So many impressions, experiences and perceptions … I don´t know where to begin.  Ho Chi Minh is one big roaring madness! We are staying in rather touristy part of this giant of Vietnam which is wrapped in a grey scarf of smog and pollution. Streets seem relatively narrow for that much traffic. Vietnam has approximately 40 million registered scooters and only 2 million cars (for a bit less than 90 million inhabitants). Scooters are absolutely everywhere and we were trying not to end up under one of them! Their flow never stops (not even on the red light). It happened only a couple times when the local police officer, dressed in his green uniform, standing by the intersection whistled on the red – and the traffic magically stopped. I was so amazed – it felt like a miracle as I was mentally prepared for the stressful crossing. This is probably the biggest experience of this city. Crossing the roads – haha. I must admit that we got much better during the time and our practice made us masters of this “art” :-D. Truly – our heart beat gets like 10x faster and I intent to breathe heavily while crossing the road, but yeah – I think we got it!!
Even though it’s completely useless, I always wait for the green light. It gives me some kind of better feeling, self-confidence and courage. We found out that we have to give a way to the cars (they are not good at zigzagging between pedestrians :-D). Once the cars are gone, you just make your way forward into this stream of hundreds of scooters. Looking only ahead and using peripheral vision to know if you are going to get killed or not :-D. You keep the same slow pace and they will simply avoid you (well you hope so). Once you look a side, you’re are asking for troubles. Firstly – they see that you are looking at them and leave the task „avoid“ to you. Secondly – to see what is coming at you is so damn scary you almost poop your pants 😀 and that makes you to stop – and at that moment the tragedy starts as they don´t know any more, how fast you are moving with your “steady pace” and all the calculations disappear. And yeah – you are fighting for your life!
The air in this city of 8.5 million people is soaked with many peculiar smells. Not many are pleasant though. Once I almost threw up in one of the streets – oh yeah – it was that bad! (And no I was not hangover or anything like that!) I was trying to hold my breath – but it felt like the smells get to me through my skin and ears and…. yuck!!! Steve was laughing at me – when I was loudly gagging :-D.
The locals love their cigarettes. And I believe that all smokers would love this place! (Happy to inform you – that I wouldn´t even enjoy one of them in this terrible heat – even though the “grape flavoured slims” look more than welcoming.) The packet costs you something around $2 and I believe that almost everybody here is a passionate smoker. People smoke everywhere – with their meal, by the pool, in shops, driving a scooter… I remember that this use to be a normal thing in my country years years back – happy it isn´t any more – so easy to forget. You smell like an ashtray when you get into the hostel room – even if you just went to buy a bottle of water across the street.
I found out that the city is the most beautiful in the early morning hours. Everyone here is getting up quite early – and because I still didn´t get my jet-lag sorted – I sometimes wake up at 6am ready for the day (and dying by 9pm :-D). Today I just decided to get out after my breakfast (for free from the hostel – yummy omelette with crunchy baguette) and explore the morning streets, while Steve was still asleep.
And here it was – directly in front of the hostel was a little busy market you cannot see later in the day. People sitting all around the pavement selling all kind of stuff. Everything looks fresh and beautiful colours of fruits and veggies are stealing all my attention. Trying to find my way among all the stuff and running chickens (haha yeah – chickens and roasters in the middle of the city!!) You can find all kinds of seafood, fish, spices, raw and cooked meat … I believe all this is getting sold pretty quickly – as it doesn´t look that beautiful and alive during the day. Even the morning air doesn´t smell that bad – it gets worse later in the day, when all the meat and fish is getting spoiled in 38°C heat.
Some locals are running around with their straw brooms, sweeping the sidewalks and the road. Local people do throw their rubbish on the ground (yeah – it is just us holding on to our rubbish and being very excited, when we can empty our overloaded pockets onto the rubbish bin – and forget about recycling – not a thing here!) But in the morning the streets are much cleaner (relatively :-D)
I am “dancing” my way between scooters – they are parked everywhere on the sidewalks. And some of the drivers are using the pavement as a “detour” around the heavy traffic. You have to keep your eyes wide opened all the time – as they don´t feel like they should give you a way – it is their kingdom and you should move aside!
We have a quite big park close to our hostel… I wonder where all these people came from at this early hour. It is Sunday and I have never seen it that busy. Whole families playing badminton, elderly people doing their exercise on the local „fitness machines“ – something like a playground for adults. You can see people dancing or doing yoga. Wow! I am so amazed by business of this place!
At each and every corner you find mainly old wrinkly men lying on their scooters, sleeping or having their cigarette. They are some kind of “Scooter taxi”. They keep waving at you and with broken English offering a ride “of death” :-D. I believe it must be some kind of experience but we saw some people from the hostel with quite big scars, bruises and wounds which stop me to even think about this kind of taxy as an option. We even saw one of these crazy accidents “live” – and nothing pleasant I can tell you. Young man on a scooter stopped „surprisingly“ for the red light, but the bus behind him wanted to go through it – oh yeah – the bus didn´t manage to break in time and pushed this young guy quite strongly from behind. He and his scooter bounced into the middle of the intersection.  He was alive, but he was holding his back (he bend quite a lot in the strike). But mainly it made him very angry. He kept throwing his backpack at the windscreen of the bus shouting a lot at the driver. Crazy…
Ohh – I almost forgot to tell you about the „sound“ of the city. If I overlook the incessant noise of hundreds of engines – there are many other annoying noises, that drives you mad! For example the indicators – THEY TOOT!!! Oh yes! And everybody has different “toot” – so it doesn´t get boring :-D. It kind of makes sense. Nobody is able to watch the blinking lights in this jungle. So you have to let everybody know by some kind of noise… The worse are the busses. They have an annoying pitched “toot” – and having our hostel right by the bus stations is not a winner. They are turning and indicating right under out windows. Well you kind of manage to ignore it at some point.
So we have the engines then tooting indicators… well that isn´t all! It seems like people love the sound of horns, because they NEVER stop!! They just like to let everybody know that “they are coming”. So instead of slowing down while approaching some pedestrians or getting too close to another vehicle – the lie on their horn! And again – the buses are the masters of this “beeping”.
And we cannot forget the local sellers (of anything) – they always have some song or tune playing loudly, while they ride on their bike, scooter or pushing their trolley through the city all day long. Yeah – big, never sleeping jungle.
It is quite easy to get lost here for me… (Steve is handling this with no problems). Looking for a gym here was a disaster – it took me over an hour walking in circles – but my lust and desire for endorphins was strong enough to keep me going. You can feel the communism and socialism all around… it reminds me my childhood – when it was just after we happen to be democratic country. Same style of buildings, little scouts running in massive groups through the parks. (Not sure if that is a every Sunday thing – or if there is some kind of event happening right now – but there are hundreds of them).
When I finally found the gym, I realized I am the only woman there (except 2 receptionists and one cleaning lady running around with her broom). The Vietnamese men were not even shy to stand there staring at me doing my session. They looked impressed. Haha … never mind! I think the ladies are only using the bikes and running – not doing weights.
My way back to the hostel was like million times faster, jumping in the sun – full of my endorphins. It doesn´t happen often, that you can see the blue sky here. Although the sun is very hot the rays shatter through the thick layer of grey. I suppose it is mainly the smog and haze from the heat.
The local fashion is very strange. Everybody is usually covered from head to toe. It is so painful to just looking at it. People in long pants, long sleeves, scarves around their necks. I even saw someone wearing winter gloves. A lot of people are wearing face masks, some of them full face masks, you can see only their eyes. One of the reason for this is to avoid the smog. The second is „to preserve snow-white skin“ which kind of shows that they are the wealthy people. Only poor people working in the fields or selling on the streets are tanned. The women and also the men get even their skin bleached (haha and I’m lying here by the pool – finally having a chance to catch some bronze 😀 – we have to look like a billionaires at the moment :-D).
If I am honest – I am quite excited about getting out of the city. Although we had an amazing adventures in the local tunnels from the war – crawling through the darkness and squeezing us into the little wholes in this heat was more than incredible experience (not like I would do it again :-D). They have 250km of them!!! Crazy heh?! Steve enjoyed the War Museum – even it was mostly one sided view of the story. I loved the pool party in 5* hotel – where I really felt like a millionaire. And of course we love the food!!! Even we are in the touristy part in Ho Chi Minh – we pay something around $3-4 NZD for a nice (mainly vegetarian) meals. Well we don´t trust them – when we see the meat on the streets.
Today is the day to say good bye to this big never sleeping monster. We are packing our bags and heading down south to Can Tho – which is on river Mekong. Hopefully managing to see the floating markets tomorrow morning. So exciting!!!!