Sunday, February 14, 2010

Feb 11th – Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is hot, noisy, overcrowded, vibrant, exciting and wonderful – it's a place we love visiting, but would never want to live here, it's just too chaotic.

In my lecture, I'd been telling the guests how warm and friendly the locals were, but I'd forgotten to say that they should probably discount their first encounter with a local – trying to get a reasonable taxi fare into town. They come up with all sorts of ruses to overcharge you, but if you stand firm and pretend to walk away, you can get them down from their initial offering of $20, to a more sensible $3 or $4.

Once in town, we went to the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, housed in a beautiful neo-classical palace, built by the French at the start of the 20th century. Inside this grand statement of colonialism, there's a fairly dry set of exhibits detailing the city's struggle against foreign occupation. It's interesting to try to imagine what scenes its elegant ballrooms would have witnessed in the glory days of the French Empire.

We then risked life and limb crossing HCMC's dangerous roads, to make our way to the city's most famous market, the Ben Thanh Market, an Aladdin's cave of knock-off goods, where I negotiated myself a good price for a new Rolex. For a watch whose slogan is "perpetual" – it only took 8 hours for it to stop!

We then had another fun encounter with a taxi driver on the way back to the ship – having finally agreed a price before we set off, he tried to put it up 3 times by the time we arrived.

In the evening, we joined a shore excursion for a night out in town. We had drinks on the rooftop terrace of the famous Rex Hotel (where all the journalists stayed during the Vietnam War), then ate a delicious Vietnamese meal at Maxim's restaurant. Lovely!

On our way back, the crowds on the street and the traffic had to be seen to be believed (it was 3 days before Tet (Vietnamese New Year), so the views from the coach were an experience in themselves.