dai’ dressage.  The old man who sits and smokes on a plastic chair, his face as worn and cracked as the pavement he perches on.  The masked girl selling helium balloons.   Anywhere to avoid the soliciting eyes of moto-taxi drivers.  “LOOK OUT!” … you just avoided being run over by a motorbike.
  Again.  For the third time in five minutes!  Not content to have conquered the roads they will careen unbidden and without pause down the sidewalks too.  Keep on your toes people!

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 I’ve 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 ‘keepy-uppy’.

Setting up shop for the night market
  A large group, predominantly of women limber up in lines, music starts booming out and suddenly a gigantic open-air aerobics class is underway before us.  Hilarious! 

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 ‘enquiry’ as to asking the time of day. “?!?”.  Most odd.  Less than five minutes later a smiling girl in her teens, likewise does a ‘drive-by’ 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.

  Fom and Fung seem unable to understand my questions as to this baffling but not entirely unpleasant form of… well?… what is it guys?  Cheek or jest? (most likely)  Nascent attraction? (highly unlikely).  Cross-cultural enquiry and experimentation? Do people with orange hair and blue eyes wobble or stand firm when prodded and tweaked?  Am I allowed to reciprocate?  I’m joking ladies!  The thought never crossed my mind!  I like my hands safely right where they are.  Attached to the ends of well-behaved wrists.

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); ‘traditional‘ paintings and other handicraft objects and trinkets.

Saigon Bus (abstract)
  People stoop to sample the pungent innards of a large, cleaved durian fruit.  Everybody; the market men, stall matriarchs and their daughters smile and enter into friendly haggling.  HC is eying up some chop sticks for his collection.  SIM cards curiously are his other international ’souvenir’ addiction (?).

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.

Beer and good cheer with the locals in one of the many fab street-side drink and snack haunts that make social life here so rich and friendly
  Open-fronted gym halls; flood-lit netted soccer games and martial arts classes beneath the… well, there are no stars in cities of course.  Large walkways teeming with plastic tables and chairs and groups of Vietnamese friends and families slurping their noodle soups and iced-beers alike.  A general air of bon viveur and strong community all about. 

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 isn’t one.  Other than the captivating narrative flow of Saigon street life.

Saigon hotel window. (no name hotel in some back street or other! )
  A peak performance of people watching pleasure.  Mario and I are instantly in love with our waitress.  Scratch that, we’re instantly in love with Saigon and all its inhabitants we’ve met thus far, all of whom - contrary to most prior traveller reports received - are greeting us with open arms, friendly conversation, bellicose laughter and generosity.  And the ladies of this city are sooooo, so beautiful that the male in me must pass mention again.

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?

Stevie_Wes says:
LOL, it was an amusing introduction to the city and the country. A lotta people come away from Vietnam having not enjoyed it so much...even using the rare travel adjective 'Hate' on occasion... maybe they didn't get their man-boobs fondled? ;)
Posted on: Sep 07, 2009
Ladywes says:
tweek, tweek, twist....sounds like these ladies are using annoying sister 'nipple cripple' techniques, rather than making affectionate hellos!
This must mean you are giving off 'older brother' pheromones ;)
Posted on: Sep 03, 2009
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Saigon Wire 2  ( I love the shapes…
Saigon Wire 2 ( I love the shape…
Stretch those arms ladies and gent…
Stretch those arms ladies and gen…
Market life
Market life
Market life
Market life
Saigon Neon (abstract)
Saigon Neon (abstract)
Setting up shop for the night mark…
Setting up shop for the night mar…
Saigon Bus (abstract)
Saigon Bus (abstract)
Beer and good cheer with the local…
Beer and good cheer with the loca…
Saigon hotel window. (no name hote…
Saigon hotel window. (no name hot…
Saigon Wire 1
Saigon Wire 1
Saigon is biker city : approx 5 mi…
Saigon is biker city : approx 5 m…
Learning aerobics from dad :)
Learning aerobics from dad :)
Market watches
Market watches
The roof of the market
The roof of the market
Sweets and other delicacies at one…
Sweets and other delicacies at on…
Fruuuuuit!  Vietnam is another gre…
Fruuuuuit! Vietnam is another gr…
Lady demonstrates the innards of t…
Lady demonstrates the innards of …
Saigon Bike (abstract)
Saigon Bike (abstract)