Lazily copied from my group letter:
Warning: Gratuitous group letter follows.
Hello, I’m sorry it took a couple of days to write – it’s been a pain finding an Internet cafe and a pain getting into any of my sites. My camera doesn’t work with the computers here, something to do with them being incompatible because they’re powered by steam. The screens on both my terminal and Janelle’s are flickering like crazy, which has the peculiar effect of making me want to devote my entire life to the Party.
First up, apologies if www.goldsounds.com isn’t updated as much as I would like (if at all while in ‘nam). I can’t seem to get through to it. [Barp! Can now – Ed]
The last couple of days has been thrilling, tiring and terrifying. We touched down on an airstrip enroached upon by countless shacks, presumably inhabited by the most tolerant people in the world. Customs was fairly painless, with the exception of me giving the wrong form to the wrong Official Looking Guy with a Machine Gun (there are quite a few of those here). The mistake was quickly corrected – by and large, everyone here is astonishingly patient and friendly.
We met an Aussie couple at the airport while changing our money. They were about to leave, and had followed roughly the same itinerary as Janelle and myself. They were full of helpful advice, and had the most amazing tans ever to fly back into Canberra. Then only slightly disturbing thing was their constant referral to the Vietnamese as “those little bastards”. Apart from that they were full of nothing but praise.
The cab ride into town was amazing – no seatbelts, and careening head-on into swarms of motorbikes, cyclos, and other cars. Some of the motorbikes were ridden by entire families, sometimes three generations on one bike. There are few road rules, and even fewer traffic lights. There’s nothing like the sight of a giant intersection with motorcycles pouring into it from all directions, and miraculously missing each other. It’s as if France went to war with Germany and mysteriously found itself in Poland. “What? We missed it?”.
Oh, and some of the traffic lights have a count-down. Yes, just like in Formula 1.
Day 1 involved eating and collapsing into bed at 7:30.
Day 2 we got up at 8:00 (on a Sunday!) and went straight to the War Remnants museum, about which nothing can be said that isn’t deeply disturbing. Cells, torture instruments, incredible photos, documentation, weapons, deformed foetuses. Heavy going, but well worth it.
Then we headed for Ben Than market, one of the largest in Saigon, and swarming with activity like a giant bee-hive. Live birds and sea life of every description, countless shoes and sandals (none of which fit me, with the exception of ghastly plastic-molded “Nikes”), jewellery, and of course fabric, hats, and clothes. I bought a very nice shirt and pair of pants, with some very useful fashion advice from Janelle.
Speaking of Janelle, without her help and guidance I’d probably have cholera, dysintery, AIDS, and an empty wallet by now. She’s a knowledgable and patient travel companion, of which I am reminded whenever I smash yet another lamp or stall with my gangly frame.
Oh yes, and the shirt/pants combo? $28. You’d pay over a hundred in Melbourne.
Next we caught a cab to a bar called I-Box, which far from making you want to lick it (http://apple.com), made you want to nestle into its cozy lounges and sip Vietnamese black coffee until they have to scrape you off the ceiling and close up. It reminded me of bars in Fitzroy like Yelza or Polly, but bigger and with local artwork all over the walls. Coffee there was $2.50, which in Vietnam is daylight robbery.
After I-Box, we walked back to the hotel to recuperate from the heat. On the way back, I spotted a men’s hairdressing salon that looked pretty swanky, so I booked an appointment for an hour hence and continued to the hotel.
I came back at 5pm for the haircut. Oh, the haircut. Ooooooh, the haircut. Well, not so much the haircut, which lasted about ten minutes; then the hairdresser asked if I’d like a shampoo (included) and a shave (an extra US$5.00). I decided to treat myself, so I said yes, and for the next hour and twenty minutes two perfectly lovely assistants shampooed me in ways that would make Burt Reynolds cough uncomfortably. Totally non-sexual (in that it only involved my scalp, chin and arms), but lordy, I’ve never been pampered like that.
After recovering the powers of speech and walking, I paid and headed back to the hotel, where Janelle had spent the intervening time spacing out. We headed out to find a Karaoke bar, a task at which we utterly failed. We did, however, find an Irish bar which contained actual Irishmen, and never to waste an opportunity to shelter ourselves from the countless rich and exotic experiences that awaited in the rest of Saigon, we settled in and got blisteringly drunk. Janelle wisely stuck to Gin and Tonics ($4.50), while I “graduated” from these to pints of Carlsberg ($3.50), and paid a heavy, heavy price for that this morning. It’s 3:30 pm, and I can walk again, and that’s what counts. The Irishmen in the bar were mostly engineers for Siemens, and produced from their otherwise perfectly intelligent and reasonable brains some of the most obscene chants I have ever heard. Bloody good fun.
Today has been something of a write-off so far, though we did book our domestic flights for the remainder of the journey – Da Nang/Hoi An (four days), Nha Trang (four days), and back to Ho Chi Minh city.
I will put photos up as soon as I have time.