Vietnam: Ho Chi Min City

Vietnam is a very busy place.  There are a few reasons for this: a) no one sleeps, ever; b) all 10 million residents own a motorbike; and c) all 10 million residents ride their motorbikes at the same time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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The face masks have little to do with air pollution, and lots to do with preventing tanned faces – quite the opposite of us. Motorbikes are used to transport anything smaller than a house, things such as panes of glass, bags of cement, ironing boards, boxes of all shapes and sizes, groceries and numerous small children, from infants in arms to those able to stand on the seat between two adults. Gridlock is avoided by forgoing traffic lights at intersections and relying solely on the bobbing, weaving and horn-blowing skills of drivers to see them through. They are all successful.

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I learned quickly that to cross the street I had to put on my big girl pants, hold my breath, ignore the horns, boldly step out without rethinking things….and pray.  In fact, I became so bold, the first night I was there that I took a night-time street food tour on a motorbike (no I wasn’t driving). Racing back and forth through Saigon for four hours on motorbikes, stopping to eat food every 15 minutes or so is a blast, not to mention a great introduction to the city. This tour featured frog (I prefer skin off to skin on), chicken feet, and worse, embryo eggs.
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Needless to say, I declined the eggs, which contain…yes..duck embryos. Fortunately, there was enough other good food to compensate.
Since Saigon never sleeps, it is appropriately wired for action (as seen below). If there are any extra bits of wire they just coil them up and leave them hanging until more action calls for more wire.

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The next day I met our group of 18 like-minded holiday cyclists and I got my bike – note new riding helmet. I fear it will be a bit awkward in my luggage.

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We did a 30 km warm-up ride and I watched rice paper and pottery being made, crawled through Viet Cong underground tunnels and fired an AK47 (no really – two bullets!) – an appropriately busy day for an always busy city.
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The Cu Chi tunnels consist of 250 km of underground tunnels in the jungle, just big enough to fit a Viet Cong soldier (and me). In the Vietnam war this network allowed them to emerge from the ground, fight and disappear underground quickly. With multiple storeys of tunnels, meeting rooms, field hospitals, storage areas and kitchens, an escape into the Saigon River and an underground well for water, 10,000 Viet Cong inhabited the tunnels. The tunnels were dug by hand using a small trowel and a basket to move the earth to the surface where it was placed and carefully camouflaged as to appear part of the landscape.
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We left Saigon the next day to ride out toward the coast and see the countryside. This was probably a wise move, as the hotel in which we were staying kept the location of their light switches a secret and I never did find them. I slept with the lights on because removing the key card from the slot by the door would have turned all the power off – including the air conditioner. No, I wasn’t the only one. Apparently, the wiring configuration in downtown Saigon (see above) is to support the rather dim hotel guests who don’t know how to turn off the lights.
Next stop Mui Ne.

by Anne Neary

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