The Indian Contractor visits Vietnam and China on a Shoestring

Travel time: May / June 2007  |  by The Indian Contractor

A backpackers trip to the Communist nations of Asia! The Contractor (me) swam through Saigon and shivered through north Vietnam, finally entering China- Home of one fifth of Mankind! .

Day 1:Arrival in Saigon

Lets just get some preliminaries into place before beginning this entry.
1) During my travel, 1 US$ was about 16000VND.

2) I will use only these two currencies hence the "$" symbol refers to the US dollar and VND refers to the Vietnamese Dong.

3) Vietnamese words are spelt here without intonation marks as my keyboard(and me) can only function with the 26 letters of the alphabet in english. Vietnamese language has 7 intonations hence two words that appear to be the same may be vastly different. Eg: the words "ba ba ba" can mean either "333" or "three old ladies" depending on the intonations you use!

4) Lastly, the pictures in the saigon section are digi cam photos of slide projections hence the quality of the pics leave a lot to be desired! The subsequent pictures from Danang etc are good scans of the original slides. Apologies for the poor res photos on this page.

Okay, here goes...

All started off fine as I arrived at Vietnam except for the you- aint- from- here stares from the people at Saigon airport. I can't blame them for feeling that way considering its probably the first ethnic Indian they've seen with a whacky hairdo. Just look at my picture in any of the pictures and even you might forgive them for giving me the stares. I cleared immigration and took a bus (no 152) to the Pham Ngu Lau area (the Vietnamese equivalent of Khao San Road in Thailand). The cool thinkg about Vietnamese buses is that it allows unlimited distance travel for a mere VND3000.

Checked into a place called Betty which offered decent rooms for 10USD a night for two people. The room had a balcony which gave a good view of the street and all the interlocking power cables that formed some sort of a safety net incase someone were to jump off. My travel companion was a Singaporean student who had just graduated.

I dumped my bags into the room and thanks to my companions map we were off exploring the city by foot.

The first stop was the market at cho bac. This market had all kinds of stores ranging from clothes and souvenirs to food and drinks all under one huge leaky roof (I specifically mention leaky because this was a major problem later on in the day when the rains came but I digress).

It was nice to see a significant proportion of vietnamese people at the market as it dispelled ay fears of the market being too touristy. Alhtough many of the shops sold souviners like Vietnam War Lighters and T shirts, a major part of the shopping center consisted of clothes (exculding souvenir t shirts) and children's toys that attracted he locals. There were many food and beverage stalls too.

I bought a couple of lighters for my freind and a few (4 I think) "saigon" t-shirts. Put together, they cost me about $16. Ofcourse, as a general rule we always offered 40 to 50% of their asking price hence we might not know the actual price of the merchandise, but we offered what we thought was a reasonable price. Please dont mail me saying you managed to get an additonal t-shirt for the same price.

It was time to move on, and we walked to the French postoffice and the Notre Damme cathedral. Both these buildings looked magnificent. It was a pity we could'nt enter the cathedral as I am sure the walls and the ceilings would have been excuisitely decorated and a treat for amateur photographers like me! We did, however, enter the post office and took pictures of its colonial interiors. I also purchased a few postcards and mailed them to different friends around the world. Entering the post office itself transported me to a new world,. Away from the stifling heat outside, the cool interiors of the post office were decorated mainly with wooden furnitures and arches. Nothing seems to have changed from the colonial period except the hanging of the huge picture of Ho Chi Minh (referred to as Uncle Ho henceforth).

The French Post Office.

The French Post Office.

We moved onto the reunification palace then the rains came. It was an uphill battle after that. We left the palace when the rains calmed a bit. We had only made it back to the market when it started pouring. This is where the leaky roof started holding us hostage. There seemed to be no drainage within the market and with the rain gaining force outside, the water started gathering inside. within half an hour we were already standing at the elevated walkways as the water reached ankle level.

Rain rain go away! But it did not. It would haunt us for the whole day!

Rain rain go away! But it did not. It would haunt us for the whole day!

The Notre Damme Cathedral with a Cyclo parked in front.

The Notre Damme Cathedral with a Cyclo parked in front.

Problems of expired films.. The blue cast!

Problems of expired films.. The blue cast!

As the Rain clouds threatened to eat us up... We made this last picture of the rear of the cathedral.

As the Rain clouds threatened to eat us up... We made this last picture of the rear of the cathedral.

By the end of the hour, poncho vendors appeared and started selling the ponchos for VND10,000. We thought the rains would stop soon and decided against buying them. We would regret making this decision as the poncho vendors vanished all of a sudden when we needed them the most. The water inside went up to the sheens and vendors started their regime of bailing out the water with pails. The rhythmic fashion of their bailing made it look like a routine procedure.

We decided to walk inthe rain after an hour long wait. With a full bladder I began my ardous journey into the rains and towards our hostel. My companion lived up to an old stereotype about girls and maps and within the next hour we were walking (soaking wet)through unfamiliar territory. Well I wont blame her because one of the motorbike taxi riders(xe om riders) deliberately gave us wrong directions after we told him we dont need a ride. So we ended up reaching the area near our hostel about 2 hours later. I had failed to empty my bladder in these two hours and I could'nt find a toilet. It seems I was trying to balance the need to find my hostel with the need to relieve myself and I prioritised on the former. But when we reached the street near our hostel my heart sank. The flood waters were knee deep and there were dead rats and cockroaches floating around. I thought to myself, "water water everywhere and not a place to pee!!". As we waded through the water things just got worse. Vehicles were stranded and people poured out of them making the already choppy waters even worse. I felt like one of those ocean liners in a thunderstorm, rocking against the waters with a deadly cargo!

Just when I could see my hostel the most amazing thing happened. This boy who stood in front of me just opened his pants and let loose a gusher. Now one part of me thought "why did'nt I think ofthat??", while another said,"This aint your country contractor, so be a good boy!".

I finally made it to the hotel and let out a orgiastic groan of relief as I relieved myself 3 hours after my call first came.

We washed up and went out once again into the flooded waters for dinner. The restaurant under our hostel was full so we waded across to the opposite side only to find out that there was a power cut. So it was a candle light dinner for us... Oh how romantic.

Being a vegetarian in Vietnam is far easier now than it ever was in the past, atleast after you figure out the words that mean "no meat". It was difficult ordering vegetarian at the roadside cafes at first. Then I came across one item on the menu that said "pho Khong Tit" and things became waaayy easier after that. I figured this out on the last day at Saigon so until then I was still making funny gestures to get the message across.

We were lucky the owner of our hostel had a generator so we could have a warm shower and go to bed in peace.

And thus the first day of my holidays came to a wet wet end in Saigon. But it was fun in a different way. An adventure to tell the kids at home.

You are here : Overview Asia Vietnam Vietnam: Day 1:Arrival in Saigon
The trip
Start of journey: May 27, 2007
Duration: 4 weeks
End of journey: Jun 20, 2007
Travelled countries: Vietnam
The Author
The Indian Contractor is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 14 years.
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