Two Savages in Southeast Asia

Here Today, Saigone Tomorrow

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Another place draws
To a close, bright memories
Will forever stay

Happy Independence Day, American readers!

Tonight is our last in Vietnam. We made the not-especially-arduous-but-still-long drive from Phan Thiet to Saigon this morning, actually waking up earlier than it was possible to get out (the staff at our hotel weren’t up yet, and the front gate was barred, locking us in).

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh slightly disoriented by the daytime heat and the insane traffic at the periphery. While it was refreshing to be back in an area where scooters are accorded a separated lane of their own, the air around here is anything but fresh and we found ourselves missing Da Lat and the sea. We stumbled back to the Tam Anh guest house, where we passed our earlier time in Saigon. The kindly owner remembered us, and seemed shocked by my bandage and limp. She cautioned us to be more careful on the scooter.

We discovered that we had used our last text message credit at some point on the road, and we found ourselves unable to get in contact with either the scooter’s owner (so we could return it) or Quon (so we could repay Daniel). Fortunately we had the scooter owner’s email address, so we arranged with him that way. Also fortunately, there is a service online to send free text messages to Vietnamese phone numbers? So we managed to get the word out to Quon, too. They both swung by, we got Evan’s passport back, and our pockets are now lighter by $50 or so.

For dinner we wanted to try something special, so we combed WikiTravel’s pages about Ho Chi Minh. Somehow, WikiTravel has become our holy script for traveling purposes; everything written about in Lonely Planet has “jumped the shark”, but the things described by Wikitravel still seem to be relatively normal (read: their prices haven’t been jacked up for tourists and they aren’t jammed with white people). We found a place whose name literally means “the restaurant of delicious eating”; basically an upscale food court in which the food is made by independent vendors and delivered to you by servers. We hobbled over there, stopping through the park again to watch the kids play shuttlecock.

There are some things about HCMC that we didn’t miss. Vendors haranguing you from every corner. White people everywhere. Seedy alleys. Garbage. But it was also nice to get back to a land where there’s a method to the traffic madness, and where you’re not gawked at just for being white. It’s a balance, I suppose.

Dinner was acceptable, though nowhere near the best Vietnamese food we’d had. We spent most of our time sitting there feeling like complete asses for coming dressed in crummy clothes (all we brought on this trip is crummy clothes…) while the local people who could afford to eat there came dressed in nice dresses and dress shirts. Guilt was something we felt less in the countryside, too, because somehow out there we seemed to arouse curiosity and friendliness rather than a “pah, tourists” attitude.

On the way back home, we grabbed some squid ink sticky rice from the vendors outside Ben Thanh. We sat down to watch the martial arts club run their drills in the park, and we were again quickly joined by a cadre of Vietnamese students wanting to practice their English. We whiled away a good hour or two talking with them about politics, travel, the Chinese Zodiac, technology, and anything else. We learned that the Vietnamese university entrance exams started yesterday, and so every student of age is on high alert. We wish them all good luck! As far as we understand, there are about 1.7 million applicants who sit the exam each year, and about 1 million pass. So the odds are good, kids! Keep it up!

And now we’re closing the night with “Good Morning, Vietnam”. It streams off YouTube for free, apparently, at least in these countries. Tomorrow is our bus outta here!