Well I thought I had seen it all in Hanoi; streets packed with motorbikes, traffic lights a mere suggestion, pedestrians with nerves of steel. Take all that and multiply by 10 when you arrive in Saigon – or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now officially called. Rush hour is crazy and don’t think you are safe walking on the sidewalk – these are handy detours for traffic trapped scooters and motorbikes. Although it all seems totally crazy and random there is a certainly logic about the whole thing that I can’t work out. Walking down to the Central Market from our hotel I found that some intersections had traffic lights which, for the most part, were obeyed. However other intersections had no traffic lights at all but for some mysterious reason the traffic would suddenly grind to a halt – lined up as if waiting for the starting whistle. Weird.
Whenever we looked confused or doubtful coming to a street crossing the friendly locals would invariably offer to help. “Follow me” they would urge. “Stay close – sticky rice”.
The Central Market is hot, sticky and noisy but it doesn’t deter us from hunting down bargains. Will the T-shirts shrink in the wash? Who cares? It says Good Morning Vietnam (thank you Robin Williams) and that’s a good enough souvenir.
For a break from the traffic, the hooting of motorbikes, the heat, the shouting just step inside one of the many upmarket shopping malls in the middle of town. Here you find all the top name brands, Ecco, D&C, Gucci. The price labels are in the millions – Vietnamese Dongs that is – but even so converting to US dollars make eyebrows rise with prices like $800 a dress. Clearly this is where the affluent Vietnamese hang out – somehow I preferred the market where the goods might not be the same quality but the atmosphere and the smiles are indeed priceless.