First thoughts on Ho Chi Min City

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I land at Ho Chi Minh’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport. With white marble floors and greenery everywhere it is fresh and modern and my case appears within seconds. I stop off at the currency exchange stand and change up my money in return for their Dong. The names of these currencies do make me laugh. Within seconds I have become a millionaire. A Dong millionaire but let’s not split hairs – 2.237 Million now lines my pocket although it seems ridiculous to work in such high numbers! I hail a taxi and I am quoted 225,000 Dong which sounds like an absolute fortune but is actually the equivalent of about $10, there goes my illusion of grandeur.

I am whisked through the city and 45 minutes later arrive at my lovely little 3 star hotel. It is perfectly located, decent room, nothing particularly special but it has everything I need, air conditioning being the main concern. I can’t help but grin as they tell me I am lucky enough to have been upgraded to a room with a window, I had no idea that no window was even a choice! I tell the receptionist I am very glad.

I drop my things, quick shower and out to explore in record time. Already, in the first few moments I can feel a massive energy pulsing through this city, it has a certain electricity to it that I crave to be a part of. I head of for the nearest bar – a good way to get a feel of a new City and the direction I take happens to take me past the market, it’s a stone’s throw from my hotel which is fantastic. I have learnt now from the previous places that the market really is the place to learn about the country you are in, they all have a certain sort of buzz to them and are all so completely different. This one is spectacular, a rush of colours hits me, like a rainbow. The flower stalls are overflowing with every hue imaginable, exotic fruits are being sold for pennies, and textiles drape from every surface in gold’s and purples and oranges. Lanterns float above my head, swaying slightly in the breeze, casting coloured shadows over the stalls and people’s heads. It is an ecstatic, energetic, tantalising mix that draws me deeper into its fold, I will quite happily get lost here for a few hours. Even with all this liveliness it seems nicer, calmer somehow than the madness of Bangkok’s market, I think because here people are smiling at me, wide smiles, twinkling eyes as if to say, here, see, come and enjoy what my stall offers. The other huge difference is there are no tuc tucs in Vietnam; instead there are motorbikes, millions of them.

As I stand at the side of the market, I watch a masked wave of people wash past me, weaving in and out of one another, engines revving, a cacophony of hooting. Some are piled up with goods such a water bottles, toilet rolls and a myriad of other things, it looks impossible for them to balance but they do. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it. It is near impossible to try and cross a street, the bikes are king, they seem to take precedence, not only to cars on the roads, but to red lights, lanes, direction, pedestrians in general, whether they are on a zebra crossing or not! It is absolute mayhem. It is worth visiting this city just to see and feel the total road anarchy. I love it and find it hard to tear my eyes away as every minute brings a new flood of bikes, I see a man coming round the corner with twenty chickens in cages piled up high on his bike. It’s utterly crazy and you have to be totally awake and aware because these bikes will truly come at you from any angle, I feel one whistle past me, the cool air hitting my face as he brushes my clothing. It’s terrifying but brilliant! The city is alive, reminds me of my first time in New York many years back – the energy level so very high one just wants to be out, to be a part of it.

I am also struck by how relatively clean the streets of Ho Chi Minh are. I mean, in comparison to Delhi pretty much anywhere would seem clean, but this place is far more modern and tidy than I had ever really expected, I see nobody sleeping on the streets, and with all the food stalls there is there is barely any food mess lining the pavements and more importantly no rats! I am pleasantly surprised.