Friday, April 19, 2013

Ho Chi Minh City (Thành phố Sài Gòn)

I will only say it once: Damn it's hot out here!

It's just the contrast with Ottawa that's a bit of a shock... So far we are coping quite well with the heat. It was only 28 degrees today, it might be 30 tomorrow.

Our highlight of the day: the traffic. There's no perfect way to describe it. You have to be in it, holding on for dear life, to understand the organized mess that are the Saigon streets. Cars and motorbikes and bicycles all rushing through. Motorbikes carrying an entire family. One of them holding a 5 month old baby under her right arm and a basket of EGGS in her left. Cyclists pushing or pulling loaded carts piled so high they can't even see where they're going unless they stand up.

The first intersection I saw with lights. But they're more like guidelines anyways...
But the most impressive thing is their driving. I haven't seen a single car or motorbike signal left or right, and they never do shoulder checks. They just focus on what's in front and beside them. Those behind have to adjust. If you need to turn left and there are no lights? No problem, my friend! Just drive straight into the oncoming traffic, slow down a little bit so your moves are predictable, and the 30 cars and motorbikes coming your way will merge around you and find their way through. I just can't get used to it.

First meal in Vietnam. Dad already bit into some really spicy hot pepper. Yaouch!
Another one of our big fascinations in Saigon is the electricity: This is just a glimpse of the tangled mess that are electric lines everywhere in Saigon. Enough to make any electrician cringe. Why have they not planned installation in advance? Why are there open wires? It really feels like locals improvise and set up their own electricity when no one's looking.

After a good jetlag siesta we went back to the hot, noisy, busy, crowded streets to go stop by the War Remnants Museum and leanr a bit more about Vietnam War.
Quick stop at the War Remnants Museum. Very, very interesting and somewhat neutral information on the Vietnam War.
Then we went to see the Water Puppet Show! ... I thought it would be a tourist trap... but it turned out to be wonderful. Accompanied by 6 live musicians and singers, the 6 puppeteers are behind the green curtain, and I think they control the puppets with long poles. But I still don't understand how they can make the little characters and water buffaloes and dragons dance, turn in circles and change positions without stepping all over each other behind that curtain.

We went to see a funny, ingenious "Water Puppet Show"
 Then I picked a restaurant suggested in the Lonely Planet (edition 2010) and had my fears confirmed. A small business who gets recommended by a popular guidebook like the Lonely Planet with eventually be a victim of its own "fame" (or good review). They have nothing to lose and everything to gain in increasing their prices because they know they will have a good crowd of tourists like me for 2-3 years.

In the side street Barbeques and small, sketchy restaurants I can get a delicious dinner for 20,000-40,000 vietnamese dongs, which is 1-2 US dollars.

Yet this Huong Lai restaurant, friendly and clean thought it was, had dishes starting at 4 or 5 US dollars. This happens a lot with restaurants, shops, hostels, hotels and attractions that find their way in the Lonely Planet, Footprint, Le Guide du routard, le Petit Fute', Frommers, etc.

Ok bed time! Cu Chi Tunnels tomorrow!

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