Wednesday, October 26

Vietnam highlights – Saigon

As I mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been off the rock on holiday in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Had a wonderful time; they’re both fascinating countries. Come to think of it, most countries in the world have plenty to recommend them.
We started with a few days in the capital of Vietnam before travelling up the Mekong River and into Cambodia.
The Vietnamese capital is variously known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City and HCMC. Before the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese call the American War) it was Saigon and indeed it still seems to be for many older people not to mention tourists like me! Well, Ho Chi Minh City is a bit of a mouthful and while HCMC is quicker to write it’s just as long to enunciate. Still, youngsters and the (government-run) newspaper stick to the new name.
There’s plenty to see and do and the centre of the city is easy to walk around once you get the hang of crossing the street. Traffic is horrendous, particularly the motorbikes. The population of Saigon is about 7 million; the number of motorbikes is 3 to 4 million every one of which seems to be on the road at the same time. Main junctions have traffic lights but right-turning bikes (vehicles drive on the right - mostly) tend to drift around regardless of the colour of the lights. There are also zebra crossings but no rules governing their use. The trick to getting across a road is to wait for a window of opportunity, a small gap in the flow, then step off the pavement and walk slowly and steadily towards the other side. Make no sudden movements and do NOT try to dodge oncoming vehicles, let them take all the evasive action. Some people say to look left towards oncoming bikes until you reach the middle and then look right at bikes coming the other way. I think this is the macho male technique. I preferred to look down at the ground. There were two reasons for this: firstly it alerted riders to the fact that I wasn’t going to change direction, so it was up to them; secondly it meant I didn’t have to look at the hordes of bikes bearing down on me.
Now, if that sounds too negative think again. Traffic speeds are low, we saw no road rage or anything like it and drivers were considerate and good natured.
You can check out the traffic situation at the end of the video.
Once you’ve got the system off pat you can wander round and visit places of interest, shops and markets to your heart’s content.
We did plenty of this.
For tourists the markets, particularly Ben Thanh, are great for cheap clothes, shoes and souvenirs. For the locals it’s all about food.
We went to Ben Thanh market to get food for a Vietnamese cooking class. Apparently fresh fish and meat can only stay on display for 2 hours max and the market didn’t smell at all.
However, the fish section was gruesome – I gave serious thought to going vegetarian.
It doesn’t get much fresher though.