Standing at the baggage carousel after touching down in Ho Chi Minh city, I hear a cheer nearby. This cheer is echoed by another further away. Not thinking much of it, I continue to wait for my baggage. Soon after there is another, this one even louder than before. Not knowing what is happening, I ask the lady that sat next to me on the plane what was going on. She simply said that they were happy about the soccer, evidently annoyed at the commotion that they were causing, I didn’t question her further.
Soon enough I am on the bus to the city, but not without drama as the ticket salesman tried to charge me ten times the price for the bus fare. You see the Vietnamese currency uses huge denominations. At the time of writing $1 AUD is worth around 18,000 Vietnamese Dong. I had researched this scam earlier, so realised that he was trying to rip me off. In my case the ticket seller tried to charge me 200,000 for a 20,000 dong bus fare. Soon the bus entered the main road and we were surrounded by huge numbers of Vietnamese on scooters. The volume of scooters steadily increased as we got closer and closer to the city. They too were celebrating the soccer; the whole city was celebrating. What had happened was the Vietnamese had gotten to the finals in the Under 23s Asia Cup for the first time in history. The bus had slowed to a crawl as we were engulfed by thousands of scooters, motorbikes, and SUVs. Each carrying riders bearing the Vietnamese flag; a single yellow star on a field of red.
As soon as I had found a hotel I hit the streets with my camera, capturing a slice of the excitement that had overtaken the city of 8.5 million. Through the night the celebrations continued; thousands of young men and women partied in to the wee hours of the night. They were dancing on the back of scooters, blared music from the back of trucks, bore thousands of flags, and conducted an orchestrator of horns, cheers, and trumpets. I was surrounded by a sea of red flags, yellow stars, and the strong scent of fuel. Never before had I seen so many people in complete ecstasy, it was a fantastic introduction to Vietnam and I was thrilled to be a part of their historic celebrations.
Over the next few days I explored the city. I visited a few tourists sites, but that wasn’t really my thing. I have been trying to define what travelling is to me, and I don’t think waiting for every member of a tour bus to take a selfie with a random monument is really it. So, rather than trying to check off an itinerary list compiled by someone that I’ll never meet with completely different tastes to me, I hit the streets on foot. I roamed through the warren of alley ways with camera in hand, capturing the daily life of Ho Chi Minh city. I took photographs of lane ways, scooter swarms, dilapidated shacks, colonial french mansions, ultra-modern sky scrapers, and Vietnamese people going about their daily lives.
A major drawcard of being in Vietnam is the food, described by Lonely Planet as being the best in South East Asia, though “Thailand May Scoff”. Visiting Ho Chi Minh is just the very start of my culinary trip and so only had the time to sample a few of their signature dishes. Nonetheless I tried phos, baguettes, stews, and an array of different fruit shakes. A pleasant discovery was the French influence on the Vietnamese cuisine, here you can find delicious original French food cooking fused with a Asian spin, a memento to the French occupation of Vietnam which lasted almost for one hundred years and ended in the 1950’s.
One tourist site that I did visit was the Bitexco Financial tower, an architectural masterpiece inspired by a Lotus; Vietnam’s national flower, as I wanted a photo of the sprawling metropolis named Saigon and Ho Chi Minh city. I coughed up $10 AUD to catch the lift up to the viewing deck and photographed the city in a gloomy haze.
I left Saigon on my fourth day of visiting the city by train, bound for Nha Trang. You can read about that here.
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