Monday, July 18, 2011

Ho Chi Minh is a son of a bitch!

For May's public holiday weekend, my travel partner, Cheryl, and I headed to Vietnam. I kept thinking about Full Metal Jacket on our flight. As a child I always remember the song the soldiers sing about Ho Chi Minh, thus the title of my blog. I kid you not, when deciding whether to go to HCMC or Hanoi, I decided on HCMC because of the song. Plus Hanoi makes me think of Jane Fonda, and who wants to be reminded of 80's aerobic workouts?

Again, flying out of Hong Kong, even on a holiday weekend, was painless. The train to the airport was a bit more crowded than usual, but I got through security and to my gate with no issues, and the plane took off right on time. Moreover, when we arrived in Vietnam, we landed, picked up our visas and were at our hotel in no time. If you go to Vietnam and opt to pick up your visa at the airport, I recommend having exact change in Vietnamese currency, the dong(!). The immigration officer attempted to rip me off by giving me nowhere near the correct change, but I demanded he give me the correct change and wouldn't leave until he did.

Besides my little tiff with Immigration, the rest of the trip was smooth sailing. We had no problem getting a cab to our hotel, and there was relatively no traffic. I recommend arriving late at night for this reason. We stayed at the Legend Hotel, which I was a bit nervous about, as I had convinced Cheryl we should save money and not stay at a Hilton or Sheraton. It turned out to be lovely. First off, it was in a good location. The buffet breakfast was wonderful, the pool and spa were top notch, and there was free wireless in the rooms. The lobby also has some small but nice shops. I particularly liked the jewelry shop, where I bought my mom a present… and, of course, I got one for myself as well.

Cheryl and I spent three full days were exploring the HCMC area.

Except for the fact that it was 110 degrees inside, the city market was fun. My favorite purchases were the colorful shoes I bought at US$4 a pair. I could have bargained more, but at a point, I felt bad. The pho place right across from the market, Pho 2000 (a fast-food joint not affiliated with the place of the same name in the USA), was surprisingly tasty.
If you are not into crowded hot markets where you have to bargain, there are great shops on Dong Khoi Street. The linen at Khaisilk is fantastic. I bought two linen dresses for a great price that I pair with the jade and pearls I bought in Shanghai. I call them my communist outfits. Also, Dong Khoi Street is manageable to walk down without getting hit by a moped. I have to admit crossing the street was a problem for me the first few days. Traffic laws seem to be more suggestions than rules. Drivers pay no attention to traffic lights, and the mopeds tend to drive on the sidewalks with no regard for pedestrians.

Outside of the city we visited the Cao Dai Temple, which was quite interesting. We got to observe a religious service and walk around the colorful temple. We also went to the fascinating Cu-Chi tunnels, which were used by the Viet Cong during the war. Despite the welcome video being extremely anti-American, the oppressively hot weather, and the mosquitoes, the tunnels are certainly worth a visit. We also rode through the country side, which was nice, despite the numerous dogs we saw in cages strapped to the back motorbikes on their way to be slaughtered.

Viet Kate

Speaking of motorbikes, I learned it is Vietnamese law that children under the age of seven are not to wear helmets. The rationale behind this law is that the helmets are too large for the children and often end up hurting them rather than protecting them. Has nobody thought to make smaller helmets there? (Isn’t that where most of our helmets come from?) Another law is that a Vietnamese woman is not allowed to check into a hotel with a man she is not married to. I understand that law, but there are quite a few ladies of the evening working the street. I'm not sure who they're fooling.

I could have stayed another few days in Vietnam. Despite the traffic and the heat, this American war machine gives Vietnam a thumbs-up! Next I will try Hanoi.

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