Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

02/06/18

I can’t quite believe it’s June already. Time is going too quickly.

Ho Chi Minh City is a crazy, chaotic and noisy city. Although not the capital, it is the biggest city in Vietnam, and also the most liberal and developed. The great speed at which this city has developed is evident in the stark contrast between both the tiny traditional Vietnamese buildings, and the huge apartment blocks and skyscrapers which line the citys streets. Never has old and new felt so intwined.

Yesterday we visited 42 Nguyễn Hué Street; an old concrete apartment block which was saved from the fate it was dealt by the council in 2017 to be torn down, by an abundance of boutique shops, art galleries and individual cafes who wished to make the tiny empty apartments their home. It’s a charming building, with 9 floors to explore, but unfortunately it’s success story is one of very few. Although much more liberal than the North of Vietnam, it seems artists are still struggling to find the space to express themselves. I was reading about the less fortunate 3A Station; a warehouse space for artists to exhibit their creative work, filled with street art, cafes, exhibitions and individual fashion retailers. The warehouse was ripped down last year, in favour of the building of a 40 story shopping and entertainment tower. Devastating. Unfortunately this seems to be an all too common story for some of the fast developing cities we’ve seen. It’s a real shame.

Anyway, whilst in 42 Nguyễn Hué Street we stopped in Dosh for a coffee and donut, and wandered around some of the shops. Afterwards, we walked around that area of the city, which included the Cathedral, Central Post Office and the Town Hall, and then went for lunch at Poke (pronounced poké). I’ve never had Poke before, but it was amazing. It’s Hawaiian, and consists of rice bowls with (mostly raw) fish and other toppings. Kind of like deconstructed sushi, I thought it was Japanese to begin with but apparently not. I had squid and shrimp in sesame sauce with loads of toppings and it was absolutely divine.

We’re staying in a hotel just off the main backpacker street, Bùi Vien, which is extremely busy in the evenings. Music blares out of the hundreds of bars which line the streets, and lights flash from rooftop bars. It’s a very convenient location, but extremely noisy at night, it’s like being back on the strip in Kavos. Luckily there was a huge storm last night which drowned out (literally) most of the noise.

Today we walked to the Jade Emperor Pagoda, stopping at Dosh for another donut and coffee on the way. There was another huge storm this afternoon, but luckily we were back at the hotel napping by then. However, when we emerged this evening, the entirety of Bùi Viện was waterlogged! I have often wondered how good the drainage is in these cities; not good, it seems. I had to stop myself from wondering what might be in the murky brown water as I was walking to dinner, but scrubbed my feet and shoes when we got back just in case.

Later on…

Just as I finished writing the previous entry, I went into the bathroom to wash my face. As I turned on the tap, a rat leapt through an air vent next to the sink and onto the bathroom floor. I gasped audibly and ran out of the bathroom, shutting the (glass) door behind me. Elliot yelped at the news. As we peered through the door, it ran across the floor and jumped through a hole in the wall next to a pipe.

If there’s something we really despise, it’s complaining (very English). We contemplated just ignoring the problem, but when we actually looked, there was rat poo around the sink and on the floor, and mum scared me about droppings carrying diseases. So we google translated a little explanation of what had happened (incredibly useful) and nervously headed downstairs.

An hour and a half later, we are now in a nice new rat-free room, three floors further up from the road.

It seems we must have been lucky so far to have only encountered rats out on the street and not in our rooms with us. Don’t get me wrong, rats are cute and fluffy, but I don’t fancy any of their diseases.

Interestingly, upon reading about rats in SE Asian, I read that they are trained and used to sniff out landmines in Cambodia. Even this long after the Vietnam War, much of the picturesque landscape is riddled with unexploded landmines, which have killed around 42,000 local people since the end of the War. If you’re scared of rats, don’t Google Cambodia rats because those things are BIG.

04/06/18

Our final day in Ho Chi Minh consisted of another Poke bowl (didn’t dare risk the raw fish selection so had squid and shrimp again), and visits to the Independence Palace and Maramman Hindu Temple.

I’ve really enjoyed our time in Ho Chi Minh. It’s incredibly busy; almost overwhelmingly so, but not quite. I mean, I know London is busy, but London is also spacious. Ho Chi Minh City is not spacious. Many of the alleys are very narrow; our hotel window was less than a metre away from the window of the building opposite. And each tall, narrow building (that hasn’t been converted into a hotel) will contain many different apartments, each housing an entire extended family. The population density in the city must be huge, and because of this lack of space, the locals seem to spend most of their time outside in the alleys; cooking, doing laundry and just sitting around. I’d be interested to see this city in 10 years time; the rate at which tower blocks are going up is already high, I fear a lot of the tiny traditional houses may perish.

We’ve reached the end of our 6 weeks in Vietnam. We’re currently 2 hours in to the 13 hour journey to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I’m sad to be leaving, but excited to be seeing somewhere new. Also excited for this bus journey to be over.

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