On my way to Saigon…
I love Saigon…it’s a crazy, crazy place! Just looking at the photo above, you better have your wits about you. Crossing the street isn’t for the faint of heart. I recall one of my first conversations on my initial trip to Saigon last year. I was talking to another American tourist from Hawaii, and I will never forget him telling me how every time you cross the road you were risking your life. Well I wouldn’t go that far, but it is quite the adventure! You never know which direction a motorbike is going to come from, and, even if you are up on the sidewalk that doesn’t mean they won’t drive on those…they do, A LOT! One way streets, the hell with that, it doesn’t pertain to motorbikes does it???…haha. I can promise you this, a motorbike can come at you from any direction. About the only place you won’t see one coming at you is from above, and there might be a day when I see one do that too! Anyway, this story starts with my journey from Tan Son Nhat, or Saigon International Airport, through a tangled web of motorbikes, on to District 9 near the outskirts of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City.
I was very lucky the last time I was here in Saigon. I met some truly amazing people…and one of them, Ha Nguyen, was going to be my host for my two week stay in Vietnam. Ha is a really awesome person, kind, trustworthy, and helpful, and to help with our commute across town she brought a great friend of hers, Hoa Quan. The two of them met me with their bright, beaming smiles as soon as I walked through the exit of the airport. Relieved to see them so quickly in the crowd of people waiting outside the arrival area, we made our way across the street to their motorbikes. This would be where things would get interesting!
So…I wrote briefly in one of my earlier blog posts about my disdain for traveling with a duffle bag, something I tried on this trip, and have since vowed to NEVER do again! Now, it was going to become even more interesting…trying to stay balanced on the back of a smallish motorbike with it slung around one shoulder, weighing in at about 40+ pounds. Along with that scornful duffle bag, I had my laptop backpack, and my dSLR camera bag. I could already see in my mind the duffle bag with all that weight, causing me to lean to one side or the other, and down goes the motorbike! To say I was panicking a little bit would be an understatement. I suggested to Ha that I should take the bus, but she continued on that we would be just fine!
As our discussion was taking place, another young, fairly sophisticated woman rode up on her bike, parked close by, and seemed to be eavesdropping on our conversation. Once Ha and Hoa headed off to get their bikes from the parking lot, she turned to me, eyeing me with all my bags at my feet, and asked if I was seriously going to ride on the back of one of their motorbikes with all my stuff. I sheepishly grinned at her, and continued to assure her that Ha told me we would be just fine…with the most positive tone I could muster, while having my own reservations about this ill-advised trip across town. She kept muttering something about how I would be much smarter to take a taxi, and she was beginning to convince me of that too. As soon as Ha and Hoa returned with their bikes, I again suggested that maybe I should take the bus, or a taxi, but she was having none of that!
Hoa, having the bigger bike, was delegated with the task of getting me to District 9, and hoping I didn’t fall off! Ha put my camera bag in a compartment on her bike, threw my backpack around her shoulders, and took off while Hoa and I tried to figure out how to maneuver with my stupid, awkward, duffle bag. Then it struck me! I could put my arms through the two smaller straps you normally would use when carrying it with your hands instead of your shoulders. There wasn’t a lot of room to get my arms through, but I somehow managed to put it on like a backpack, and tentatively slid on to the back of Hoa’s bike.
We were finally headed down the road! I felt just like Easy Rider did in the movie (to the younger generation, you need to watch that movie, it’s a classic). Okay, I might not have felt EXACTLY like they did. Yeah, I was on a smallish motorbike, they were on Harleys, I was on a crowded road, they were riding across the United States, soooo I might be lying just a little bit…and the duffle bag was kind of taking some of the coolness out of it, along with giving me a little bit anxiety with the possibility of falling over, but what the hell, I WAS cruising through Saigon on the back of a motorbike, that was actually pretty cool!
I can promise you, if you ever get the chance, the opportunity to be traveling through the chaotic, EXTREMELY crowded, busy streets of Saigon, it will give you a rush, I can ABSOLUTELY promise you that! I have to say, it was one of the most amazing evenings of my life. I truly will never forget the experience! Thank you Hoa for being the excellent driver you were, and for getting me safely to your, and Ha’s home. For all my friends out there that have traveled the streets of Saigon on motorbikes, you know the feeling!
After about an hour on the back of the bike, we arrived to our destination, and were welcomed with some delicious fresh duck soup. Dinner was followed with a walk through the quiet streets of District 9, where a tourist like me is not very often seen. There is nothing like getting the opportunity to stay in an area that is so traditional, and so authentic. I could already tell I was in for an amazing, life-changing experience, socially and culturally. Stay tuned, I have so much more to write about on my two weeks here in Vietnam…I hope you enjoy my continuing stories!