Posts Tagged ‘Saigon’

My Tho, Vietnam

To the east and south of Saigon is the Mekong Delta. Miles and miles of rich rivers and canals. I took a short tour there with some people from Singapore, France, Ireland, and Malaysia…I got to use all three languages I know in one afternoon, switching, depending on the person. We arrived in My Tho and took a small-motorized boat across the broad brown river to the island of Ben Tre.  It was used to house lepers a hundred years ago but now has bee farms and fruit plantations. The family who ran the boat had a young boy, about 4 years old and that was the happiest child I have ever seen in my entire life. He has probably lived his entire life on that boat, but there he was swinging in a hammock, back and forth back and forth singing little happy songs in Vietnamese. He let me take some pictures of him in his hammock, but they were corrupted when I lost my files earlier this week (the one real tragedy).

On the island we followed little gravel paths dotted with small colorful houses and chickens to a shady restaurant where we had some lemon honey tea and sampled the local rice wine and snake wine—nothing like a dead snake in the bottom of your liquor to add zest. After some dried ginger and coconut snacks we were off to explore the little gravel paths again with a stop for fresh fruit and local music and some chatting amongst ourselves, then off again. We got in some canoes paddled by locals and traveled along the shady canals peeking at the backs of houses with clothes drying on the lines. We had gone from motorized boat, to canoe, then to horse cart. Horse carts down a larger dirt road to a restaurant and then some naps in hammocks hanging in a nearby shed. Finally our mini-stay on the Mekong was over and it was back to Saigon in our cramped minibus following the trails of tangled wires back to the raucous world of “capitalism”.

Axel didn’t accompany me on the Mekong trip. He wanted to do it more authentically without a tour group just take a bus into My Tho itself. This was the final stage of 2 weeks of disagreeing over travel philosophy. A planner over a wanderer, public versus private transportation, museums versus markets…a terrible match for travel that we hadn’t previously predicted. In the end, I was unwilling to compromise on what is my only chance to see a country. I wanted to see everything, I didn’t want to waste time by not planning, by fumbling along, I wanted to know what things I could see and have them ready for me. While I might lose an element of authenticity, there was still a hell of a lot of authenticity in the streets I daily wandered and the local people I ate or purchased from. I also enjoyed interacting with the other world travelers. Their stories were also interesting. Hence we decided to finally quit compromising and each do it our own way. I booked a bus straight to Siem Reap, Cambodia chatted with a German guy the whole way and spent the evening eating barbeque with some Italians and British people who had lived in Cambodia for years. You’re never really traveling alone as long as there are others doing the same exact thing. And I got to do a lot more things at the pace I’m used to in the fashion I enjoy. (Mom, I’m home and don’t worry, nothing happened while I was traveling politically unstable countries alone.) I’m sure Axel can say the same thing for his version of the second half of the trip as well.

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August 10 thru 15

Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s other large city. Drastically different from Hanoi, you can definitely see the touch of America on this city. Bright lights, store chains, commercialism. While I feel that most French and European tourists start in Hanoi and head down…the Americans start in Saigon and head up. There are less opportunities to haggle for reasonable (ok honestly, by reasonable I mean dirt cheap) prices in HCMC because most tourists just slap down the money and go. Damn you American’s. Trying to explain that I earn NT not US dollars isn’t very effective when a shopkeeper is stonewalling me for 8$ for a photocopied illegal novel. Finally I leave exclaiming, “It’s a photocopy…a blurry photocopy!” (I later caved and purchased 2 photo copied books while traveling…a verrrry interesting story about the second one that involves beggar children punching each other to follow when I get to the Cambodia posts).

Personally I liked Hanoi a lot more. HCMC reminded me of a loud Florida tourist town but with less organization. Riding in our taxi from the airport (after being followed and bargained with by a herd of 10 different cab drivers…this happens anytime you exit anything). Axel says… “Look!” and points upward. “What?” I look out into the night…what I thought had been some sort of street decoration I realized was actually just a mass of hundreds and hundreds of electrical wires draped from building to building. Giant masses, and tangles of wires, how anything actually works I have no idea…and if something falls down during a storm…damn. I took a picture on a not so busy street but it in no way captures what was really going on. Vietnam is continually a country in progress. Growing in leaps and bounds, giant stacks of bricks and rickety bamboo scaffolding everywhere you look…but no real rules or plans for any of it…do what you will…we’re heading for the future!

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While in Saigon we checked out the royal palace…expecting some old building in the French style or with dragons and tile roofs we were surprised to see a 1960’s mod building (a little ugly to be honest). While the palace was nothing fancy, meeting rooms, tasteful 1960’s décor, official things, the basement was another thing. Apparently the Vietnamese president was so hated, his own army tried to blow him up, dropping bombs on the palace. So he built a big bunker underneath. It is….creepy down there. Endless dark hallways, map rooms, rooms with single desks, rooms with big menacing 1950’s style radios. Really eerie. Later in the day we were checking out the history museum down the street and again creepy basements. Why do they let the public down here? In a looming grey, French style building we wanted to reach the second floor but ended up following arrows downward…and down, and through some metal gates…into some dusty tiled rooms with low ceilings filled with sad black and white photographs and old furniture. I seriously wouldn’t have been surprised if we had found ourselves in the middle of some horror film with zombies and mental patients. Upstairs I posed with some lovely wax people. Tea party!

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