3/26/2013

Ho Chi Minh

My first week in Vietnam was better than I expected. After a disappointing stay in Bangkok (though Ko Samui was quite relaxing and enjoyable), I had imagined the high-density Ho Chi Minh City to be as bad, or even worse.

Let me first point out that the flight between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh with VietJetAir was the best low-cost flight I ever had. Comfortable leather seats, good service, very well organized and on time. One thing that made a big impression on me was the seriousness of the flight attendants. As I was seated on the Emergency Exit seats, they came to me and explained in detail what I had to do if we had an emergency, making sure I understood all the procedures. Once the fasten seatbelts sign was on, they really made sure everyone had fastened their seatbelts, and turned off their electronic devices. (It is so sad to see how people nowadays cannot part with their 'smart'phones even for a second, and try to hide it from flight attendants). As they explained the safety measures, I was delighted to see them interrupt the whole thing twice or thrice, to point at somebody and say "Pay attention. And TURN THAT PHONE OFF". I wanted to get out of my seat and grab the damn phones and step on them, but I'm sure they would have told me "Sir, please, remain seated while the seatbelt sign is on".

When I got off the plane, I had to go through immigration, of course. Some people told me that might be difficult, specially because I did not have a visa, and I do not have a ticket to get out of Vietnam (obviously, I'm the "one way trip guy").

As I gave them all the documents to request the visa, the vietnamese lady told me to sit next to that United Statian who was waiting for his visa. He seemed grumpy and was mumbling something about having to wait such a long time to get into that goddamned country. I felt a bit afraid the same might happen to me. Nevertheless, around 45 seconds later I was called, much to the disbelief of the United Statian next to me, who went on complaining to himself, counting his many USDollars. She told me "It's ok. Pay 95 dollars". I said "Sorry, I don't have dollars. How much is that in Thai Baht?". As it turned out, I had miscalculated and did not have enough to pay for my visa. She advised me to go to the ATM right next to her counter. I did, and the ATM did not accept my card. I was growing more and more worried I might get kicked out, specially with that US fella counting all his money there and still not being allowed to go through. I told her I couldn't take money on that ATM. She smiled gently and said "No problem. Go out of the airport, there are several ATM machines there, get money, and come back". The United Statian was baffled at how well and smoothly I was treated even if I had no money, but he had to wait. That is what you get when your country SUCKS! I went out, withdrew a couple of millions of Vietnamese Dongs, which were enough to grant me 3 months stay in this great nation.

I was very surprised to see that Ho Chi Minh City is modern, clean, aesthetically not that bad and people go around smiling and having a good time. There are several playgrounds where children play until very late, students play badminton at the city's squares, others play a rather unique game, in which they kick a badminton shuttlecock with rather interesting moves. Of course, there are dirty areas, and people sleeping in the streets just as Bangkok had, but I saw no prostitutes, no rat-cockroach encounters and no over the top ripping off of tourists.

I initially thought I'd stay 3 days in Ho Chi Minh and then leave for more 'paradisiac' destinations, but I am growing quite fond of this city. Great night life, good food at very low prices and, according to locals, 90% atheists. I still have no big updates or great photos to share, as I have only been in the city center and a few museums, but that will come with time. For now, I just want to share my admiration for this brave people who have fended off the French in a war in the 50's, then the United Statians in the 60's and 70's (at great costs, I must say), toppled the evil regime of the Khmers in the 80'as and fended off the Chinese in the early 90's. No other nation can boast such a record in recent wars, and it's mainly a rice farmers' country. The two airplanes you see on the photos below each have a great story. One was from the Saigon forces, who were pro-US. A northern spy worked at one of the airbases for some months, and was handed the airplane so he could bomb communist bases. Instead, he took off and bombed the palace in which the United Statians were based, becoming a national hero. The other plane was captured at a battle. One vietnamese engineer studied it for a couple of hours, took off with it, flew to a US air base and destroyed 26 fighters that were landed there. This is the kind of smart move a less technologically developed country needs to have when fighting against 'war giants'. Official calculations say that the US spent 10 dollars for every 1 dollar they destroyed in Vietnamese soil - meaning that to destroy another nations property, they spent 10 times that which they destroyed was worth. Talk about being stupid.

Apart from the communist flags and revolution feeling everywhere, which I really enjoy, I must say that I find the people very open and rather curious - they want to know all about me and all about Brasil, asking as many questions as they think is acceptable (which many foreigners - swedish, germans, etc - think is way too much, and that the vietnamese are 'TOO curious'). Two other things I think is worth mentioning - the traffic rules here are CHAOS. Being a pedestrian means "close your eyes and trust the cosmos". You can't really wait for a proper moment - if you do, you'll wait forever. You just have to start walking and trust that the hundreds of scooters will be able to calculate your trajectory and avoid you. Also, the number of people who offer me weed in the streets makes me think that this country has HUGE plantation fields - every two steps, some street hussler asks "you want marihuana?". I can't really believe they all have it, because that would mean a third of the vietnamese population has weed to sell.

This weekend I plan on going to the Mekong Delta, but I am unsure, since I am really enjoying Ho Chi Minh. I highly recommend Vietnam to anyone who is interested in traveling Asia.


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

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