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Saigon – it’s full

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Over the next couple of days we widened our circle in the city, visiting first the Green Emerald Pagoda. In the guide book, they described this serene, leafy, intricate temple – we came on a festival day and it was crazy. As soon as we were out of the taxi we were nearly mown down by scooters, pushed up against the bird cages and the vats of fish and turtles.



inside it was pretty incense

The Buddhists would have a nightmare here; as soon as you are inside, it is apparent what the little animals are for – they are there as offerings to the gods. Usually this means throwing them to their maker in a murky stagnant pit ironically called the “sanctuary”, without any apparent regard for the thousands of already dead floating animals amid those struggling to breath their last breath. The temple was almost as packed as the sanctuary; with the billowing smoke from the incense, the heat and volume of worshippers, it was looking like we were all in for our last breath especially when people started to collapse to the floor – when they got up we realised they were only praying. Before causing any more offence – we decided to move on.

the "sanctuary"

It was obviously going to be a day of watching suffering, because in the afternoon we went to the zoo, but not before the kids paid penance and endured the rather surprisingly brilliant history museum. The most memorable part of the zoo was that there were virtually no animals (thus significantly cutting down on the cruelty), and given that it was Sunday and very popular with the locals, most of the cruelty was directed at our  poor kids in the form of having cheeks pinched, hair tousled and photo’s taken. Not joking, this happened dozens and dozens of times. In the end Theo just growled at them, until he found his torch when he then just blasted them in their eyes when they came near – quite effective really and Kai and Elena just glazed over – but you do feel like an exhibit and it is pretty intense– I have very slightly more sympathy for celebs now.

we should have had a rebate from the zoo - we were the exhibits

On a different theme, I would like to thank the couple on the bus to Cu Chi for their train station advice. The downstairs ticket offices are packed and very slow, but on their word, I went up the stairs, climbed over the barricade into a hall that is now mothballed, turned right down a typical communist windowless corridor and at the end slid open a screen to find a little office where they helped me buy my overnight train tickets – thus saving at least 2 hours of waiting and a further 2 hours of struggling to communicate in the hall below – thanks again!

Other things that are opening our eyes – police bribes. Not that it affects us directly, but when taking the taxi back from the railway station, the driver was pulled over on, and before he was allowed to proceed he had to hand over 200,000 Dong (about £7). He was livid, but little he could do apart from drive off and take it out on his horn and any scooters that came too close. I gave him a little tip to try and cheer him up, but I think he was down for the day.

trip on the front of a rickshaw - he took great delight in driving against the traffic!

fantastic lights are the last remnants of Tet

With the New Year festivals of Tet over, Ho Cho Minh seems to be getting back into its stride and has filled up fast, gone are the flowers and relative tranquillity of the first few days of our stay, the smog and noise has returned and the city of motorbikes screams at you. Cholon – the Chinese area of town was so intense that it even made Bangkok look like a quiet backwater – you can hardly move, the shouting, tooting, screeching, buzzing is so intense – but I guess that is part of what you come here to experience. The other more positive part are the little gems you find amongst the chaos, the hidden places like the smoky pagodas (on the days when there aren’t the festivals), the sunlight streaming in, people wandering round in lines with washing up bowls full of offerings, the armfuls of incense which are recycled as soon as people leave the pagoda – it makes for a colourful sight. We just hung in the shadows and watched the theatre; amused and bewildered as people paid good money to buy oil in an old Pepsi glass, so that the priest can fill the oil lanterns, presumably to feed the eternal flame. He pours, they pray, the oil goes into the lantern – and straight out again via a little hidden plastic tube into a big plastic drum that is hidden from sight. That way I guess everybody is happy.

outside the school at pickup time - only slightly different to the school run back home

With Ho Chi Minh City and our tours, we have not yet found natural harmony with Vietnam in the easy way that one can feel an empathy with Thailand – it is busier, noisier, but also more suspicious, and in your face. Travelling independently is harder, the language barrier more intense and the place is more geared to extracting dollars in collective tours – thus making you feel like a tourist even when you are trying hard to just be an observer or participant. We are hoping that when we escape the city/tours, things will calm down and we can see what people are raving about.

Categories: Vietnam Tags: , , , ,
  1. Joe & Verna
    February 3, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I can see Jo on her scooter with three children after school heading down the high way.
    Once again a mind boggling wide mouth experiences……..

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