I am excited to be in Saigon now referred to as Ho Chi Minh City. My first impressions of Vietnam is that it is a far more cosmopolitan city as compared to Cambodia. Beautiful buildings reminiscent of French architecture are everywhere. Tall skyscrapers rise upwards and you can feel the prosperity of this nation as compared to its neighbour.
However, it is a very big city and the people not as laid back or friendly as in Cambodia and we seem to struggle to make ourselves understood. Most of us are ripped off almost instantly by taxi drivers and cyclo operators. The shopping seems incredible and I keep getting distracted by shop windows with beautiful silk dresses…and dream of coming back here with an empty suitcase and a budget that allows for big splurges! I buy a $10 silk top in electric red to appease my urge and feel happy at least momentarily. Nothing else will fit in my pack already at max capacity with my belongings for a year…I’ve already surpassed the 20Kg limit…so I better not buy another thing.
We have lunch in the same Pho restaurant that Bill Clinton visited on one of his trips here and know that our taste buds will be kept happy for the next few weeks. The food is amazing… so tasty, so fresh and so healthy! We’ve got money out of the ATM and we are trying to cope with being millionaires. A hundred US dollars equates to about 2 million Dong!
Vietnam seems greener to me and the colours and smells of a tropical city assail my senses.
We spend the weekend in Saigon and prepare for the next leg which will take us all the way north to Hanoi. On Sunday night we meet the new group and I say goodbye to Al. There are 5 of us in total, four of us girls from the old group (my room mate Jane from the UK, and 2 Sarah’s from Ireland and Australia) and Roscoe the sole male from Australia who has just joined us. It will be a small group that travels north.
Jane and I spend our time in Saigon exploring the city on cyclos. We spend time at the War Remnants Museum and were both quite horrified by the pictures we saw, despite knowing that of course this display is very one sided. The birth defects caused by agent orange were truly awful and the people here went through much suffering.Vietnam is a country with many beliefs including Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism and Cao Dai (a mix of various beliefs). With a population of 85 million I guess this is to be expected. We visited one of the old temples, Notre Dame Cathedral and had a peek inside the Opera House.
We end the day by having a group dinner with Phuc our new guide. A Vietnamese man with a young son and wife, he has been a tour guide for 2 years and is as passionate about Vietnam as Dino was about Cambodia. We are in for a good time..
Voyage, travel, and change of place impart vigour.