The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

City of Motorbike Madness

With my non-visa visa for Thailand about to expire, I had to make a decision as to where I was going to go to next. Was I going to go into Cambodia first and go overland through to Vietnam and into Laos, or start in Vietnam first? Even now I’m not entirely sure why I chose to head to Ho Chi Minh City first, but I did.

I landed, interestingly enough, on the day that news broke back home that Bangkok was flooding(it wasn’t yet, but media tends to hype these things up ahead of time). Without a proxy server on my computer to access Facebook, I had a friend, who informed me of Bangkok’s plight, to let people know that I wasn’t actually there anymore. The wonders of technology!

IMG_3795My first, and ultimately my biggest, perception of Ho Chi Minh City(HCMC) was the amount of motorbikes on the roads. I knew to expect it but even knowing was not enough to lessen the shock and wonder. Not once did I see an accident. Nearly everyone owns a motorbike in HCMC it seems. The only vehicles on the roads are taxis or tourist vans it seems. It’s almost like a problem that feeds on itself. There are so many motorbikes on the road that only a motorbike can properly manoeuvre through traffic safely. Crossing the street on foot requires a little bit of nerve the first few times. There are no “quiet” moments in which to cross. Just step into the street and walk straight across. Don’t stop, don’t change your speed. Only watch for the cars as they can’t swarm around you like the motorbikes.

I was staying in the backpackers district of central HCMC as that’s where all the cheapest accommodation was. It was certainly nothing like Khao San Road back in Bangkok, that’s for sure. Yes there was a ton of tour agencies and restaurants in the area, but it didn’t have the same kind of grungy feel to it. I still got propositioned for massages and “boom boom.”

IMG_3865Across from the main backpackers street, Pham Ngu Lao, is the largest public park in the entire city. As the sun starts to set, the park fills up with locals playing two versions of badminton/shuttlecock. The first is just the regular without a net. The second uses a special shuttlecock that has a rubber shock absorber on it. This particular game, which was by far played by the majority of the people, was a combination badminton and hackeysack as they kicked the shuttlecock back and forth. It was fun to watch and to try, though I failed horribly.

An interesting thing happens in this park as well as the sun sets. As tourists come out to watch the games being played, university students will also come out to visit with the tourists. When it first happened to me I had my guard up, waiting for the catch in which they try to sell you something. Not the case. The students come out to practice their English and want nothing more than to sit and chat. I ended up having, on one of these occasions, about ten Vietnamese students standing around me asking me questions and answering some of mine. I couldn’t help but laugh when I asked them “So what should I see in the city?” and they began arguing over the best places in the city.

IMG_3809But scams do happen. I recognized the scam pretty quick as this particular one is mentioned in almost every guide book and forum I’ve seen. It starts off innocent enough, with someone coming up to you to chat. No matter what country you are from though, this person’s sister is actually going to be moving there to be a nurse. Would you be so kind, if you have time, to come for dinner with my family and reassure my mother that my sister will be ok? Seems harmless enough, though even if I didn’t know it was a scam, I wouldn’t have gone. Not so soon in the new city. The scam usually occurs at the house where they teach you a gambling game, and then proceed to kick your ass in it for money. In the week I was in HCMC, I had no less than five people mention their sister moving to Canada to be a nurse.

For sights, I ended up sticking with the political side of things, visiting the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace. Lets talk about the museum first.

IMG_3844Holy Bias Batman! My first thoughts going through the museum: “I am so glad I’m not an American.” While justifiably so, the museum is ruthless in its depiction of the American troops and the things they did. There was not a single mention of anything horrible or wrong that the Viet Cong did. Everything bad was America’s doing. Oops . . . sorry . . . the American Imperialist Army’s doing. An entire floor was filled with photos of Agent Orange victims and another showed horrific images of bodies blown apart. It was not the most uplifting museum I’ve been to.

IMG_3963The Reunification Palace, on the other hand, was quite a bit more toned down. It was quite interesting to be able to wander what used to be the equivalent of the White House without any sort of supervision. Many of the rooms are only able to be viewed from behind a velvet rope, but there was little that was completely blocked to the public completely. You’re even allowed to go all the way to the roof and see the helicopter landing pad. It makes for an interesting experience of being within a countries government house.

And in regards to the name of the city, I’ve been calling it HCMC as that is the official name of the entire city. Saigon was the name of the city when it was controlled by the USA. Nowadays, it is mainly the downtown centre that is referred to as Saigon. I had one American tell me that he refuses to call the city HCMC as “it would legitimize the communist government.” Some locals though told me they prefer Saigon as they just don’t like Ho Chi Minh.

It really is a tough call.


  1. Just a quick check-in Corey - great to meet you in Sapa (and amazing we're both geocachers!) I just (bleary-eyed) said goodbye to you at the Hanoi train station, and I look forward to following your adventures as you follow your dream.

    I'm now tucked into the Rising Dragon 1 and trust that shortly I shall head out to the Lake to nab that multicache. ;)

    Thanks for the preview of HCMC - I fly there this afternoon to begin my EFL studies and new life as an expat in some g-forsaken rice paddy here in Vietnam.

    Safe journeys to you, always!