Thursday, November 27, 2008
I landed into Saigon by accident. Well, not really. My less-than-24-hour adventure was a by-product of my lapse in good judgment (this happens to people who don't read their e-tickets properly).
I flew in from Phnom Penh to Saigon with an unhurried and almost lackadaisical mood. I wasn't ready to go home yet and I was still nursing a major vacation hangover. I had thought that I had an immediate connecting flight back to Manila but when I approached the transfers desk, the lady told me my flight was not until the afternoon of the next day.
Immediately my brain kicked itself into this mode. This mental neuron-charged firework display of my self grasping the idea of a quasi-strandedness. I was giddy, excited, buzzed, and nearly broke.
Not the nearly-broke-like-in-college kind that you can skip the extra cost for another bucket of beer. This is the nearly-broke-scrounge-around-my-pocket-and-backpack-finding-nothing-but-loose-change kind of nearly-broke.
I had less than $40 all in very loose change. As soon as I got out of immigration, I looked for a tourist information desk and a nice lady helped me find a cheap room I could crash in and even helped me get a coupon for a taxi to take me there and fetch me when I leave the next day. I can only imagine how humorous it was for her to help out a dumb tourist, practically on her knees looking for money in her bag and paying for everything in loose US dollars, a smattering of HK Dollars, and even in Pesos.
When all was taken cared of, I zipped through Saigon with a friendly cab driver who did not speak a drop of English but was kind enough to point out places of interest I could go to.
I was astounded at how busy and mobile the whole city was. I've never seen so much motorbikes in my entire life. My cab felt like a lumbering piece of metal against the endless stream of bikes.
In the morning, I explored the city on foot. It was terrifying at first to try and cross the streets. I don't think these motorbikes would even stop for you. Getting from one pavement to another is a gamble. I soon got the hang of it -- quickly cross when a bike is approximately 10 meters away. Stop in the middle of the road. And do the same thing. Don't forget to look left and right constantly. I could almost feel the electricity when bikes whizzed by me on opposite directions while standing in the middle of the road.
A Canadian living in Phnom Penh told me that the state of traffic in Saigon is way better than in Cambodia. He'd rather drive his moto here than there. Vietnamese traffic had a more organized chaotic flow. One can at least be reassured that motorbikes here come in only two very sure directions.
Saigon was very interesting and its people friendly. I'm sorry I only saw pockets of it. I didn't even have a map with me while I was wandering. I'd like to come and visit and get to know more about it. Soon, I hope.