a very brief…Saigon, Day Three (pt 1)

This may not be the most detailed or comprehensible of posts: we have just returned from a 2-day tour of the Mekong Delta with a busload of obstreperous exchange students, followed by a lovely, and long, and wine-enabled dinner at one of Saigon’s better French restaurants, and are about to jump a night train up to Da Nang.

I am, in short, battered, fried and salted.

Day three began with us making our way over to Sinh Cafe again to book our tour to the Mekong, as they’d done a reasonable job with the Cu Chi trip. That accomplished, most of the rest of the morning was spent writing up the last two posts and catching up on email at a local internet cafe. The cafe itself is of some note: hosted in the lobby of one of Pham Ngu Lau’s backbackers hotels, it appears to be sitting on one of the few actual T1-class connections in all of Viet Nam: I was able to download a copy of Putty at nearly 768kbps, which is unheard of here. Geek digression ends.

After email, we headed over to Cholon, Saigon’s Chinatown, to check out the market and a few pagodas…

…by cyclo. One of the more insistant cyclo drivers had cornered us as we made our way toward the internet cafe, and I’d tried to brush him off by saying “We’re checking our email now, maybe later.” Foolish, foolish me, this meant of course that he and a friend were both waiting for us when we stepped out 90 minutes later. Figuring that I’d been made and that we might as well try it anyway, we spent some time haggling out a price and then climbed in and headed off.

Taking a cyclo in Saigon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, both in the sense of uniqueness and in the sense that you could very easily die a spectacularly messy death at any instant along the way. A cyclo is basically a (somewhat) padded seat mounted on the front of a three-wheeled bicycle, so as you are pedalled along, there is nothing but air between you and the sights of Saigon…prominently among them the enormous waves of oncoming traffic, all of which is moving quite a bit faster than you and often at cross angles or head-on. I took several very good “here, I am about to die” photos from this vantage.

Miranda’s driver spoke fairly good English and was able to answer many of her questions as we drove around, but sadly mine was…not so adept, and indeed seemed to have at best a set of about ten stock English phrases to use: by two minutes into the trip I’d learned that he’d fought for the VC during the american war, and that he had many friends (customers) from all over america, and that he had two children, a boy and a girl, and that he was very happy to be working as a cyclo driver. Twenty minutes later, despite attempting to draw him into discussion on the traffic, landmarks, climate etc etc etc, I had been informed of those facts several more times over, and I eventually gave up.

Still, the trip was more than worth it, because Cholon is completely off the hook. As frenzied as downtown Saigon is in comparison to anywhere in the states, Cholon is that much crazy yet again compared to downtown Saigon. The density of people, scooters and trucks was easily twice to three times that of the rest of the city, and every single available square inch of space on the streets was taken up by some kind of shop, hawker or food stand.

We started out at the Cholon central market (which has a precise name that I am forgetting at this instant, and my notes are not at hand), which was laid out in a series of square buildings around a central courtyard. We found here Saigon’s Shoe Event Horizon: one entire quarter of the market seemed to be devoted to nothing but shoe stores, although mostly of the practical sandal/thong variety.

(…argh, perhaps not so brief. To be continued: we must head over to the train station in the very near future.)

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