Gypsy Journal - Search for Journals Gary and Sarah Girotti/Jones
Southeast Asia, here we come!


Friday - 25 Jan 2002
Saigon - Vietnam

Top 10 list

Instead of our usual "we went here, we saw that", we thought it better to provide you with some helpful hints about Saigon for your next visit here :o)

1. The exchange rate as of today is 15,000 VND to $1. Just because 200,000 is a big number, think before you take money out of the ATM--that $12.00 won't get you very far.

2. The exchange rate may be 15,000 VND to $1, but the exchange rate with taxi drivers is whatever they want it to be. When in doubt, give them $1.

3. Road rules: there are none. Very important lesson. Solid double lines are to be used as a guideline only. Just because you are on a one-way street does not mean you won't have cars and motos streaming at you the wrong way. On rotaries, no one (or everyone) has the right of way, and he with the most a, cojones, or b, tonnage wins.

4. Road rules, part deux: If you knock three ladies off of their moto while in a taxi, just look bored as they yell and scream at you. They will give up when traffic moves again.

5. Crossing the street: Crosswalks are a waste of paint--don't bother. p.s. Breaks in traffic don't exist, so don't wait for them either. Walk calmly at a steady pace, right out into the street (pray to your diety of choice first)--no sudden moves or you're junk. The motos will avoid you as long as you're predictable.

6. Walking: Never, NEVER pull out your map and stop--keep moving at all times. Stopping will assure that you are swarmed by cyclo drivers, moto drivers, and small children selling you gum while picking your pockets. If you need to consult your map, duck into the nearest hotel or office building ("shelter buildings"), take notes on a small piece of paper, and head back into the fray.

7. Carry a torch with you at all times. When the power goes out (which happens often) and you're on the third floor of a rickety furniture store, you have a much better chance of getting out without breaking your neck.

8. Never take an elevator (see rule #7).

9. Blond girls and bald guys are a spectacle. Remember to never stare again at a monkey in a zoo until you've walked a mile in their shoes.

10. Construction: No matter where you are, whenever you want to sleep, someone oustide your window will be hitting rebar with a sledgehammer. Trust us!

We are having a great time, now that we've figured out the rules :O) We have one more day here, and then we head north on an overnight train, to the beach!! More from white sands in a few days!!

Saigon...the sites

Well, we survived four days of Saigon--after we figured out the top 10 list, it was a breeze!! The people here are wonderful--very friendly, as well as helpful. Hawkers abound, they're quite persistent but pretty funny. One young girl (about 12, who spoke great English) followed us for about 5 blocks, trying to convince Gary that he should buy me a fan, or postcards, or anything else that she pulled out of her pockets. He stood firm, so she finally swatted him in the butt and said "you cheap" before she flounced off to her next victim...classic!

Our first day in Saigon was somewhat unnerving--people were staring up a storm (apparently thinking Gary is a soccer star, and, well, I don't think there's very many blond/blue eyes in the area). The traffic was also quite hairy--it took us a while to figure out that you just need to step out into the street and walk at a steady pace, and they'll avoid you!!

Two friendly "cyclo" drivers took us for a tour of the city. For the uninitiated, a cyclo is a bicycle with a human-sized basket on the front. The drivers (many of them war veterans) will take you around town and show you some sites---mostly markets, of course, since they earn commissions for each sucker they bring in!

Our travels while there took us to the Reunification Palace, which is where the famous "tank through the gates" picture was taken at the end of the war. We saw a lot of the gates--they were locked all four days we were there, so we never got inside.

We spent an afternoon at the War Remnants Museum, a fascinating look at the war through the eyes of the photographers covering the war. It is both horrifying and moving, and goes a long way toward explaining the strained relations between the US and Vietnam after the war. As they say, a picture's worth a thousand words.

Our last day in Saigon was originally going to be a trip to the Co Chi tunnels, but we had transportation issues, so spent the day wandering the city--what a treat!! We found a wonderful municipal park, complete with rides for the kiddies and tennis courts to sweat your stuff. We got a massage by blind masseurs, who have been trained (very well!) in the art of massage---and only $3.00 for an hour!

Our final stop before the night train was at the Rex Hotel, a posh joint downtown with a great rooftop pool and bar. Travellers are allowed to use the pool for a fee, so we spent the afternoon swimming and sunning!

Overnight Train to Nha Train

OK, mortality has set in. We were so excited to take the overnight train---recalling journeys through Europe via rail...apparently 10 years makes all the difference!!

Our sleeper car was mercifully occupied by only the two of us, and our car was patrolled regularly by men in uniforms. The really annoying thing was that there were grates on the windows facing the hallway, so everyone could look in as we slept (until we got smart and put sheets up). It turns out that they have designed the foreigners' cars this way, so that they can check on safety!

The ride was relatively uneventful, horn blaring most of the time (just like the cars!!) Unfortunately we didn't get to see much of the countryside since it was dark the whole time, but we were able to each get a few hours of fitful sleep.

We of course ignored the golden rule of train travel, and arrived in Nha Trang while it was still dark (5 AM!) We were rustled off the train and hustled out into hawker hell. We finally fought our way into a cab with two other backpackers, and were promptly taken the LOOOOONG way through town to our hotel...past the hotels our cab driver wanted us to stay at (he would have gotten a commission!)

Along the beach in Nha Trang, there is a very large plaza, and when we drove past it there were literally scores of people, lined up and doing tai chi (sp?) There was music and talking blaring from speakers mounted along the road--strange indeed. It was a most surreal site, but apparently a daily ritual for the residents here.


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