Saturday, April 16, 2011

Arrival to Vietnam

These phone numbers were all over town.

Wall with interesting texture.

This past week was Khmer New Year in Cambodia, and I got the week off of work. A friend and I packed our bags, and hopped on the midnight bus to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. Cities I find hard to get to know in such a short period of time, especially with only Lonely Planet as a guide, so take this entry with a grain of salt (and note that several people I ran into thought HCMC was the highlight of their trip).
I can't resist a stray dog.

We spent two days in Ho Chi Minh City, and most of it was aimless walking in the city. The first day we wandered the parks, the tourist market, and finally the Jade Emperor Pagoda (especially gorgeous roof, and lovely light). Pho was eaten for lunch, but the non-beef version of a beef noodle soup was not as tasty as pho I had before becoming vegetarian. As night fell we slipped into a showing of the circus with a new friend from the hostel, half the acts were enjoyable, half were poorly done farce. Day two started out with serious perusing in the antiques shops, where it turns out I can't afford any. Afterwards it was to the history museum and the zoo despite my better judgment. Predictably, the zoo made me sad, far too little space for the animals. The history museum was alright, but not a lot of information was provided in English.
Inside a stunning pagoda.

The city was conspicuously clean in comparison to Phnom Penh, and there were much fewer people hawking goods or begging. Green space was abundant (including a park with a ride that made car alarm sounds.), most streets had crosswalks and traffic lights. Every moto driver carried a spare helmet for passengers. Aside from a few wonderful older buildings, the city was modern and plain, the neighborhoods blended into each other creating a constant stream of look a like buildings.
Fun colored crabs sold on the street.

I didn't personally enjoy the city that much, but I saw so little. There were lovely aspects to be sure, and there was the parts where everyone tried to rip us off (including changing our room price halfway through the night, bringing us things we didn't order and charging for it, and market prices starting at four times those in gift shops), but overall it lacked the vibrancy I want in a city. Even the market was organized with clear aisles, a sharp contrast to the stifling heat and condensed feel of markets in Cambodia. I suppose I found in the absence of chaos an absence of character. The city was fine, but it wasn't anything more than that to me, just a city, and a boring one at that. Luckily Vietnam had many other excellent adventures in store.

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