Monday, 8 February 2016

The Streets of Ho Chi Minh City

     So first of all, some background to that title - Ho Chi Minh you say, not Hong Kong? I'm on holiday! It's our Lunar New Year holiday, so I'm exploring more of Asia, specifically Cambodia. And no, Ho Chi Minh is not in Cambodia, it's in Vietnam, but getting flights at a semi-decent price during this holiday is a nightmare, so I had to take one with a layover in Ho Chi Minh. It was a long layover too, so I booked into a hotel overnight, and got a very brief glimpse of the city. I chose somewhere near the airport, as I was landing at around 5pm and would have to be back at the airport first thing in the morning, so I was mostly just planning on sleeping, not seeing much of the city.

Not my photo, but it gives you an idea of what I was facing

     Anyway, the hotel was a 30 minute walk or 10 minute drive from the airport, and I hadn't yet decided which way I'd do it. That decision was sort of made for me though, when none of the ATMs at the airport were working, and I had no dong with me (apparently, unlike Cambodia, Vietnam doesn't liking using US dollars). On foot it was! And, well, that as an experience to say the least!

     The first 10 minutes were spent just trying to get away from the airport. Like, I knew exactly which direction I was going, and I could see the road I wanted to be on. But getting to that road? Way more difficult than you'd think. Apparently I'm the only idiot that tries to walk out that airport, because I quickly realised there were no pavements around that area. I ended up walking far away from the road I wanted, crossing a road which has a no pedestrians sign on it (after seeing others do the same), walking through a huge motorbike carpark - where I was met with countless offers of "motorbike lady!" - and then eventually doubling all the way back on myself to get to where I wanted to be.

     It didn't get any less interesting after that either, as the road in question was a massive street, with more motorbikes riding down it than I think I've ever seen in my life! I mean, I live in Hong Kong, which is pretty busy, but this just felt so crazy and hectic! I think HK is busier with pedestrians though, I've never seen traffic like that there, and certainly not in the form of motorbikes. Some had 3 or even 4 passengers riding on just one bike. I also couldn't go more than a couple of minutes at a time without someone slowing down to offer "tuk tuk lady?" or "motorbike lady?", since apparently no one understands that walking is a thing we are capable of. And if was pretty obvious that if I'd wanted a tuk tuk or bike I could've got one very easily, even without all the offers! I did pass working ATMs later, but I figured I'd walked far enough that I wasn't taking a ride now, and I would just use card at the hotel.

     The most challenging part was yet to come though - crossing the road. And, worse luck, I had to cross two at a roundabout, or else take a serious detour, which was none too appealing when it was so warm that I could feel my t-shirt sticking to my back. There are zebra stripes marked across the road, but you can forget it if you think that means any traffic will stop for you. I hovered there for a few minutes, hoping they would stop or there'd be a break for me to cross, but the flow of motorbikes was relentless. I realised I was getting nowhere fast, and no doubt looking like a clueless tourist in the process, so I nervously approached an older man nearby, who had offered me a motorbike lift minutes before, and asked him how to cross. He then actually escorted me across the road, which is how I discovered that you just have to go for it, darting between cars, seizing gaps, and ignoring their angry honks as they're forced to slow down. I went on to cross a couple more myself this way, which became easier with practice and seeing a few more locals doing the same, though it seemed like only a minority of the city's population walk anywhere!

     I soon got away from the more hectic roads, and down a narrower, colourfully lot road leading to the hotel. Here there were plenty of street food carts, children roaming around - one little girl even said hello to me as I passed, to which I replied the same - and a distinct lack of real pavements, or at least one that weren't entirely blocked by cars, bikes, chairs and stalls, meaning you are pretty much forced to walk along the edge of the road. It certainly didn't feel like the safest walk of my life, but the locals are at least sensible enough to slow down when you cross, even if they're a bit disgruntled about it, and I made it through unscathed.

     On reaching the hotel, I opted not to leave again, having eaten plenty on the flight and being too tired to venture out into the chaos again. I took a car from the hotel back to the airport in the morning too, being able to add it to my bill and not need cash, and not wanting to face the madness again first thing in the morning. So even though my stay in Ho Chi Minh was brief, it's not an experience I'll be forgetting any time soon!

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