A trip to Ho Chi Minh deserves more than the rushed mention in my last post. When I think of our short five days in town, us PCs and another family (in fact the ones soon to be leaving this exotic continent, as also outlined in the last post), there are three main points that stand out in my mind: traffic, food and rice.
With traffic the rule is simple: Do Not Run. Wait for a gap, hold hands, and step out in front of all the mopeds. The mopeds will stop, and then you must proceed slowly right in front of them. I mean, inches in front of them. Somewhere in the middle of the crossing you will find you have created your own Matrix-like invisible force-field that blocks off any vehicles from making contact with your skin. Continue in slow motion to the other side of the road.
With the food, all I can say is that I have never been so well fed and felt so healthy in tandem, and the more I ate the better I felt. The whole world should take note. I am now once again forcing down my usual diet but I’d rather be pulling up a chair to tables of wrap-it-yourself spring rolls, like last week.
As for rice, I saw most of it from the back of a speeding moped-truck. Lush, flowing locks of green, waving in the fields as we flew past with our bottoms in the air, as on some mad roller coaster ride. I found that digging the nails of one hand into Mr PC’s thigh helped restore any safety concerns, and while I should have been crooking the other arm around the small child in front of me (not in fact my child – my child was somewhere opposite, hanging his arm happily off the side and chattering away above the engine roar) sadly I could think only of myself, which worries me a little in terms of any real emergencies. Now and then we left the watery paddies, pulling out onto busy tarmac roads at sharp angles with a single honk of the horn, our driver scattering chicken carts and other bikes and readjusting wonkily while we all bumped about in the back. I did feel a little safer on the ‘proper’ roads, but of course then we didn’t have the amazing grassy views. I’m happier eating rice, I think, not looking at it.
Finally, a word about tourism. Of course it is here – I am it, and I was there, but as it’s still a growing concept in Vietnam, here are some basic tips:
• Use the standard backpacker code of smiling and learning to say ‘thank you’. It is always well received.
• Go easy with the haggling – there is a real sense here that when enough is enough, it really is enough, so don’t bargain people down to their last kernel.
• If you visit the War Remnants museum with children, let them run between the big tanks outside the entrance while you take it in turns to have a solemn look around the Agent Orange photos. If you’re squeamish, then leave yourself downstairs as well.
• Saigon citizens are proud of their landmarks for good reason. At the Reunification Palace (a stately nod to 1960s chic) be sure to remember that there’s a whole basement level with submarine-coloured cell rooms, plus a splendid rooftop ballroom with a retro padded bar where you can buy soft drinks and swan about pretending to be Jackie O.
• Do some homework before you go, because swotting up with a few hastily printed-out pages on the plane, like I did, is definitely not enough. #downloadingtokindlenow