Its gettin' hot in here!
Trip Start May 03, 2010
15Trip End May 28, 2010
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I think it took about 15 minutes for the opposite side of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline to come into view. I know I was thinking that the next body of water I crossed was going to take a lot longer and that passing the west coast would bring with it the last time I would see the United States and the comfort of my own culture for 26 days
There is something about stepping through the door of a plane in a distant land that has always intrigued me. You load the plane in a place of total familiarity; you step off the plane in a place that lacks every bit of what you know. I think that is one of those things you have to experience to truly understand the impact it has on the human psyche. The language, the smells, the temperature, the people, the clothing, every thread of everything, is truly foreign. That is the place where my constant pursuit of adrenaline finally feels that a goal has been met.
I had a six hour layover in Chicago (Ugh!). After that it is a grueling flight to China and a hop skip and a jump into Vietnam. I planned well for this portion of the journey; two and a half hours of sleep last night combined with a dose of Ambien (Which is ironically "ambience" when you spell check it) should have helped me re-set my internal clock before my first day in Saigon.
Visa on arrival was a pain in the ass (an hour and a half pain in the ass at that) and once I got out of customs I could not find my driver for the hotel I am staying at (come to find out he got sick of waiting and left without me)
Once I was checked in I made a beeline for the shower - which as I look back I probably didn’t need because I was dripping wet before I got in it. One thing I can certainly say is that they know how to make a place HOT! Not sure what the temp was last night (or is today) but I guarantee you could bake something on the window sill. I’m happy with my hotel choice, the staff is great and the included meals are quite good but nothing beats the AC. I meant to take pictures at breakfast this morning but it slipped my mind, probably because I made my first million just minutes before (the exchange rate is a little odd but it is cool to get a million dong from the currency exchange the first time).
I woke up at four this morning (so much for resetting the internal clock) and planned out my day. I was on the streets by 7:30. After chatting with Jody for a bit and having breakfast I walked down to the Saigon River and hooked up with a cyclo driver to give me a tour of the city (three hours of the poor man pedaling his ass off for roughly $25 – more than I should have paid but I figured it was hot and he did look after me quite well and his English was just about perfect)
Our first stop was of course at a travel agent where they wanted to sell me my trip to the Mekong for $120 – just transportation, no lodging – I booked three days through my hotel for $33 and it includes all my transportation and hotel. As I said, you have to guard your dollars here! After that though it was an exhilarating ride through the morning traffic, I think it was greatly enhanced by being on the front of a cyclo (basically it’s a chair stuck on the front of a peddle bike – I’ll have to get a pic). The traffic is crazy but I think it is worst in Sao Paulo or Cairo, there are more cars in those places, and it is all motor-scooters here.
My first stop was the War Remnants Museum. It is a strange feeling to be in a place that is a memorial to the Vietnam War but for the opposing force. The outer area is full of captured American equipment (tanks, artillery, helicopters, and planes). The inside (which I did not feel comfortable taking pictures of) is covered with photographs of the devastation my own country caused during the Vietnam War. I served my country and know that the whole truth don’t always make it to the living rooms of America. The Vietnamese do a very good job of using “shock and awe” to show the horrible side of war from the opposite side of the American war machine
From there it was off to the Reunification Palace (used to be the Presidential Palace until April 1975 when the NVA rolled through the gates). It is a very dated building, the interior screams 1970’s, but it is high end 1970’s. I think I took more pictures there than anywhere else today (felt pretty safe to have my camera out on the inside of the fence).
I actually feel safe most of the time. The people are warm and friendly and I think my record for the day was getting almost ten steps in before someone was saying “HallO – you want taxi, you want moto, and you want postcards?” It is comical in a way; the moto drivers will follow beside you asking “where you go?” you tell them you’re just walking and the response is always the same “that very long way, you need moto, cheap for you my friend”. When they finally realize you are not taking a ride they smile and say “you have good time friend” turn around and roll off into the traffic. About five steps later you hear “HallO friend, you want taxi” and it starts all over again.
I had my cyclo driver take me to the market where we bid farewell. I would soon learn that the moto and taxi drivers learn their skills from their mothers. The moto drivers were a mere precursor for the ladies in the market. Honestly, you have to step over them every second or third step
After the market I started walking the mile or two back to my hotel. I quickly learned that the guy with the scrub brush in his hand did not want me to move so he could clean the gutter (The streets here are amazingly clean for a big city). I went along with him and let him shine my hiking shoes – lesson learned – don’t let anyone shine your shoes when walking around Saigon. After the “repair” he did on my almost new shoes, and the polish, and the buffing, and the god knows what else he wanted me to pay for, the total was $40. In the nicest way I told him to “get fucked”, gave him $5 for the 5 minutes of work he did, and walked away (he eventually got the hint and went his own way).
Next in line was a 14 year old girl selling postcards and books. She was a very cute girl with a beautiful smile, well, it was beautiful until I told her I didn't want to buy anything after she followed me for a block using her best sales pitch. It then turned into "my sister is baby and needs milk, you buy to help my sister". I gave in and offered to give her my last 5000 dong that I had in my pocket - Bye-bye smile - I don't speak Vietnamese but I'm pretty sure she was using profanity as she walked away. Like I said, everyone is trying to get your dollar – I think it is just tough to live here and people from the Western countries have a vast amount of wealth compared to the people here so they try to get their slice of the pie from the tourists.
I stopped by the Notre Dame Cathedral and the main post office on my way back to the hotel. It was more to take a break from the blast furnace that had been blowing on me all morning but the buildings were certainly impressive. At around 12:30 I rolled back into my room for a break from the hottest part of the day (and a Heineken - they are $1.20 out of the mini fridge in my room). Planning to spend another hour here getting my backpack in order for the trip to the Mekong in the morning and then back out into the heat and the streets.
Oh, the streets, I have done an amazing job at crossing the street! I say amazing because as of yet my legs have been spared from removal by a passing truck or scooter. Oddly, it is a true rush to cross the street here. There is no rhyme or reason, you just go for it and don’t stop once you have started. The traffic just goes around you as you walk. It is kind of a cat and mouse game where you, as the mouse, put all your trust in the cat and hope he doesn’t decide to eat you. Maybe I should erase that – I don’t want to worry Jody or my Mom.