Sunday, April 13, 2008

Back in the drift

HO CHI MINH CITY: Time to revamp this byline. It has been in hiatus for quite long enough. The reason to bring it out of its slumber is that I am actually currently somewhere different.

Saigon, or as the Communist leaders like to call it Ho Chi Minh, after the country's favourite son, is as far remove from Melbourne in feel and lifestyle as almost possible. Living on the street takes new meaning across Asia and Saigon is a perfect example. Little pots cook at your footsteps while washing swings above your head.

Into this city me and Rob stepped the other day. Day 1 on possibly my longest trip yet. There is no fixed return ticket. So far it is just been the cheap flight from Sydney with JetScar International .. you'll remember the boredom (actually it was ok .. take your own entertainment and pack sandwiches like the tight arses we are).

So what to make of my first few days in Vietnam. So far a couple of things leap out at you like a Saigon motorbike. Firstly there's .. well .. those bloody motorbikes. Apparently 3 million are in the city, but it seems they are all on the road you are trying to cross. Just be brave, wait for some sort of a gap, step out and walk in a steady manner, no lurches or lunges, make sure no unexpected cars or buses approach and those two-wheelers should all flow around you like detritus in the Saigon river.

Canal boating
Up a natural canal

Speaking of the river, I was keen to take a boat trip on it. But here is a tip for any prospective tourists. Don't bother. Previously you were able to travel up a major canal of the old part of the city. Nowadays it is currently a massive construction site as it is being filled in. The little boats will still take you on a trip. To the far more boring otherside of the river and up a "natural" canal, as far as natural goes on a filthy looking river.

Secondly, the other thing that hits you is the heat and humidity. The sluice gates have opened up on the sweat glands. We took the obligatory trip out to the war tunnels to see what life was like for the VC fighting the yanks, and after 5 minutes and roughly 90 metres down in the tunnels, crawling and crouching through until your thighs think you are a sadist, you pop out exhausted and drenched. The guerrillas lived down in them for up to a month. Respect.

Down the barrel
A busted yank tank at the Cu Chi tunnels

The war certainly was a horrible event and it is hard to escape .. from a tourist's point of view. Checking out the War Remnants Museum made your stomach turn at the graffic images displayed. It is hard to shake the mental image of a GI picking up what was left of a boy blown apart by a grenade. It makes me angry and sad at the same time that war is still being justified. Images from 1965 Vietnam could just as easily read 2005 Iraq.

Tomorrow we escape the traffic, the war, the noise, the big city and drift on south to hopefully quieter realms of the Mekong Delta. We go our own way and are avoiding the numerous 2, 3 or 4 day tours being touted, and see where and when we end up. We do know that Cambodia will be there to drift into after we navigate the delta waterways. See you in a while.

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