March 3-6, 2016 … too long!
Disclaimer: This post is written by a person who is 95% happy go lucky dude and 5% grumpy old man when all the grumpy elements are in alignment. Christine says if we had spent any more time together in Ho Chi Minh city (HCMC, formerly Saigon) that she would have had to trade me in… good thing we left as soon as we could!
We took a bus from Cambodia to Vietnam and the border crossing was super efficient. We had to have the very expensive entry Visa before arriving so the hard work was done. We spent an extra couple of dollars for the recommended safest bus and it was well worth it!
Not sure if it was because I was already sick for Cambodia or if it was because we had just left the coastline in Kep, but something in HCMC triggered every grumpy old man bone in my body.
There is a plastic/vinyl/leather (if you are lucky) cover in the middle of the steering wheel, the horn. I have used ours maybe five times in ten years and its usually to get a friend’s attention while waving out the window to say hi. In HCMC, the scooters, cars, sport utilities, trucks, BUSES hit their horn every few seconds. Rather than look to see if the path is clear, they honk to let everyone know where they are and where they are headed. It is like the horn button is hardwired into their blink reflex. Crossing a major street required cunning and courage (and for Christine’s part, often Mark’s hand). Keep moving across the sea of vehicles and the scooters will adjust their path slightly around you… trust them and they do it. A taxi or bus on the other hand will go right through you. I am in the city for an hour, my head is throbbing, we have come inches to being run over and I am gasping for oxygen.
Click here to take this fun quiz to get an even better idea of the drivers and traffic.
I look up the air quality index for HCMC and check out the World Health Organization website to investigate if my feeling that HCMC has disgusting air is justified. I learn that HCMC is actually rated worse than some cities in China. I also learn that the statistics may be inaccurate and they could be worse due to old, unmaintained weather monitoring equipment. Yet BMW’s, Mercedes, and Rolls Royce are driving down the street (and yes, the horn on a Rolls Royce is as annoying as the horn on a Honda). Masks are worn everywhere and everything looks dirty. I drop the f-bomb (in my head and occasionally one or two may have slipped out) more times in our first 24 hours in HCMC than I have in my lifetime.
Sounding like a grumpy old man?
In a city where tourists are warned not to carry anything on their back because it WILL get stolen, we already suspected HCMC was not going to be our favorite. We knew it was going to be intense and traffic crazy … but we have been in Tangier, Naples … we know intense. Scooters ride ON the sidewalk, which are usually uneven, broken and always have something to trip over. If there is a foot of personal space around you, it will be filled by some form of black exhaust polluting, honking two-wheeler. Pedestrians are treated like a nuisance. If the scooters are not trying to run you over, they are parked all over the sidewalk… including store entrances!
Smiles are a commodity! Perhaps a big city thing? I look at my photos in Cambodia just to see Cambodian smiles … it makes me feel better. Where we would normally be outside as much as possible and eat outside every waking moment, we head indoors for seating in hopes it will mute the honking and provide better air!
We check out the recommended Binh Tay Market. A square acre of pushy salespeople selling all the same stuff under one smelly roof, a festering meat and fly section that had me gagging and then a fish section with fish stuffed into an 18-gallon paint bucket all gasping for water/air to breath. I see one fish who died with its mouth open; head just above the water stuffed amongst the other fish headed for the same fate. I leave the market nauseated, and thinking our planet is doomed if this is how we continue to treat it.
We walk to the edge of District 1 to see the Jade Emperor Pagoda; built in 1908, it is quite cool, but locals and tourists burn so much incense inside, the wood carvings are covered in soot and the air is pungent… I do not last long.
We still had the War Remnants Museum and looked forward to learning a bit more about the Vietnam War. A discussion too complicated or philosophical for this blog, I am offended by the mish-mash of photos hanging on the wall. Tucked away in the corner of the museum are human beings suffering the birth defects of Agent Orange used in the war. If you blink, you would miss them, I almost did. A man born without eyes is playing an electronic keyboard, young ladies with twisted legs sit on the hard ground making bracelets and a couple of men with missing legs sit in rusting wheelchairs. As you walk out of the museum, the franchise Highlands Coffee has a “beautiful” coffee shop under the shade of trees for all the tourists to purchase their overpriced lattes.
It feels like it would be equivalent to having a Starbucks inside Auschwitz.
I am disgusted. I go for a walk through the display of tanks and helicopters on the museum grounds. I meet a gentleman trying to make some money selling books under the shade of a tree. He had a leg and both arms (just above the elbows) blown off from a landmine. I shake his stump as he offers it to me and we say “nice to meet you”. We engage in brief chit chat about the books he is selling and he moves on to the next tourist. As we leave through the museum gates, I just want to scream as loud as possible (but I do not).
HCMC, a city with an uninspired skyline, a non-existent (or we didn’t find it) downtown, coffee shops everywhere (and I mean everywhere), and a backpacker street where everyone gathers to drink, eat, smoke (I am offered marijuana every block) along an overcrowded, noisy and nose plugging street. With just two continents left to visit (Antarctica and Australia), HCMC is a city that has made it to the top of my “do not bother visiting list” (now only two cities included). It did in fact hit all the buttons to bring out the grumpy old man.
I have always said, traveling is the best education. You learn a lot about other cultures and a lot about yourself 😉
Update: March 26, 2016… I hear Christine say “stuff it up your a*s” after an oncoming lady on a scooter made eye contact with her but still honked. Hearing Christine finally ‘lose it’ was sweet music to my ears!
Happy Easter in Canada … we would love a chocolate bunny about now.
Mark and Christine
Sample Expenses for Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam (all in Vietnamese Dong)
$1 CDN = ~16,000 Vietnamese Dong
- 78,000 2 Egg McMuffins (yes, we were driven to it!)
- 140,000 2 delicious gyros and 2 smoothies (avocado & strawberry with yogurt)
- 7,300 1.5 liter bottle of water
- 168,000 2 sandwiches, 2 freeze drinks
- 45,000 Pho
- 45,000 Spring roll noodle bowl
- 35,000 fruit shake
- 25,000 Bubble Tea
- $4USD snack at border (tin of peanuts and a pop), turned into dinner too as we bought none
- $38.00 USD for 6 hour bus for 2 to Ho Chi Minh City. We chose the big bus… so happy we did! They cram tourists in the little mini van… very unpleasant looking. All good except the very familiar bus rest stop ‘toilet’.
- 2,273,931 for 4 nights in HCMC at Madam Cuc 127. Breakfast included (same each day… plain omelet, white bread, jam, fruit, juice in the lobby). We were on the 6th floor, no elevator. They had a winch to get our bags up the stairwell to our floor. And like all homes, no outdoor shoes past the front door.
- Withdrawal of 5,000,000 cost us $316.65 CDN
- 30,000 War Remnants museum for 2 people