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Vietnam: 3~Hello Saigon, hello culture shock

The relatively short afternoon flight whizzed by thanks to the window seat and clear skies.

Flying over south Vietnam

I arrived in Vietnam’s largest city on this my first visit to Asia. The first thing that piqued my interest appeared before I got off the plane.

Wartime reminders alongside the airport runway (snapped from the plane window)

From http://www.saigonscene.com: “The Americans had built the bunkers to shelter helicopters and the like from enemy fire. Today though, the bunkers hold all sorts of things ranging from decaying old Russian and American built helicopters, to fire engines and empty space.“

I completed the pre-organised visa formalities with the unsmiling official, located with some relief my pack on the carousel, and connected with the hotel pick up service. During the short walk from the airport door I encountered the smothering heat, and once in the back seat of the blessedly air conditioned car I took in my first impressions of the city.

Welcome! Why thank you

I ain't seen nothin' yet

Ho Chi Minh City was so named after the war finished, but is still known by many as Saigon. Whichever way you cut it, the place was mad. Traffic chaos. Forget normal road rules, just go with the flow and toot your horn to let others know you’re coming through. Crazy to watch and be amongst – yet it all seemed to flow.

The hotel staff greeted me warmly in their excellent English and I settled in to my room a few floors up from the road. For a while I was happy enough taking in the scene from my room. There was so much going on. And as odd as this sounds, watching people cross the road was fascinating.

In my room with a view. If I look like I'm melting - I was. A day or two later I learned that the aircon was stuffed!

A Vietnamese woman crossing the road below my room

I was a bit buggered by this stage and feeling unsettled but had to venture outside. When you’ve read about the traffic prior to arriving in Vietnam (or probably any other city with similar traffic), then seen it first hand, you start to get a tad anxious. But during my study of pedestrians going about their business the technique clicked.

So, I went out there and crossed the road. Twice. A bit sad I guess that this should feel like such an achievement!

My hotel from the park across the road

One of the selling points of the hotel was the green space across the road and the top floor restaurant. It wasn’t anything stunning cuisine wise but the views were fantastic.

Cityscape from the deck of the rooftop restaurant

Not bad.

* * * * * *
This is part of a series recounting my July 2009 trip to Vietnam. For the starting point and some background go here.

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