Drugs and Hookers in Saigon
Following the fascinating discussion with the guy at Tulla Passport Control about how a nurse saved his life, I eventually boarded my midnight flight to KL and then onto Saigon. How things have changed in a year and a half. No bia hoi for a start (that is, cheap homemade draught beer on the streets) - unless u travel to the less touristic areas which somehow doesnt seem worth the bother! Also, since laws were passed last December, everyone now has to wear a helmet when riding their motorbikes. Call me old fashioned, but it just doesnt feel the same, doing the whole pillion passenger thing through the manic Saigon streets with an undersized Vietnamese helmet barely staying atop my oversized Western nonce! All in all, Saigon has become even more touristic and accordingly, slightly pricier. Still a bargain, but as a budget traveller, I do feel that it is my duty to complain and to barter barter barter to get the right price for everything, even if it means I am only saving ten cents!
I am staying at the same mini hotel in the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao (excuse the spelling if I am wrong) as I stayed last time. At first i wasnt sure, but then the sour faced and moody little girl of yesteryear appeared (the owner's child), having transformed into the scarily cheerful tourist tout eager to learn and practice her English. She passed me her exercise book as I sat at the doorstep taking my shoes off, to ask how to pronounce "crash". It seemed like a rather bizarre word to be learning, but having thought about it, I guess it is a word she would use a lot here, considering 3 to 4 people die in this city everyday in motorbike accidents!!
Saigon is steamy as all get out, seems a lot hotter than last time. My first day was a write off, the second was spent doing the usual sightseeing bizzo, retracing my steps. When I find a computer which will accept my USB key to upload my photo's, I will do so. Til then I guess words will have to suffice...
I headed first to Reunification Palace, which since being taken over in 1975 (when the communists stormed in with their tanks, officially putting an end to the Republic of Vietnam), has not changed a bit. Quite endearingly kitsch at times in its 70's decor and with the occassional stuffed tiger, the palace itself was built in the 60's. Even though the occassional area is out of bounds, it is possible to explore over four floors, plus an intriguing series of tunnels which were used for during the war, for communications etc., After this I headed to the War Remnants Museum, the name probably being a little more appealing to the Western tourist than its previous name "The Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes". Still, I guess the content hasnt changed much. Awesome photographic exhibits from war time photo-journalists, the obligatory planes/tanks/bombs/weapons display and then in the main exhibit, horrific photos such as that of the G.I almost cheerily holding the shredded remains of a Vietnamese national. Also in here u will find the wall of horrors, photo evidence of the long term damage done to the Vietnamese people by the use of Napalm and other chemicals by the Americans in conjunction with the South Vietnamese. Not very nice, to say the least. On my day of sightseeing I also managed to get to the History Museumfor which I didnt pay a dong, as I unwittingly wandered in the back door, checked it all out and then exited past the ticket seller at the entrance. Nice surprise (OK, so it was probably only about 1 or 2 dollars entrance, but every cent counts! Spoken like a true traveller!!)
I am now back in Saigon for a day, having spent three days in the Mekong and having done a daytour to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Cao Dai temple (both of which will be covered in another blog). The title of this piece refers to the ceaseless offers for ladies of the night (and day) and for drugs of all denominations! Mostly weed though. Last night as I sat at one of the few 24 hour cafes (which I have often passed at 7am to view the delightful sight of sozzled old Westerners downing a few early Tiger beers, nice!), I met Lisa, the English tourist who was probably the best advertisement for not just not taking drugs in a foreign country, but actually for not taking drugs! I mean, time and place, please! She was off her chops on E. Not very pretty! She didnt stay for too long though, which meant I could go back to my conversation with Doug, the Vietnam Vet from Brissie who suffers PTSD, who told me about sitting in the same alleyway in 1968 with the sky full of planes and choppers. His stories were absolutely fascinating and a nice bloke to boot. I am sure our paths will cross again tonight if i happen to end up at the same bar for a few farewell bevvies, as I am heading to Dalat tomorrow.
Ah, the peace and serenity of Dalat will be a pleasant change. Not to be harrassed every single minute by zippo sellers, tissue and chewing gum sellers (with the obligatory trained child in tow, arm outstretched), postcard sellers, dirty DVD sellers, Western newspapers sellers, shoe shiners, drug dealers, massage appropriators, cyclo and xe om drivers, plain old beggars (even those in monks robes) and pretty much anything you can care (or not) to think of. In Dalat I shall update my journeys as mentioned above. Now I am off to take a few more happy snaps whilst sweating profusely and refusing all offers along the way!