November 28th, 2016 – 11:22pm Saigon Time – Saigon Zoom Hotel
Last night’s beers had a bit more of an impact than expected.
Successfully waking up on the second attempt, we wasted no time having a quick cold shower (only to later discover the unknown light switch on the wall activated the water heater) and heading out the door for breakfast.
After a slight timing failure on our behalf, the Cu Chi tunnels trip we were hoping to take was unfortunately not in the cards for this trip – and although we were both keen to witness the infamous Vietkong ant field first-hand, the time freed up from our missed ‘tourist conveyer belt’ opportunity pushed us to come up with a new plan and set out on foot to explore the surrounding area. But not before editing the photos documented so far, accompanied by some shisha and an encounter with a Transylvanian named Timothy who spends his time traveling the world as a penniless hitchhiker.
A stone’s throw away from our hotel we witnessed the true essence that is Ho Chi Minh’s maddening traffic, watching hordes of scooters take off in every direction like bees from a hive. No seeming rhyme or reason other than teensy traffic lights seem to regulate the flow; and even at that they are hardly adhered. We learned quickly that crossing the street was an ambitious endeavour in which assertiveness is the most necessary requirement. Just because there’s a cross-walk doesn’t mean that traffic will stop for you whatsoever; a leap of faith must be taken from the curb to the road where a consistent pace allows the drivers to gauge your movements and navigate around you. Stuttering your step could be a real spoke in the wheel for this already chaotic environment.
In Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1, everyone seems to want a piece of the tourists; a cyclical relationship of dependency. Whether you’re walking through an alley filled with ‘massage’ parlours getting gripped at the wrist by the local girls, being solicited by panhandling bar hosts to come and enjoy ‘happy hour’ at any time of day, or venturing to the outer reaches of the district to witness the sidewalk sales of items that were likely pulled from the wrists and pockets of tourists, the area is fed by tourism in every possible way.
Bars, restaurants and neon signs line the streets, bustling at all hours and never dimming. Wandering the streets, two types of tourists appear to stand out (for the most part) – single grey-haired men with a penchant for paid affection and an outpour of millennials who self-identify as travelers and vagabonds with no real stake or claim in the world. The result of their desires is reciprocated by the city’s service offerings.
In the Western world, most peoples’ money doesn’t go far enough for them to live out their true desires, so they retreat to these less-favoured corners of the Earth to unabashedly unleash their inner selves. In this country you can quite literally become a millionaire or billionaire overnight (given that $1 CAD equivalates approximately 17,000 VND, or, Dong). But the other side of that is not a pretty picture when you look closely enough at the garbage-laden streets and self-offering teenage girls. Even children walking around by themselves selling trinkets attempt try to get in on the action.
It’s difficult to not feel a sense empathetic sadness for the local state of affairs clearly influenced by foreign currency; more specifically, the needs (however dark they may be) of those who hold said currency. Why else would you be offered marijuana and cocaine – the use and holding of such drugs which warrant the death penalty according to local law – at nearly every corner? What else creates the setting for such forwardly prevalent prostitution? Coming to these realisations, a sort of traveler’s guilt sets in, reshaping the approach to this country which has been trampled by foreigners throughout the course of their history.
Ho Chi Mihn City has proved to be a humbling place. Tomorrow we take our leave to the mid-country in search of submersion into the culture that we can only see trying to break through here, like sunlight on the stormiest of days.
Words by Baylan McGraw