Once we had our fill of beautiful mountain roads and coffee we made our way back onto the Ho Chi Minh road and headed for the big city at the end that it was named after. Riding into Ho Chi Minh it became apparent how massive the place was. We had hit the edge of the city an hour ago and we were still yet to find the centre of it or rather district 1 which is the main area of Ho Chi Minh where the tourists hang out. We did not need to check our map or guide book to make sure we were in the right place as the row upon row of bars and tourist shop burger kings and subways made it pretty clear we were in the tourist part of town! As soon as we pulled up we were pestered by local mechanics offering to buy our bikes off us for a ridiculous low price. We told these guys where to shove their US dollars and made our way to a guest house that wasn’t already bursting at the seams.
The dorm we eventually found had some great characters staying there. There was Peka a Finish guy who was obsessed with coffee he worked as a barista and was very passionate about the stuff. He also fell victim to the local criminals when he he sat down in a park with his day pack on the bench right next to him, when he went to leave 10 minutes later his bag was gone! Tourists in Ho Chi Minh were definitely being preyed on on by these sneaky criminal predators. Another Dutch guy called Walter was coming home a little worse for wear after drinking the incredibly cheap beers on offer (30 pence a bottle) when he was stopped by the local prostitutes, one of them grabbed his dick and during the distraction another one grabbed his I Phone right out of his pocket. It wasn’t until he got back he released it had gone. The same thing happened to a huge Croatian guy who insisted we call him T as his name was to difficult to say. We heard that 2 other guys had been robbed who were staying in another dorm in the guest house and this was all on the first day!
With all this in mind I kept my wallet close and camera safely stowed away in the guest house. Apart from the imminent danger of being fleeced for all but the clothes on your body Ho Chi Minh was an amazing place if you had your wits about you. There was a street known as the beer street where by day it was your usual street packed full of touristy shops selling paintings, clothes and the general crap you only buy when drunk, a new age hippy type or you just have bad taste. By night this place is transformed into a street of drunken debauchery. There is a sea of small plastic chairs that start at the shop fronts and spill out onto the road this runs near enough along the whole street and everywhere sells beer for 12,000 VND which is about 30 pence! The places selling beer stay open until the last person leaves! The street is an incredible place for people watching. There are fat old men picking up Ladyboys and young girls, drunks stumbling around and crashing into a sea of people and plastic chairs, a constant passing of street food vendors selling all the delights found across the whole of Vietnam. The street had a carnival atmosphere about it especially when you had kids spitting fire, chewing on razor blades and putting live snakes up their nose and then pulling them out of their mouths! All this goes on amongst the constant flow of motorbikes that stream down the road narrowly missing the small plastic chairs that slowly make their way further into it. I mentioned the beer joints close when the last person leaves however on a couple of nights we had to be asked to leave as the shops needed to reopen! It is very easy to lose track of time here!
Whilst in Ho Chi Minh I thought it a good idea to check out the war museum as I know very little about the Vietnam war and after my time in the museum I still knew very little about the Vietnam war other than how bad the Americans were. They definitely focused on the American involvement rather than the facts. They had an insightful array of photographs from some of the great photojournalists such as Robert Capa who was sadly killed during his time covering the conflict. There were many gruesome images of the atrocities committed by the Americans that I shall not go into detail of and some even more shocking imagery of the affects caused by the chemical warfare they used called agent orange that caused gruesome deformities that still affect people three generations later. The most shocking thing I learned was that more bombs were dropped by the Americans during the Vietnam war than all of the bombs dropped during the first and second world war by both sides combined!
With Ho Chi Minh being the biggest city in the whole of Vietnam there was a great selection of wonderful and bizarre foods, I ate some of the tastiest and cheapest food here as well as some of the weirdest like a duck egg with a developed fetus with soft feathers on it. I ate some huge snails, frogs legs snake and maybe some dog but I can’t be sure. Ho Chi Minh was a city I could never be bored of but my days here would have to come to and end soon as the watery landscapes of green fields and sleepy villages in the Mekong Delta came calling.