The Arrival

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Arrival December 28th, 2010

Eight weary, but excited photographers have just passed through Customs and now await the forwarding luggage to arrive on the carousel.

Some stand back a little minding the group's carry-on bags containing all our camera equipment whilst others look for luggage on the carousel with the special coloured woollen plaited tassels I issued each before departing Australia.

It is 6:45 in the evening local time (9:45pm back home) and the group has arrived – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Already forgotten is the early morning rise, avoiding the swollen creeks and flooded roads back in Australia to be at Brisbane Airport at 6:15am.

Also forgotten is the scurrying about at Changi Airport - Singapore during the stop over, looking at prices of yet more photographic equipment.

Our adventure is about to begin, a photographers’ tour of south, central and northern Vietnam and Cambodia.

Our luggage arrives and we head towards the exit, but first we have our luggage checked by airport staff to ensure that the stickers on our luggage correspond to those attached to our boarding pass.  'What a great idea!’ I hear a comment from one of the group, ‘back in Australia anyone could walk out with someone’s luggage – not here.’

On exiting the airport doors, the group becomes aware of the temperature change – it is quite warm. A voice from the crowd ‘Welcome back Barry’ identifies Long, my good friend and guide of many of my previous tours. 

We board our vehicle and our luggage is man-handled through the rear window of the mini-bus.

Tour guides in Vietnam must have a university degree and may speak several languages, whilst most Vietnamese tour drivers have very little command of a second language.

Long formally introduces himself together with our driver, welcomes us to HCMC and commences to give a commentary on Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City as we travel to our hotel.

It is this part of the tour that I really enjoy – witnessing the look of amazement on the faces of my fellow travellers. 

With a population approaching 88 million, a total land area approximately one fifth of the size of Queensland and with one in every five owning a motor cycle, the traffic appears chaotic and with very little road rules being applied.

For many in Vietnam, the motor cycle is the only form of family transport and we note many motor bikes with an entire family of four on the one bike.

Sometimes with only less than an inch separating handlebars or rear vision mirror and with a fixed stare ahead, this mass of humans, motor cycles interspersed with vans and cars flow with what appears apparent ease. Noticeably is the lack of road rage and although one hears many a tooting of horns; the purpose of the horn is merely one acknowledging to another that he or she is there.

Our group attempts to look in all directions at once to take in the entire spectacle of this vastly different scene. Great attention is paid by our group to those individuals attempting to cross the road in what would appear a hopeless endeavour.

This chatter between our travellers continues throughout the 50 minutes or so that it takes our own vehicle to travel from the airport into the heart of the city and to our hotel in this vibrant city.

Now it is our turn to cross a busy road, for we have reached our hotel.  We disembark our van and hotel porters appear from nowhere to assist with both luggage and getting the group across the road.  A warm, ‘Welcome back Mr Barry, how long you stay this time?’ is offered by one of the regular hotel porters that I have befriended over the years.

We move to the lobby, and once again I receive the warm ‘Welcome back Mr Barry’ by the ladies at reception.

Over a welcome drink from the hotel and catching up with another of the group who arrived the night before, we discuss with Long the following morning pickup time. We separate to our twin shared rooms to refresh ourselves only to meet back in the foyer in one hour.

On our first night in Ho Chi Minh City, it is now my turn to escort the group, to teach them how to cross an extremely  busy road with confidence, orientate them to our new surroundings and show them the night life along Le Loi Street and the Ben Thanh street markets.

For early tomorrow morning we will walk these same streets photographing in earnest.
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