Sunday, 26 October 2014

Impressions of Vietnam: First five hours

26.10.2014 klo NOON

So, I have been just under five hours in Ho Chi Minh City. In Vietnam. In Asia. !!!!!! And I feel I could write ten blog posts. I am sat in the lobby of my hotel, I'm allowed to check in in 45 minutes. My original plan had been to, after arriving in Vietnam at 7.25am, head off to the hotel (provided for me by my language school) for a good morning-nap (obviously not TOO long since I need to get a Vietnamese sleeping rhythm... but long enough to keep me alive for the rest of the day.) But, alas, no.
Got meself some dongs before the flight though
My goodbye-wavers <3
After a sleepless flight including three films (somehow films just all seem so mediocre when watched off a crackly aeroplane screen with only one earphone working... but I would recommend Divergent, and Pompeii was okay too (Jon Snow <3), The Other Woman was a bit of a disappointment). Then got to HCM airport, sorted visa and bags (about an hour, not bad going), and got the exciting experience of having my name on one of those pieces of paper that unknown people who are meeting you hold up at arrivals. Me and my charming silent little Vietnamese chauffeur drove through the town, probably about twenty minutes, to my hotel where I will be staying at least three nights now.
Plane food was scrumptious as always apart from sneaky bit of jalopeno there... :SSSSSSSS
After that, I wandered the streets for a few hours but at some point did get too claustrophobic and decided to escape back to the hotel. It is very DIFFERENT here and since I don't know how to act, and I'm constantly paranoid over my belongings and if it is EXPECTED of me to be polite and/or chatty to the salesmen, or do they find a polite 'no' as RUDE, or MOTIVATIONAL, or WHAT, that it does get a bit tiring. So now in the hotel with the good old fan blasting nice cold air. I am going to spend a fortune on water here by the way, despite it being very cheap... I am constantly thirsty. 
But let's try and keep this to the FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF VIETNAM during the first five hours. SO:

  • Motorbikes. Obviously I had expectations of the streets flooded with them. In actual fact maybe they were actually a bit more well-behaved than I expected. Saying that, though, I witnessed so many near shaves that I'm not quite sure if it could be worse than reality. Everyone rides a motorbike/scooter, including                                                                                                                                                                                                                         - people of all ages from miniscule baby (not alone though) to grandpa                                                                                                                                                                                             - you can have up to four people on one scooter/motorbike (so far), be it all adults, or families including toddlers, who are usually sandwiched in between adults or joyfully hanging at the front                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 - alternately you can be heavily pregnant and ride like half-saddle (what is it called? For ladies with skirts, when you have both legs over one side of the bike) extremely precariously on the back of your boyfriend's bike                                                                                                                                                                                                                           - and you don't need to be a human being to ride a motorbike. Stacks and stacks of eggs, stacks and stacks of juices, or random thingies like this...     
    What is it?
    Also note sandwiched child on bike behind the load 
    - and don't worry not if you are not on motorbike, the same lanes are valid for          
                           - bicycles
                           - cars
                           - vans
                           - portable food stalls with wheels
                           - wheelchairs 

(I am not kidding, amongst the bikes, albeit more to the side, a man pushing another man in a wheelchair)

  • Road-crossing is exciting. I have survived so far. Here we can put Conor's famous quote about road-crossing: “When in doubt, don't hesitate!” Walk over the road confidently, trust the bikers will dodge you, they are very used to it!
  • Eager 'motorbike-taxi-drivers'. This one is a difficult one for me. I have been brought up not to get on a motorbike (well any vehicle) with a random stranger. And indeed, if you are approached by someone dodgy in, say, France, beware of his dodginess. But here...? Motorbiketaxis are the way to go, I did find out doing my pre-trip research. It's normal here, in the same way as flagging cars down off the road as taxis in Russia. But I am nowhere ready to say to an eager Vietnamese motorbikist “sure take me wherever and we can fix the price at some point”. My main eager motorbikist showed me a notebook full of good reviews on him written by various tourists. Very sweet and cool, but also I remember reading scams about cases like this. On the other hand, I don't think it's a very high risk of getting physically hurt here by scammy motorbikists, just getting your money stolen. But still, I'm gonna do more research before venturing out on motorbikes. Maybe I'll make a friend first.                               
  • Paying an excorberant (how is that spelt?) price for a silly souvenir fan. Okay, 80,000 dongs is only about four dollars, so I like to think that I was just helping out a poor lady. She was cheerful and kept on saying “lucky!!”. Bless her.                           
  • Drinking three milk-based drinks in an hour. Strawberry-milk from shop, coconut 'juice' from café (SO EXOTIC), and amazingly refreshing mango-banana-passion fruit smoothie. OM NOM NOM NOM NOM. 
    A first!!! 
  • Taught English. I have taught English. True story. Random story. I sat down with my amazingly refreshing mango-banana-passion smoothie and soon this teenage Vietnamese guy came to talk to me. I would've been a whole lot more apprehensive but he also brought his incredibly sweet and innocent-looking small female friend (like, probably the same age as him but she was very petite and very, well, not-threatening). He was asking me many questions like where am I from, am I married (which very much weirded me out, though now I recollect clearly from all my Vietnam-web pages that it is normal for the Vietnamese to ask very personal questions as nearly a way of introduction). Then the chat proceeded to him looking up English words in his English-Vietnamese dictionary on his smart phone and asking me to explain them to him. So I did my best to explain words like 'engraved', 'concentrated', 'diffuse', 'divided', 'psychological', 'formed' to him.                                                                                                                                                                                                              It was quite weird to begin with, but then I started realising that maybe there is no hidden motive – this is as guidebooks and everything said, Vietnamese really want to learn English. So, easiest (and cheapest!) way to learn it – walk up to a foreign touristy-looking person and strike up a conversation! His friend spoke no English but sat patiently and silently for the half hour we were talking, and I started feeling a bit sorry for her, but no, she was completely happy, and clearly got her part of the deal done when, when I said that I should get going, the guy asked me if he could take a picture of me and the girl (for her), so we happily posed with the very Asian peace-sign and I felt very integrated into the country. :')
The smoothie 
Now I got into my hotel room :) So maybe it's time for shower and nap – have been in these same clothes and without sleep for nearly 24h now... I'm actually a bit scared to go to sleep. And wake up, actually alive and not ridiculously sleep-deprived, and still be in this surreal dream... Exciting, very exciting dream, but more than slightly overwhelming!

Now, do I trust the water in the minibar to be a reasonable price or not...



  1. All these cultural experiences and questions... One step further from the French experience. Toivottavasti ensimmäinen yö menee mukavasti. Ihana blogi! Odotan innolla vastauksia näihin kulttuurikysymyksiin. Haleja <3

  2. The Adventure Begins... Sleep well tonight, your first in Vietnam :)

    1. Ta ta was wonderful except air conditioning is starting to annoy me - too cold and windy with but too hot without! x(

  3. Interesting, Emma-Liisa, that you haven't mentioned the temperature. :) It sounds like it is OK. Is it dry or humid there? X

    1. Ummmm humid? It's hot, but a constant hot, and the sun isn't out THAT much (it's the rainy season). So, manageable, though I can't imagine enjoying runs in this weather!

  4. Nice pics sis. ps. I look like a chimpanzee