saigon (part 3)

Posted in saigon, vietnam by moonwire on November 8, 2009

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saigon (part 2)

Posted in saigon, vietnam by moonwire on November 7, 2009

My sister left on Monday morning morning and I decided to stay in Saigon just a little bit longer, trying to figure out my next move. Of course, my life of luxury at the Lac Vien VIP room was over, too. Back to Schmutzland. I found a little family run hotel across the street. It isn’t exactly a nice room. It’s far from squeaky clean and it’s got no balcony, just a small window, but the staff is really lovely and makes up for everything else. And oh, it’s cheap — I’m back on the backpackers budget.

I did not do anything special, just walked around several neighbourhoods in hopes of finding something to shoot. There is lots to shoot and yet there isn’t. I didn’t take any breathtaking photos, but I shot a lot, even though it was mostly brightly sunny (and extremely hot) between 8 am and 4.30 pm. It gets dark here, early. By 5.30 pm, the sun sets and at 6 it’s dark.

I did meet Peter Grevstad’s friend, Allyson for drinks and Vietnamese BBQ. Peter lived in Vietnam for 5 years and has been a tremendous source of information (as well as entertainment). It was great meeting her. She took me to some loud place full of locals and the food was exquisite.

Other than that I basically did the same thing. Eat, drink, read, relax, sleep a lot. No touristy things. Just be. And enjoy being here. Vietnam has been absolutely amazing. Especially after Cambodia I’ve become somewhat jaded about seeing ‘new things’ here in the region. Really, wherever you go, you see/hear/smell the same things. Cholera carts, people enjoying food and drinks while sitting on tiny plastic chairs, noise, air pollution, markets, motorbikes. But I must say the Viet people have really made this part of my trip.

Considering the history of this country it is really amazing to see how they are building Vietnam up again. It is chaotic and noisy as hell, but there’s some really good vibes in the air. These people here are friendly, welcoming, gracious and thriving. Things somehow function quite well here. Sure there is poverty, but nothing like I encountered in Cambodia. With the exception of Saigon, I have seen very few beggars, if any. There’s beggars here, and I see the same ones every day.

One of them, Lei (sp?) is a 26 year old guy who lost a leg. Every night he works the streets. I actually ended up having a beer with him at Zoom Cafe and he told me he lost his leg in a motorbike accident. I bump into him all the time, and he always waves at me or comes over to say hello. Does not ask for money, probably because he knows I’ll give him some later at night, when I’ve had a Bia Saigon. Hah!

There’s another one, my sister and I saw him on our first night. A man, could be anywhere between 30 and 50, horribly disfigured; he walks on one side of his foot. The rest of his body is also totally disformed. He wears a hat with a big hole and some of his hair is sticking out. I only saw him one more time. Looking at the condition of his clothes, he most likely has to resort to sleeping on the street. Absolutely heartbreaking.

Also, I haven’t seen the kind of street kids I encountered all the time in Cambodia. But one evening, my sister and I were getting some crepes on the street and this little girl (she looked very small but was probably about 12 years old) who had some sort of Down Syndrome came by to sell us chewing gum. We didn’t need the gum, and I don’t buy from kids on the street, ever. But we offered her a crepe and it was so cute. She started hugging my sister and would not let go. Really endearing. When her crepe was ready, she put it in her bag and continued her way to sell more gum, hugging my sister once again. Wish I had had my camera ready.

So Vietnam has been amazing. Though I don’t have any real outstanding stories, I much enjoyed it here (except for Hoi An). I’m off to Bangkok tomorrow, hoping to get my Myanmar visa there.

I took literally hundreds of photos here and I have not gotten around to processing them all. I’ll post another Saigon photoblog post from Bangkok.

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Posted in saigon, vietnam by moonwire on November 4, 2009

Because the train ride from Danang to Nha Trang had proven to be traumatic for my sister (haha), we decided to skip another 9 hour ride in favour of a one hour flight to Saigon. We took the scenic route by taxi from our hotel to the airport and it was absolutely stunning to see the coast line. Unfortunately, a lot of big hotels were building there. In a year or two, that whole part will be populated by package tourists. Such a shame.

The flight was fine and we got picked up at the airport by our hotel. Yes, ladies of luxury, all the way. Well, almost, at least. We had done some research on hotels and the Ngoc Minh looked fabulous. Huge room, balcony, ‘television with remote control’; the works. Well, when we got there, the situation didn’t look so rosy. Yes, the room was big but it had creepy vibes. Having stayed at a variety of shitholes in Asia, I am not easily unpleasantly surprised, but this room was something else. It was clean and it had a kick ass shower but I can’t think of any more positives. We decided to stay the night anyways and look for something else the next day.

Well, after a bit more research, we decided we needed to be in a different area, so we took a walk, hoping to find a nice, cheap-ish restaurant on the way. No such thing. The area in which we thought we wanted to stay was so not our thing. There were Gucci and Versace stores, big hotels and people dressed up in corporate attire. Paying 6 dollars for a sandwich in Vietnam is also completely unacceptable! It was a good thing we went, as we both agreed there was no way we wanted to stay in that area. Back to the drawing board. And back to the creepy hotel.

Things got better. Or, depending on your perspective, worse. Not only did we get creepy vibes from the room… stuff started happening. The toilet would flush by itself. Okay, bad plumbing. But then the television started making popping sounds as if it was ready to blow up and we quickly turned it off. Then, the icing on the cake was the fan that exploded on us. It was actually quite funny. We were on the tiny balcony, trying to steal wifi from the neighbours, and we completely freaked out, closed the door and were actually scared to go back in, in case the fan would fly apart. Eventually, I ran in and cut the power. Yes, it was time to leave the Ngoc Minh Hotel (which we nicknamed ‘The Overlook’ from the movie ‘The Shining’).

And we did. We walked around the area and found a lovely street, Bui Vien. We saw the Lac Vien hotel and it looked really good. We thought it was probably too swanky for a pair of backpackers, but we decided to check it out anyways. Well, as soon as we entered the ‘VIP’ room, we started to hear angels sing. Sold. It was a huge room with 2 big beds, a big bathroom, a lounge area with 2 couches and a fantastic balcony overlooking the street. Happy as clams we moved in there and enjoyed it very much. And all of a sudden our happiness radiated all over the city. Our initial impression of Saigon was not so great, but once we were in a happy place, the sun came out and we enjoyed Saigon very much.

The jaded traveler I’ve become, I don’t enjoy the typical touristy things much. And luckily, neither does my sister. We mainly spent our time walking around the area, eating good food, enjoying each other’s company and having fun with the Vietnamese. And it was remarkably easy to escape the tourist ghetto. Just a five minute walk and we’d be hanging with the locals. Very cool. At night, we’d often to go the Zoom Cafe, right on a corner of a busy intersection and watch the motorbikes fly by.

And it got wilder. One evening when we had some really good pad thai at the Coriander cafe, we met a Filipino couple; Hero and Catherine. They were musicians and were going to perform at the Factory Club. I must have been under the influence because I don’t like clubs, but we said we’d be there. And we went. And it was really cool. There were some foreigners, but mostly Vietnamese. The club was like an old warehouse inside and the music was loud. The band was surprisingly good. It was fun for a bit, then we went back to Zoom, but I’m glad we went.

We did visit a few other places, though. One of them was Cholon, China Town. Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with it, though it was lovely walking around without seeing lots of tourists but there wasn’t really much that peaked my curiosity.

However, we also visited the Cu Chi Tunnels……….. My sister put it so well: ‘the biggest trap here is the tourist trap’. It was perhaps one of the most boring things I’ve ever seen. We were put in a tourist bus with another 40 people or so and you were expected to stay with the group. All we wanted to see was the tunnels, not be subjected to propaganda cinema or the shooting range (with a restaurant right next to it; relaxing… not). And on the way there, we stopped at some villlage to ‘look at the Agent Orange people’. You know, those poor people who lost limbs due to Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. How disgusting that you can make a tourist attraction out of that. We did not go. Just stayed at the bus. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel (hah). We got dropped off at our hotel area at 3 PM and had some kick ass Indian food at Akbar Ali. All was well.

I did take a lot of photos in Saigon, but none of them are really good, though seeing them together will give you a good feel of the place. So, here’s some more.

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