Friday, January 06, 2006

SAIGON PART ONE: Vietnamese women have no love handles, and other unfortunate truths from the big city

To quote Robin Williams: "It's HOT. DAMN hot."

Yes, I am in Ho Chi Minh and after 2 days of wearing a beanie and scarfe in the streets of Hong Kong I am now tripping around in not very much at all as it is about 30 degrees even now at 7.30pm. Love it.

Due to my RUTHLESS, MINIMALIST packing I felt like a frump for the full two days I spent in Hong Kong, arriving as I did in a flurry of Shanghai princesses swathed in Chanel and Louis Vuitton. No chance looking fashionable next to that shit. Not that I even tried. Although (as I have reported via email) I WAS hit upon within five minutes of arriving at the illustrious YMCA - "You very pretty lady. Very beautiful eye. You have boyfriend?". I suspect he might have just wanted to sell me a handbag.

He needn't have bothered - I did very well on my own, thank you very much. Ten handbags, a new mobile phone (HELLO Motorola Razr!), an MP3 player and much less money later, I am now enjoying super cheap internet, beers and the crazy crazy noise of HCM.

(Interesting point for those who care - the hostess on my flight was the exact female replica of Short Round from Indiana Jones. "Dr Jones, Dr Jones! You want chicken or fish?")

Rules for driving in Ho Chi Minh city

1. Pay no attention to anyone else on the road (they won't pay attention to you, so you might as well return the favour).
2. If you have a blindfold, put it on. (This goes for the passengers too, it will help them cope with the stress)
3. Drive very, very fast.
4. Beep at anything that moves until you get to your destination.

She may look serene, but get her on the bustling streets of Saigon and she'll turn into a hoon like the rest of 'em...

I am staying in the backpacker district in a pathetic attempt to save the money I blew in Hong Kong, and to meet some nice drinking buddies. My hostel is about $18 a night and is, surprisingly, rather good. I was slightly concerned when the taxi driver dropped me at the end of an alley that looked like something out of the opening five minutes of an episode of CSI (ie: a crack den/murder scene) and said "You walk. I no go in," but actually it's very nice. Set back slightly from the main drag, and with air conditioning, a fridge, wardrobe and TV, it's very comfortable. Setbacks: I have to swap my shoes for a dodgy pair of slippers in the lobby when I go to my room (great, my brand new Skechers are sitting on a shelf for thieving backpackers to see), and my room is on the third floor. Stairs suck.

I have been revising my apparently ambitious itinerary and it seems I may have to cut Hoi An from the list of destinations, which is a pity as I was planning to get lots of clothes made there. But if I want to go to Nha Trang (beach laziness) and Halong Bay (ocean laziness) without breaking my neck trying to get from place to place, I think I'll have to sacrifice. Sorry dad, I know you wanted those shirts. (Although I'm sure I can find somewhere in HCM or Hanoi to do it just as good).

A woman selling rambutans near my hotel. She wouldn't let me take a photo until I bought some. Fair enough.

Now I'm off to join the throng of super thin women on motorbikes and drunk backpackers and make the most of my Friday night before working out what to do with my Saturday and Sunday. I'm thinking of doing my own tour tomorrow, of the Botanic Gardens and various temples (and hey, what the hell, let's throw a few pubs in there too) while on Sunday I'm tossing up about either going on a tour to the Mekong Delta or to the Cu Chi tunnels. I think the Mekong Delta is winning.

More, and photos, at a later date.


Postscript: After four Tiger beers, PetStarr wrote the following...

So I guess I made the most of my Friday night! After writing the above, I walked across the road into some weird parallel Vietnamese universe where crowds of people were gathered in clumps around the neighbouring park area. I have no idea what was going on (someone suggested it might have been a trade fair) but it involved 'contestants' doing various feats of skill in order to earn packets of chips and cans of soft drink. There were people walking along greasy poles, others fishing in a faux pond for prizes and girls with their hands tied behind their backs eating apples hanging on strings (I think you can probably get this cheaply on DVD somewhere too).

Fun, anyone?

The weirdest one involved balancing a clay pot on your head and shimmying on your stomach along a bamboo see-saw, which had another clay pot hanging from the middle strut. I think the aim of the game was to avoid the hanging clay pot from knocking your balanced clay pot off your head. I don't really know what the point was, but if you did it you got a free packet of chips, so I guess THAT was the point.

Jeez, the things these people will do for snacks.

After locating an obliging ATM and withdrawing no less than TWO MILLION DONG (dollar dollar bill, y'all...) I took my bulging wallet to the Rough-Guide-Recommended 'Allez Boo', a popular backpacker bar, where I met two other Aussie chicks who are also travelling sans friends. We got drunk together on cheap beer (take THAT Hong Kong - beers are only $1.50 here!) and tried to guess the nationality of everyone else in the bar. Needless to say there weren't very many Vietnamese.

Forget driving being dangerous - simply crossing the road here is taking your life into your own hands. And what beter hands to have it in, I say. To make another Indiana Jones reference (I don't know why that's on my mind so much right now) - it's like that scene in The Temple of Doom (again, I don't know where all this is coming from, sorry) where Indi has to walk across the invisible bridge. All it takes is a leap of faith. It's the same damn thing here - there's cars and taxis and buses and motorbikes all whizzing past and don't even THINK about looking for crossing lights because they don't exist. You just have to close your eyes and take the leap of faith into the road, trusting that everyone will avoid you. Actually, probably don't close your eyes, I don't think that would help.

At least he won't run out of petrol.

So anyway, now I'm a millionaire I'm off to bed.

Actually, maybe just ONE more beer...


  1. no no dont go to nha trang instead of hoi an!!!

    go to hoi an its one of the nicest places in nam and there are heaps of beaches nearby. including china beach, which i thought i would mention as i have already used 'nam' and it lends this comment a certain GI flavour, non?

    anyhoo, have fun!

  2. While recently in Malaysia, I was amazed at the swarms of scooters flying about at all hours and saddened at the resultant national epidemic of helmet hair.

    I look forward to more tales of your adventures. Happy trails.

  3. Petra - you are my hero.

    Love your work.