The border crossing was pretty straight forward. The change of scenery between countries was quite noticeable. On the Cambodian side, the Mekong delta was rather wild, with swamps and not much happening in terms of industry. On the Vietnamese side on the other hand, the land all seemed to have been put to good use, and we started spotting the stereotypical workers with their cone shaped hats on the rice fields. Buildings sprawl for a good 50km around HCMC, and the traffic certainly picks up considerably, slowing to a crawl the closer you get to the centre. The bus dropped us off about 3km from the bus stop where we had to catch a local bus to district 8, where our couchsurfers home waited. The walk was quite fun, as HCMC is very much alive and full of commerce of all sorts and smiling faces. After about 2km we hit tourist town, with its bars, clubs, restaurants and craziness. By the time we made it to the bus station the last bus to our destination had already departed, so we had to jump on two motorbike taxis to make it to our final destination. It is one thing to see the traffic while walking, and a whole different story to be part of it. Our drivers were very experienced so it was a lot of fun to join the madness…
I was very lucky to have the only request I sent on CS accepted by a lovely Russian couple with a troublesome and gorgeous little kid. We were quite tired when we arrived but it was awesome to immediately feel right at home.
The following morning we slept in a little bit and woke up to a quite home – everyone had left early. We had already discussed our plans with Andrey, who recommended a few places we should not miss. We headed east and soon found a local park full of white animal sculptures and a few traditional homes. I found the contrast between them and the surrounding buildings quite interesting. Later on we came across a Harley Davison shop and did our best not to drool on the sexy bikes for sale…
The first stop was the local market, where we found a few fruits and cuts of meat we had never seen before, that we have not yet managed to identify (and in the latter case, didn’t want to). We picked up some vegies to take advantage of the kitchen and make a meal. The market was not too big, but the produce was fresh and the locals quite lovely.
We kept walking around, enjoying this bustling city and all it has to offer. We stopped at a gorgeous little café for some famous Vietnamese coffee and to escape the heat for a while. A few shops caught our attention here and there, and we checked some out, admiring the craft style and the variety of products in offer. We eventually visited two different supermarkets, comparing prices and getting ready to cook something delicious for our hosts. We chose a small road to take us back home, and fell into the daily rhythm of the locals.
The next day we set up to explore the city centre. The first challenge was finding the bus stop, but with a little bit of help from natives we did that promptly and were on our way. We were amused to notice how efficient the bus boy (that collects the fares) was. After so long in SE, where most workers spend 90% of the time on their phones and are really good at avoiding responsibilities, seeing this man work was delightful. We kept noticing a similar pattern anywhere we went: Vietnamese work ethics, as far as we observed, are vastly superior to those of the neighbouring countries.
Once in the centre, we walked around a few parks and visited the local tourist trap/market. I stopped to ask about a sports bra at a shop and almost did not make it out alive. It was insane. Another difference we quickly noticed, the locals have no inhibition towards putting their hands on you, and I came rather close to using Aikido to get one of the sellers to let me go after being denied freedom three times…Eventually we escaped and continued on our way. A coconut vendor befriended us and let us take photos with his gear. He seemed rather disappointed when we still did not want to buy a drink off him 😛
We strolled around exploring different areas, and we only sat down for a few minutes to have an iced coffee at a local stall. The amount of government propaganda that crowds the billboards surprised us greatly, and as we paid closer attention we found more and more of it everywhere. Eventually we stumbled upon a gigantic colonial building, accompanied by a marvellous statue of the revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh. Lastly we encountered the waterfront, adorned with hundreds of flowers, getting ready for the spring festival to come.
That night we enjoyed a marvellous dinner with our hosts and a friend of theirs that had come to visit and brought a lot of fun and crazy products from their home country, Russia. We were lucky to taste some of that countries cuisine, including the ever popular buckwheat. We exchanged stories and played some music. It was a lovely night.
The following day we all had a late bus to catch, and Tim and I decided to enjoy the building facilities. We got a free entry card to use the pool and gym, so we spent the day lazing around in the sun and punching bags. For dinner we made a big pot of chilli and later we shared a taxi into town with our hosts, to take an overnight bus to our next destination: Da Lat, the flower city.