Greetings from HCM. The trip was long but not so bad, enjoyed the company of the people I was seated with, a 25 year old 2nd gen V nail tech from Houston on vacation visiting family, and a 14 year old 2nd gen V going back with fam for first time in 10 years. Had a nice Chinese astrology chat with girl from Houston, She and many of her friends are Pig babies and she had some nice insights. The flight was 15 1/2 hours from Chicago to Hong Kong, which looks pretty cool flying into. I was bummed cause the only in flight movie I was interested in the sound was screwed up.
When I got in everything was pretty smooth, the only hiccup was I missed the sign for me and wandered around the outside of the airport for a while trying to find Kevin and Peter. A fellow offered to call me a taxi then gave me his phone to call them and we finally hooked up after what seemed like a very long time but I am sure was only 10 minutes or so.
The hotel is very comfortable and nicely located, I had a hard time getting to sleep that night I was a little wired and slept a fair bit on the flight over. I enlisted the aid of kind old Johnny Walker and he finally knocked me out about 3:45am. I awoke to Pat and John calling me on my cell, which works here I guess, who knew?
I got up for the breakfast buffet, which is awesome, huge spread and plenty of tasty food to feed a vegetarian, thank God. I ate and ate and took my time, read the local paper, then went back to the room where I got the call that we will be picking Minh up Sunday AM. I had been Interested in visiting him before but that was not possible. The hospital director is at the beach on vacation. I called Peter and he said they had a busy day so he would come by Friday to show me around the city; Nesh arrives from Sydney 7:45 pm Saturday so I had some time to peruse the city on my own. I got my gear and decided to go for a walk. I, not a seasoned or savvy traveler, and naturally a nice guy, from a culture that does not haggle, quickly parted with more money than I had any intention of spending.
4 steps out the door a fellow on a motorbike, which by the way is the national vehicle, all under 175 cc by law offered me a ride. I politely declined Which served as no deterrent to the charming entrepreneur. He wore me down, and I hoped on the back and we went. There are Few traffic laws and there are some lights but mostly traffic is free flow with a fair amount of horn use. I think it is beautiful and effective but then I like anarchy and love scooters so I would wouldn't I. There are a wide array of vehicles but the scooter or small motorcycle esp the Honda Wave is dominant on the streets. They are everywhere and bleed onto the sidewalks. They recently enacted helmet laws but they are token helmets, and you see people carrying all kinds of things, palm trees, produce, petrol, rice, pipe, my favorite was the guy on the back of one carrying a full length mirror.
Our first stop was the Notre Dame Cathedral with the old post office. At the post office I spent far too much on postcards, and albums of old money. I was not mentally prepared for the intensity of the haggling. After the first one got me, more swarmed sensing dumbness. I said no thank you 45 times to the second gal, but she finally wore me down. Saying no that much did get the price dropped 75% though. The selling process was interesting, like with the first, when she quoted me the price I said I wanted less stuff and she responded by offering free stuff instead. Then after refusing they essentially switch to begging for the sale, talking about needing to feed their children, please help me being the refrain, the second gal even had a pout with every please help me and she probably used that line for 35 of the 45 no thank yous. The third girl. She got 5 firm nos, no eye contact and we rode away.
By the way did I mention that I got on the bike without discussing price with my ferryman? FYI, that is a good idea. He was a good fellow and we chatted, he had a fair command of English. We zipped around town and stopped at a small Buddhist temple, a couple markets, and then took a trek about 30km out of town to see the Me Kong river. We stopped and he ate lunch at a Pho place, which are everywhere. I wasn't hungry and you can't find Veggi Pho anyway. We stopped for petrol and headed back to the hotel. It was a nice 4 hour tour and he was a good guy, enjoyed his company and talking to him, but he asked for and I paid him $200 US which I should have haggled down. O well, did my part for the local economy.
So after recovering from the hot, dusty 4 hours of travel on the back of a motor bike for a spell, I set back out for a walk, a little wiser and a little poorer. I decided to strike out sans cash or credit, and spent the next 4 hours thoroughly perusing the block. There is an indoor mall with a supermarket on the corner which is cool and I found a few things of interest in the shops. The coolest thing was the Hindu temple around the corner. I hung out there for a while and plan to chill there every now and again. Found a cool stuffed pig at a north Vietnamese ethnic goods shop that I will definitely go back for.
That was all I had steam for Day 1, I walked back to the hotel and relaxed, vegged out and passed out about 9pm. I woke back up at 1:30 and stayed up for a couple hours and woke up for good 5:30 AM drew myself a bath, and had a nice leisurely breakfast from 6:30-8:30, a nice chat with John and Pat and then Peter called and we struck out to tour again on the back of his bike.. for free. Yay.
We went to a great Buddhist pagoda with active monastery that I loved and will probably go back to just hang out for a good long time to soak it in. A little oasis of calm in this bustling metropolis. Nothing else of great note. Looking forward to Nesh's arrival tomorrow and Minh's pick up Sunday.