Traffic, traffic everywhere!

Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
Trip End Feb 01, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Oh so many bikes! Roughly 4 million of them and all of them seemingly out to get us. We had to learn very quickly how to cross the street - ironically, very, very slowly! It seems that everyone here has a bike (they are considerably cheaper to buy than cars and not subject to tax) and the locals use their bikes to transport anything and everything. Not only that, but it seems that bikes are allowed anywhere - where you are lucky enough to find a stretch of pavement to walk on, you still have to keep your wits about you as it’s fairly certain a biker will pap his horn to shift you out of the way! The horn seems to be sufficient for all methods of indication. In our time here, we have learnt that it means the following:

1. I'm here:

2. I'm overtaking;

3. I’m not stopping;

4. Get out of my way;

5. I’m waiting for you;

6. I’m a taxi/ tuk tuk/ cyclo driver, do you want a ride?; and

7. Get out of my way pedestrian, what are you doing on the footpath anyway?

We spent most of our evenings in HCMC knocking back Saigon green in bars which overlooked the local intersections - a highly entertaining and cheap way to spend some time!

Whilst walking around HCMC is not easy, we braved a self-guided walking tour around the main sites. The Reunification Palace was closed for lunch so we stole a quick photograph from outside the gates (while the palace is meant to be in the same state as when it was taken by the North Vietnamese in 1975, we’re pretty certain the gates are new!). The building though still looks very 60s - we imagine that entering it would be like stepping back in time. Oddly, the regulations outside state that visitors are prohibited from taking "mines and dynamite" onto the premises......that left us questioning what kind of tourists HCMC is used to receiving.....

We spent some time in the War Remnants Museum, which made us realise that (1) our knowledge of the Vietnam War is pretty scant and (2) Vietnamese communist propaganda is alive and well! The scale and duration of the war and horrors committed during that period have left quite a legacy in Vietnam. One fact which stuck with us was that, during the war, the US dropped more bombs on Cambodia than were dropped by the Allies during the entire Second World War. 

Continuing the war theme, we took a trip out to the Cu Chi tunnels, where the Vietcong lived for around twenty years. The tunnel complex was incredible. Being fat Westerners (or “Western Imperialists” as the Americans are often referred to over here!), we were far too large to fit into the tunnels as they were originally constructed. We did however get to see a Vietnamese man demonstrate how the Vietcong stealthily got into and out of the tunnels in an opening which was no larger than a shoebox. We also got to walk through an enlarged section of the tunnels (about 100m) - V came out at 20m because it was too hot and very claustrophobic. A came out at 80m, thinking he had completed the course and wondering where everybody was (they were also wondering where he was). He got lost in a straight tunnel. Clown.

There was an ominous soundtrack of gunfire to our tour of the Cu Chi tunnels - this was real and was from the firing range that the Vietnamese have set up for tourists to have a go with a number of weapons. One bullet, 33,000 Vietnamese Dong. We opted to give this a miss.

We braved a boat ride (which, after our boat trip to Battambang was very brave indeed!) to explore the Mekong Delta. We had some odd moments, with us both thinking the guide was talking about the Mekong Delta heading out to “Southend-on-Sea” (this is a guide who had been cracking some rather dubious jokes - we thought this was another one although we were surprised that Southend-on-Sea was well known in Vietnam). He was of course talking about the South China Sea in heavily accented English! Who are we to pass comment though, we can string together very little in Vietnamese!!

While in the Mekong Delta, we watched the process of making coconut candy and then V watched A go crazy buying the stuff. We were also taken on a little boat trip, which while scenic, was slightly disturbing for V (sat at the back of the boat) as all she could hear was grunting from the elderly woman who was paddling our boat. V was half inclined to take over and power it for ten like in the good old rowing days.....A had a traditional Vietnamese conical hat on and was as happy as can be and completely oblivious to all of this.

Another member of the tour group was a man from Vietnam, whose family left to move to Australia in 1978. This was his first trip back to the country he had left as a ten year old boy. He told us how not all of his relatives wanted to leave Vietnam back then and that some of those who didn’t were sent to “re-education camps” for a number of years as punishment for supporting the South. A hard thing to take in while surrounded by beautiful countryside and under a clear blue sky.

The bikes and temperature are getting a bit too much for us - let’s cool things down a bit......
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