Saigon … I think I love you

Posted from Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The bus ride from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh was rather uneventful. We stopped for food and I had some pork Pho. A lady told me to remember the number of my bus as they all look the same. Good thing she told me – it was just a sea of orange buses when I came out of the food terminal. I’m still surprised at the number of bilingual people I’m meeting. It makes me feel ashamed to not be fluent in two or three languages like the people I’m meeting in these much poorer countries.

The bus drops me off somewhere. I have no idea where I am, but I am swarmed by taxi and motordop drivers. I wrote down the name of my hostel and address so I could communicate. I show one guy it and he wants 150,000 VND. I tell him no. A motordop tells me he will take me for 100,000 VND. I think it’s too much but all the other drivers insist it is the right price. Considering I have no idea where I am I say OK and reach my hand out for my helmet.


We wind through the streets passing at least one million other motorbikes before we get to my hostel. Ho Chi Minh has a population of eight million. There’s nearly five million bikes. The city is built up. It’s a real city by most standards with some skyscapers and multiple storey buildings. But it also has its shacks and alley stalls – something I’m becoming more accustomed to. I see the sign for my hostel and point it out to the driver. We turn around and I get dropped off.

After check-in (my room smells like a locker room) I head down to the markets. This is similar to Chatuchak Market in Bangkok. Tons of stalls and you have to bargain hard. I buy a wood bead bracelet for 30,000 VND. They wanted 60,000. I get a new over the shoulder bag for 220,000. They wanted 450,000. And I get a pair of socks for 12,000. They wanted 40,000. I figure it’s okay to haggle at the market before Tet. They must be used to foreigners not knowing their customs, right?

On Pham Ngu Lao Street there are little joints that put plastic kiddie chairs out and sell beer for about $0.60. They're quite popular until the cops show up.

On Pham Ngu Lao Street there are little joints that put plastic kiddie chairs out and sell beer for about $0.60. They’re quite popular until the cops show up.

From the market I head to the backpacker street for some food and beer. I have a delicious rice dish (and some kind of meat?) for 30,000 VND (about $1.50) and find a little sidewalk shop where you sit on chairs outside and order 12,000 VND Saigon Beer. I ran into some people from the bus and we ended up drinking until 2 a.m. They tell me it was 4 a.m.

The next few days in Saigon I spent seeing the major tourist attractions – the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Opera House, the post office, the War Museum (where I cried) and the other museum. The city is beautifully decked out with Tet decorations, each major street a different theme. I wandered around marveling at this metropolis. While there are definite poor areas, there are impressively rich areas too – with Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Hermes stores.


I interrupt a photo-shoot ... The girls are holding new year wishes.

I interrupt a photo-shoot … The girls are holding new year wishes.

I found some random markets down some side streets and meander through, always weary of horn toots and being run over by a motor bike. I watch people do aerobics in the park in the evening and I think it’s magnificent. Suddenly I am missing my home life and living in a city. My inner dialogue starts up and begins to plan a new life for myself when or if I ever move back to a city.

Hoa Mai are apricot flowers traditionally from the south. They are everywhere over Tet.

Hoa Mai are apricot flowers traditionally from the south. They are everywhere over Tet.

One day I get swindled by a motordup driver who says he’ll take me on a one hour ride to China Town and the river for 200,000 VND. We have a great trip and when I tell him I’m done he tells me it’s 500,000 VND ($25.) Apparently he meant  it was an hourly rate. WTF! I thought he was just giving me a good ride. And he kept taking me to these temples that I really could care less about. Truth was, he was just milking me for time and I didn’t know it. So I argue with him and he’s having none of it. I am mortified at my own stupidity and naïvete. Of course, it wasn’t going to be a good deal. I am angry with him for being so sneaky and talking so quickly when we arranged the ride. I’m also angry with myself. I slap the 500,000 in his hand, tell him he’s a bad man, and that I hope he doesn’t have a happy new year. It’s probably the worst insult, but I was ticked. And I had PMS. Of all the things that I have been taken advantage of – having to pay $4 more than someone else on a bus ticket, paying $4 more on a keepsake, $2.50 more on a pair of pants … these are minor things, but this one, this one got to me. I did get to see China Town and the Saigon River, but I ended up paying $15 more than I wanted to. They say you will get ripped off in Asia. I can attest to that.

The view of district 1 from the rooftop patio.

The view of district 1 from the rooftop patio.

So I got a strawberry smoothie to cheer me up. The experience left me slightly disenchanted with Saigon, but once I had that smoothie I felt better. Then to the rooftop of my hostel, Vietnam Inn Saigon, for some Pho. And then an early night. Tomorrow I leave early for Mui Ne, a beach resort town northeast of Saigon. Catch ya later Saigon. You’ve been a good dose of modern chaos wrapped in some antique paper.



2 Responses to Saigon … I think I love you

  1. If and when you return to city life, what kind of new life did you envision?

    sKY:: February 7, 2013 at 7:55 am Reply
  2. Sorry to hear about the incident. We were going to Vietnam soon from Sihanoukville and your writings help a lot!! Thank you!! Sending you lots of love from Cambodia. P/s your Can Tho post is on top 10 Google search and that’s how I found your blog. That’s awesome!

    Jay August 14, 2016 at 9:12 am Reply

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