Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cheap Thrills

There are two things for certain about Vietnam. Its cheap. Secondly, it never slows down. Ever.

I awoke at 6am, ready for my driver, Mr. Thuy to come and pick me up. He arrived and hussled me into the back of a plush black van with air conditioning - which was a real blessing throughout the day. It became apparent though, by the first hour, that neither Mr. Thuy or I had really any idea what the plan would be for the day. His instructions had been "take her to Mekong" and in his broken English, he managed to point out that the Mekong in fact spread from one side of Vietnam, right across to the border of Cambodia. In other words, I'd best be a little more specific. The thing is, I hadn't read up on the area and so I was not really sure what I wanted to see. All I knew was that I wanted to see women with those funny straw hats, rivers, sprawling rice fields and houses on bamboo stilts. Mr. Thuy nodded and off we continued.

Ho Chin Minh City stretches for miles and miles and its not as if you can literally jump on a freeway and "exit stage left". No, the elephant still needs to get through the swarm of annoying flies, and worse still, around big trucks, cyclos, pushbikes, cows and anything else that is trying to get from A to B. So the drive out of Ho Chi Minh City was a task in itself. The city is, quite literally, an urban dump. Apart from the small District 1, that can convince many tourists that HCMC is a viable, structured financial epicentre, the remaining parts of the city are made up of mud, concrete and random piles of rubbish. That said, having traveled around different parts of Asia now, this is more an Asian existence than a Vietnam-specific one. The fact is, Vietnam, like Indonesia, is over populated. I am yet to go to a place where I have seen so many people, cohabitating in such small areas. They say India is worse, but I still found the outer parts of HCMC so crowded and noisy and filled with people going in all different directions. Everyone has something needing done, so it is quite literally chaos at its most intense. HCMC also is permanently covered in a thick brown haze and everyone out on the streets where cloths over their mouths to protect themselves from the pollution as they drive. Half-built buildings are scattered along the highways, tarmac turns to gravel with no notice, people on pushbikes cross the freeways at their own pace, and horns are constantly blaring. The theory on the roads is "be heard or be roadkill".

I saw so many strange things as we drove out of the city. Single scooters carrying 8 crates of glass bottled coca cola, families of four all shoved onto one motorbike, a baby no older than 6 months being carried by a woman on a motorbike while her husband drove, arms wrapped around the baby and simply relying on balance. I saw cows on leashes, I saw cock fighting by the side of the was such an eye opener!

Stay tuned for my next post as I talk about my trip down the Mekong River in a wooden boat!

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