HCMC Valentines 2009

Trip Start Jan 13, 2009
Trip End May 17, 2009

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Where I stayed
Thie Hong Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, February 14, 2009

HCMC - Saigon....all about the traffic.  Wow - I didn't think you could get wilder traffic than Rome or Phenom Pehn but, multiply those by 1000 percent and you get HCMC.  !0 million scooters with no directions, weaving in and out with no lights and no signals and no plan.  Honking incessantly.  Helmets mandatory so there are 10 million versions of scooters and helmets.  the newest fashion is to cover yours with a wide brimmed cover - Burbarry, flowers, everything goes.  Add an Asian face mask, over the elbow gloves and you have Vietnamese Hot Chick Biker Fashion.  We saw Barbie themed scooters, ones tricked out with dragons, ancient antique models - all about trying to look different in a sea of sameness.  So much youth and vibrancy in Saigon.
Susan and Tony - my friends from New Zealand - we met on the bus from Cambodia as we shared hot sweaty moments at the border worrying about the fate of our passports.  When we arrived in HCMC, we went together with a tout down a few skinny lane ways, deposited Susan and Tony at there prebooked Hotel and I went on with the tout to one he was hawking.  Not far from theirs in a lane way filled with the unique street life of Asia.   Because folks have such small spaces to live, eat, watch karaoke and store their scooters - a lot of life is lived in the lane in front of their often single room apartments.  They cook, sell stuff, and live a very open shared existence in these dark crowded lanes.

Tony, Susan and I met for a drink - sitting on a street corner watching the world go by - Vietnamese style.  I could feel something coming on - wasn't feeling all that well - went back to my Guest house and had a pretty good sleep.  Next day we walked all over the City - 8 hours of walking walking seeing the sights - I was eating lightly and drinking lots of water and could feel stomach cramps developing.  I stopped at the pharmacy and bought some Immodium - came in individual tablets - was little suspicious but with RBS (Runny Bum Syndrome)developing, one can''t be to choosy. Didn't work.  Susan gave me her loaded travel kit of drugs with explicit instructions.  The most comprehensive drug kit I have ever seen and lovely clear packaging - she was provided by her travel doctor.  I used her stuff and was back to comfort in just a couple of days so all good.  Mostly the three of us walked and talked and ate (them).  Our last day together we rented a little boat and chugged up nd down the Saigon River.  It is a pretty big container port with big boats.  Looked a little like the Panama Canal.  The funniest thing about Saigon and Tony and Susan - absolutely great folks on their way to England to find new jobs...was the reaction of both men and women to Tony.  He is a really big guy with a pretty wild hair do.  Shaved head with a rim of hair that stands up and a long goatee.  The Vietnamese loved him - especially the men - calling out to him :Cool".  My theory was it was because of their love for Samurai Warriors - lots of the soap operas feature them, and his long goatee and size made him look like a Warrior.  Or, the Vietnamese seem to revel in long hairy mole.  Maybe a fashion feature?  Men will be nicely shaved, well groomed and feature a long (2-3 inch) hairy mole that they play with!!!!  don't know but they sure loved Tony.  This helped us cross the streets because often traffic would stop for him. 

You have to experience the randomness of the traffic to believe it.  One day I traveled around on the back of a motorcycle - to Chinatown and back and OMG.  In a pack of 500 other bikes, facing 500 bikes coming straight at you and everyone weaving in and out missing each other with millimeters to spare.  Really scary and amazing at the same time.  I hope the pics do some justice.  Then there is what is on the bikes - I saw a full size fridge on a nike, couldn't get a photo.  I did get a couple of photos of a guy carrying a huge mirror on his bike.  Sometimes there is 4 adults, two babies and a dog - on a scooter~!!!!

Valentines Day is a huge event in Vietnam.  Saw lots of weddings, flower arrangements for sale on the street corners, lots of decorations and parties at the bars and restaurants. 
the night before we started at a Cuban Restaurant for appetizers then went to a roof top fancy restaurant to celebrate our next to last night and Valentines.  I was just happy the RBS was on the mend and I could plan a bus trip to get out of Dodge.

Was hard to say goodbye to Susan and Tony. They were leaving the next day for Kaula Lumper in Malaysia -their last stop for a few days before heading to London.  It is strange how attached you get to friends on the road.  You spend so much time together - full days and nights sharing your lives.  Not really replicated in normal life as everyone has a home to go to and doesn't have unlimited time to hang out.  I wish them well and know we will see each other again.  I was really thankful for the 'real' drugs as well.

Unromantic Valentines Day but special nonetheless. I took the night sleeper bus from Saigon at 8 pm.  I had a top bunk - fully reclined bed with a little room for your stuff at your feet.  Incredible design - tight and yet comfortable and functional.. I think they fit about 45, have a toilet, air conditioning.  All for $9 - less than a dollar an hour!

We were full - pulled out and sat in traffic for a long time trying to get out of the City.  it was fully dark and it seemed the minute we hit the highway everyone went to sleep.  The whole bus...at 9 pm.  A girl on the other side of the top bunk in my row (three across)  and I were the only ones not tired.  As it turned out, she and her friend (middle bed) were from Edmonton and they had moved to London about 5 months ago and hated it - quit their jobs a couple of weeks ago after seeing a seat sale to Bangkok and were doing Asia.  We sat up talking - me counseling her on her life choices!!!!, She is bummed that she just graduated from University, is 30, no job, no security, no plan, no boyfriend and wanting a baby and a house.....same old......A few hours later, after some sage advice, she decided she should return to London, close up the apartment, take my advice and contact some agencies in Cambodia, and start volunteering while she waited out the recession.  She was excited at 2 am, not sure if it would hold til 9 pm.

The bus ride was 10 hours, lots of swaying and bumping up top but still very comfortable and fun.  I think I slept for a couple of hours only.  Arrived in Nha Trang at 6 am.
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