Monday, April 12, 2010

Saigon, Vietnam - Summer 2008

Goooooooooooooooooood Morning.....ummm.......what was the last word in that saying? Oh well I'm sure it will come to me. I landed a few nights ago in Saigon, to say it was a bit of a shock after 4 days in Tokyo, would be a major understatement. These two places may only be a few hours by plane, but they truly are worlds apart. When I exited the airport upon arrival, I was of course flooded by a bunch of guys trying to take me in a taxi. I argued my way down to $6 for a ride to the area of the city where my hostel is located. Well apparently the guy who I was haggling with had absolutely nothing to do with the cab itself, because all he did was flag down a cab for me and start talking to the driver. I'm certainly glad that I hadn't given him any money at this point. The driver was clearly not too happy about the agreed upon price because I was asked to get out of the cab by the driver, then the tout (a word for people who hassle you) told me I could get back in. At which point the driver punched the tout and we were happily on our way. Quite an international introduction.

I spent the first night here wondering if I had made a good choice coming to Saigon. No one at the hotel said a single word to me while I was checking in, and it seemed as though people on the street were only interested in selling me things or ripping me off. I'm certainly happy to say that my experience that first night was most definitely not what I have come to know as the norm. Sure there are people trying to bug you to buy things all over, but if you just ignore them (literally), they will go away. After a few days they just wont even bother with you at all. I think they may have back alley meetings at the end of the day. "The big guy with the funny hair, he no want nothing." The city of Saigon is a vibrant and intriguing place. The constant whizzing by of the moto's, the proud streetside pho vendors who are all to willing to introduce you to the glory of Vietnamese cuisine, and the overall feeling that you get after a couple of days here.

Yesterday I took a bus trip to the Chu Chi tunnels. These are the famous underground passageways that the Vietcong created during the American war. I am quite abject normally to taking organized tours of anything, but I had met a couple of guys at the bia hoi (fresh beer) joint down the street and decided it was better than going at it alone. It truly amazes me when surrounded by other tourists; how hell bent some people seem to be on having a bad time. On the way to the tunnels the bus stopped so we could "see the local crafts people." You would have thought the bus had been hit by a missle and these people had limbs hanging off. Every tour ive ever been on of this nature does the exact same thing every time. Its designed to squeeze money out of you people. You payed 5 bucks for a guided day tour on an AC bus, who cares if you lose an extra 20 minutes!?!? The tour started off with what we will call an instructional video. Anyway, I now know that I am an evil American capitalist pig dog! Horay for the educational benefits of world travel! After going down into the tunnel entrances hidden in the jungle, it was time for a bit of action. This comes in the form of a firing range. They had a wide variety of guns, but I decided to indulge my World War II fantasies and fire ten rounds from an M1 rifle. Quite proud to say that I was the only one in the group to take down the small targets laid about 50 yards down field. The pictures are amazing, and I'll get them online as soon as I can.

Today I wandered around the famous Ben Than Market. Well I say wandered around, but ate my way around is really a much more accurate description. I was on a quest to follow in Tony Bourdain's footsteps and eat Hot Vit Long, or fetal duck egg. I think they call it Balut in the Philippine's. Its basically a duck egg that is matured to the stage of fetus, and then hard boiled. Sounds yummy, no? Well sadly I was out of luck, but there is another market up the street where I may have a better chance tomorrow. I also enjoyed some snake wine at a local watering hole. Any takers?

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