Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City I

For $13 and six hours of sitting, we were transported by bus from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam.  A word of warning for the American traveler: unlike Thailand, which doesn't require visas for American tourists, and Cambodia and Laos, which issue visas upon arrival at the airport, Vietnam requires that you obtain a visa in advance.  It's a bureaucratic hurdle but not a particularly arduous one.

My initial reactions to Ho Chi Minh City were of the wholly superficial tourist variety.  Namely,

1. They actually wear the hats!

2. So many motorbikes!

According to Wikipedia, Ho Chi Minh City has 340,000 cars and 3.5 million motorcycles.  It's not uncommon to see bikes with whole families of four (plus a baby!) piled on as they swerve and weave through traffic, maneuvering mere inches apart. Helmets, while required by law, were often worn as thin plastic fashion statements.

Are you familiar with the scene in Mulan where Grandma tests her lucky cricket by crossing the street without looking?  (Silly question... aren't we all?)  As carts swerve and crash around her, she makes it to the other side unscathed.  That's how I felt when crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh City.  If you wait for a break in the traffic, you'll never leave the curb.  The only way to cross is to take a deep breath and walk slowly and steadily, praying that the bikes will swerve around you.  The adrenaline rush is one heck of a way to wake up in the morning.

3. The food!

When Vietnam threw off French colonial rule, they wisely kept the French desserts.  Asian food + French desserts is a fantastic combination.  Of all the Asian countries we've visited, though, I had the hardest time finding vegetarian food in Vietnam.

Sacks of dried shrimp

A fruit stand: lychee, custard apple, mango, durian, dragon fruit, and a couple I can't name

Anyone looking to buy a large pile of intestines?

Ho Chi Minh City had its thought-provoking moments too, especially as an American.  I'll follow up with these more serious musings in the next post.

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