Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): Part I



After some rest and relaxation on Phu Quoc Island, Sunny and I were ready for the busy, bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formerly Saigon. When we arrived in HCMC we split a taxi into town with a friendly Spanish/German couple. It wasn't but one minute after our female driver started the engine that she began demanding the money we all agreed upon for the ride.

"Hey, give me money!" she shouted.

We all pretended that we didn't hear her and continued our conversation.

"Money, Money! Give me money!" she continually demanded. This type of behavior from our driver was a foreshadow of more to come from the Vietnamese people.

As we approached the heart of the city, our taxi was quickly swarmed by a sea of motorbikes. I've never seen so many motorbikes in my life. It was quite astonishing.

Sunny had booked a room for us in advance at An An Hotel, located in Pham Ngu Lao (District 1). Backpackers flock to Pham Ngu Lao for cheap accommodation, food, and tours. It just so happens that our hotel was NOT one of the cheap accommodations. Shocker. However, it just so happens that we had one of the best views from our hotel room. Our room was located on the highest floor and had an AMAZING view of the city and the busy intersection below.

After we pulled ourselves away from our room we hit the streets of HCMC. First we decided to get some food. At the restaurant we experienced the full force of the city's infinite amount of touts. Seriously, every other minute we were pestered by someone trying to sell us sunglasses, postcards, or to have my shoes shined. Word of advice: DO NOT sit near the entrance of any restaurant, as you'll be the target of every tout walking the street. A poor couple experienced this first hand as they sat a few tables closer to the entrance, thus diverting all the attention from us to them. I got a kick seeing how incapable the couple was in dealing with the relentless bombardment.

"Okay, Adam, let's go," Sunny pleaded, after seeing how much pleasure I was getting from the couple's frustration.

"Let's just wait for one more tout to bother them," I begged. "The guy is gonna snap after the next one, I know it. I have to see it."

I laugh about it even now thinking back on it. There was something humorous about the man's inability to handle such aggravation.

video

Since Sunny only had one day in HCMC we decided it would be best to see downtown HCMC by foot. With our map in hand and no specific plans, we began walking. We found ourselves paralyzed at every intersection in amazement of the city's traffic. Initially, the thought of crossing such traffic was daunting; however, with a bit of practice and confidence, I began to feel like Moses as I parted HCMC's streets - the sea of motorbikes - as if it was the Red Sea.

While on our way to see the Notre Dame Cathedral, I noticed a UPS store. I worked for UPS for nearly 10 years before I decided to begin my travels and was a bit flabbergasted to find it here, out of all places, in HCMC, Vietnam. UPS really is a global company.

What can Brown do for you? (UPS slogan)

As we approached the store I noticed a bunch of UPS drivers sitting around inside, sprawled out all along the floor (no comment). So I handed my camera to Sunny and walked in.

"Hey, I worked for UPS in the USA" I hollered, startling a few of them. "Alright, everybody outside now," I continued, speaking to them as if I was still in management on the job. They all shared a look of bewilderment.

"I want to take a picture of you guys," I said, clearing up the confusion. And instantly they began smiling and laughing as they followed me outside in toe. Sunny snapped a few pictures of us as I momentarily relished the reunion. I'm glad they were all such good sports about it. Good 'ol UPS.

Later, we continued on foot to the nearby zoo and botanical gardens. It looked pleasant enough from the outside to take a stroll through, so we went on ahead and paid the small admission fee. Disappointingly, the botanical gardens was a bit deceiving and didn't continue much further past the entrance.

And the zoo: Well, it had to be the worst zoo on the planet. It had goats, pigs, and deer. Oh, my!

To be fair, there were a few elephants present. But seriously, it was quite lame-o. The locals even seemed to have found it dull, as some of them found me more intriguing than the animals - who, instead of taking pictures of the animals, began taking pictures of me and WITH me. Sunny and I were more of a novelty to the locals than the animals were, that's how lame it was there. You're not as novel, however, once you're around the Pham Ngu Lao area. But if you walk a few blocks outside of backpackerland you'll begin to find the locals looking at you in a different way, as if you were something new and unusual. That's one of the vantages of seeing a city on foot. Plus, you won't be bothered by any touts.

Since it was our last night together, Sunny and I thought we would go somewhere nice to eat. I told her about an interesting restaurant I saw on Anthony Bourdain's hit television show called "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" on the Travel Channel, where he "uncovers the best in culinary cuisine across the world." In the episode that I saw, he covered a restaurant in HCMC called Com Nieu Saigon. I told Sunny that, according to the show, the restaurant served Vietnamese cuisine and baked their rice in clay pots which would entertainingly be smashed open before it was served to you. Sunny found the idea intriguing, so we went.



Unfortunately, the restaurant looked nothing like how it was portrayed on television. It was apparent that major renovation had occurred, thus, losing its gimmicky appeal. On top of that, the food wasn't good either. The changes to the restaurant may be due to the recent passing of the restaurant's owner, Madame Ngoc. Sunny and I made the best out of it, as we had a lovely balcony view overlooking the street and played a few competitive games of '20 Questions'.

The following morning was a sad one. The moment had arrived in which I was dreading: Sunny was leaving. She had her eyes set on Bali, Indonesia before traveling back home to Maui, Hawaii. I had an amazing three weeks traveling with Sunny and was sad to see her leave. I'm amazed with the amount of positive people I continually seem to attract during my travels. I'm certain that Sunny and I didn't meet by mere coincidence, but through synchronicity and the Laws of Attraction - a common theme throughout my travels.

As Sunny climbed into the taxi and drove off, I thought about our last night on Phu Quoc Island. While we were walking along the beach on that cool breezy night, we both concurred that life had been good and that we couldn't wait to see what the next chapter of our lives had in store for us.

-Adam

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