Motorbikes. First impression when leaving the airport in Saigon was accompanied by a roaring and honking sound as all of a sudden hundreds of motorbikes swarmed around us like a plague of locusts. We had never seen so many motorbikes in our life, criss-crossing ever which way it suits them to get were they want. Weaving between buses, driving on the wrong side of the road, random u-turns, hooning through red lights and driving along the footpath. I wished I had a pedestrian horn walking along the footpath when I was honked at to move as a motorbike tried to beat the traffic by riding on the side walk. As soon as one bike finds a gap a swarm of others follow in tow.
On the city streets again, surrounded by smiles. Many a young girl nearly falling off her motorbike to wave and say hello to the travellers. Children practice their english and energetically call out or stand beside us and stare. When just outside of the tourist trail, even by a few streets, the people are happy and smiling at us. Our old love Pho had returned and we were very happy to indulge in the myriad of herbs and broths. Cheap, tasty and leaving us with a warm glow. Endless vendors and shopping. Strange wine and potions with snakes, lizards, scorpions, you name it. Herbal concoctions for every ailment and every blockage of chi.
As we move closer in to town the cracks begin to show as we seem to have developed signs dictating our desire to give away money. The gardens are beautiful and filled with people playing strange games, so many variations of hackey-sack. A young man pushes a wheelchair through the streets with a baby or ungrown man with a giant head, unable to move. Children look at us and say ‘give me money’, even though their mother is walking behind them. A mother carries her hugely deformed child to the altar at Notre Dame cathedral to pray for help.
Propaganda billboards are presented in an old-world soviet style, large swathes of red and black. The glory of industry and the hammer and sickle. The museum, although propagandist in tone is very informative and interesting. Giving a celebration of Vietnamese culture as well as the glory of the war against the ‘puppet regime’ put in place by the US. This term is used over and over. The art gallery is beautiful, in a huge grand and crumbling mansion with little side galleries flanking the courtyard . Presenting a wide range of eras and styles it is a great show of Vietnamese artistry.
The rain is thick here, pounding us into mush and turning the air itself into water. A welcome respite from the oppressive sun. As was Dam Sen waterpark, which filled us with adrenaline and skinned elbows. The huge range of waterslides tumble us head over feet, shooting us spluttering into space. We ride together in rafts, backwards, forwards and upside down. Through strobing black tunnels and flying through the open air in exhilaration, respite comes floating in the wave pool gently rising and falling amongst a crowd of locals.