Day 03/02 - Simmering Saigon
Our tuk-tuk driver drops us at the airport in Cambodia for the flight to Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon.
You know those warning signs outside the more daring rides in amusement parks? Well Saigon should have one. And if it did, it would read something like this:
Danger: we warn those who suffer from the following not to enter Saigon
aversion to noise in any form
fear of two-wheeled transport
inability to haggle in the fact of emotional blackmail, tears, prostrations and threats
feelings of regret at paying seventeen times more than the next shop you find the same item in
concern of any kind about the possibility of being run over
irritation from the same phrases repeated every time you see a local
sensitivity to other's feelings during interpersonal communication
need to maintain eye contact during conversation
need to actually acknowledge someone during a conversation
need to actually be understood during a conversation
Come to think of it, now that we've been in Vietnam long enough to make sweeping generalisations about as many as 83 million people from nearly 20 ethnic groups, this might not be a bad list to give to anyone coming here. But Saigon seems to be where this is concentrated most.
And so into this we descended from the tranquility of rural Cambodia. It was a bit of a shock. The blow was cushioned by the air-conditioned four-wheeler that met us at the airport and dropped us at Madame Cuc's guesthouse in the centre of a screaming whirlwind of traffic. We had a room with a balcony over the street and, if you closed your curtains, your windows, the door to the balcony and lay down on your bed, you could hear the traffic using it as a shortcut down the street. At least, that's what it sounded like.
The first obstacle we had was money. We'd run out of cash. No, they didn't take Visa and no, they didn't accept traveller's cheques. Hmmm... strange. So, I had to tramp off twenty minutes into the sprawl to change money at a bank. This involved crossing a number of roads. In Saigon, you step out and gently walk across. Don't run; mopeds can smell fear. Cross in a straight line at a steady pace and the traffic will simply go round you. That's the theory anyway and, so far, for us, it's worked. You don't half feel vulnerable though. If you're having trouble imagining it, imagine the busiest road you have where you live and being asked to cross it in your underwear. Now you have some idea of how vulnerable we feel.
The reception staff having relieved us of cash and our passports, we were left to ourselves. I was going to say "we hit the streets" but, in Saigon, the streets hit you. We ended up in a little restaurant overlooking the street downing coconut shakes with rum and eating some fantastic Vietnamese food. Very relaxing meal but as we had a bus to catch the next day, we tried to get an early night...