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Once Around The Sun

22602 km


Southeast Asia! We've finally made it! Our second flight during this trip was sort of inevitable as my romanticised imagination hoped for an over night ferry from Hong Kong to Hanoi. However, there is no such thing and taking a train wasn't an option due to our expired (and single entry) Chinese Visas. Flights were much cheaper to Ho Chi Minh city, so it was pretty clear that we will start our Vietnam journey the other way round as planned, from Saigon heading north. On our flight I've actually realised another reason why I enjoy being on the road so much. Mariola stopped nagging me about being messy, tidying stuff after myself and cleaning in general. But she admitted she does miss my cooking... We have talked about it and is pretty clear (to me), that she wants to do all the cleaning from now on, in return for my delicious meals.

Ho Chi Minh, or as locals still call it Saigon, is from the first moment an exciting city. Buses run from the airport and are an inexpensive alternative to cabbies who really try to charge you as much as possible and a little extra. You've been warned! Turns out that locals practice tourist overcharging as national sport, however except of few occasions we got out quite lucky. So far...

The first challenge for everyone visiting Saigon for first time or after a while away is how to cross the roads. Population of the city is about 9 million and there is about 7 million registered motorbikes, neither the pedestrians nor the road users really understand the meaning of red light. The trick is, step out, don't panic, just walk at steady speed, traffic SHOULD flow around you. Disturbing feeling not just the first time, but always. Once you get past it, you'll more or less get used to the madness. Roads are full of motorbikes and pavements are where they're parked, so you have no other option but to join the slow traffic by the curb. If you've hoped for relaxed sightseeing in a quiet well organised city, stay away. It is very exciting though. Virtually non existent private space, so don't be surprised by people getting close. It's not you being irresistible, is the city and lack of space in it.

Again, we have scored a sweet hostel with great staff. That always makes a stay much easier and better. The best bit of it was the daily happy hours between 7-9pm, when each resident received 2 free beers. That was the time of the day when all met in the lobby. After few days we have came up with a motto for Long Hostel: 'Come for the bed, stay for the beer.' At the time we were there, our fellow travellers had same difficulties remembering others name, luckily all have improvised very well so Josh an English teacher from Boston became 'the old guy', not for his age, but he's been there longer any of us could remember, and so almost all received a nick name: tall guy, curly chick, guy with a tattoo, Polish guy, German couple... One day during the happy hour I've been sitting out front and when I looked up there was this guy who looked familiar. 'Brian?', I've asked carefully. 'Hey man!', answered the Texan. Unbelievable, but we've met Brian our last night in Ulaanbatar. He was looking for a party to share a goat head stew with. ...and a few beers of course. Quite surreal to bump into him in Saigon just like that. Top top this unbelievable meeting a few days later on my return to the hostel from beers with a Brian, there was this Swedish couple, Nina and Thor, who we've also met in the same hostel in Ulaanbaatar. I almost got dizzy, dream like surreal feeling, small world! ...and what an amazing coincidence! Maybe is time to play the lottery again...

Our good tourist check list of Saigon consisted of The War Remnants Museum, Saigon Notre Dame, Central Post Office, Bitexco tower, couple of markets with names that I wouldn't remember if my life depend on it and a 2 day Mekong delta trip. Yes, we have left out some 'attractions', but it was immensely satisfying just to walk the streets and watch life go by. ...and we need to leave something for the next time, right??!

An unexpected highlight turned out to be Halloween night, as locals claimed they do all the dress up and celebration for tourists, however they seemed to be enjoying the street party on Bui Vien the most. This party street was impassable, although many including us, have tried. I'm not at all fan of this holiday, but here it was somewhat bearable. Not just that, it was fun. It was all happening on the street, rather than closed rooms of a bar or club, and that I can do...


​© 2022 by JAN ROCKAR

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