Current tunes: Meghan Trainor- “All About That Bass”
Vietnam is turning me into a new woman and a risky one at that. I mean I’ve always considered myself adventurous, but a risk taker? No, I’ve always erred more on the practical, rule following side. And I owe much of this to my mother. She was very adamant about instilling an instinctual sense of safety in her daughters. This began at a young age and was practiced whenever we would go out of the house. Ya know, usually to some very threatening place like the local Kmart down the street from our house. I can still hear her chant the rules to remember whenever we started to feel what she calls that “ uh oh feeling.”
1) “Never, ever leave the building if you get lost…unless it’s on fire.”
2) “Only trust people in uniform or those with a name tag.”
3) “Always call me for help, even if you think you’re going to be in trouble with us. I will come get you, I don’t care where you are.”
Well I must admit these first few days of my trip to Vietnam, starting here in the thriving metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City (previously known as Saigon), have been filled with a few “uh oh” instances.
It all started with my pick up from the air port. I landed at 11:35pm and by the time I got in line for my landing visa, went through immigration, and pushed through customs it was close to 12:30 in the morning. Luckily my awesome Danish travel buddy for this trip, Mette, had arranged for our hostel to pick me up as her flight had landed earlier in the day. I walked out into the humid night air and was met by a large crowd of staring locals. Then I spot an elderly Vietnamese balding man standing with a piece of printer labeled “MIRIAM” in black sharpie. I wave and smile as he beckoned me to follow him across the street. I attempt small talk and quickly learn this man does not speak a lick of English, so I keep repeating my hostel name, “Town House 50 Saigon?” and he just continues to nod silently. Well, I just broke rule number one. I had left the safety and security of the building. (And there was no fire…just in case you were wondering, Mom).
We arrive at an old white compact Kia that looks and smells like it had lived a very busy and tired life as an automobile. I can’t find any signage or label indicating he’s associated with a hostel, but I am really at a loss of what else to do. So I give him a once over and then a pep talk to myself: “Come on, you could take him. He’s got half your percentage of body fat and has only an inch or two on mom.“ (FYI, my mother is 4’11). So I get in. Rule number two down the drain. Only trust people in uniform or name tag. Whoops.
As we drive into the dense city traffic (side note: I don’t know when Vietnamese people sleep because the streets are always filled…ALL THE TIME), I hold my breath as we swerve in and out of the sea of motorbikes. Motorbikes are the most common mode of transportation in Ho Chi Minh. Anyways, I’m starting to really wish I hadn’t packed the pink pepper spray key chain my sister gave me in the very bottom of my travel pack. “Jesus, please let him not be taking me to a rapist hut in the countryside, please,” I silently pray. This is when the call your momma number three rule begins to surface and scenes of the movie Taken start to flash across my memory. Sorry mother, I really did think about calling you, but at this point I think Liam Neeson is the only person that can help me now. But then the car stops in front of an alley and my driver points to a blinking sign at the end of the darkness reading, “Town House 50.” Hallelujah! I’d never been more excited to see a dark alley way in my life.
Needless to say, I made it safely. And the Town House 50 Saigon hostel was fantastic. Free fresh breakfast, ice cold A/C in the rooms, and a super helpful staff. All for 255,700 Vietnamese dong! Which is about 12 American bucks a night.
However, I must admit this was just the beginning of my new life on the edge. For example, take the simple task of crossing the street. Remember the video game Frogger? Ya know, the one where you’re the frog that is trying to safely cross the busy highway without getting squashed into amphibian roadkill? Well it’s like that except you don’t get three extra lives. Imagine swimming perpendicularly to a huge school of anchovies. It took me a solid day or two of indecisively jumping back on and off the curb as I wandered the city. One time, Mette and I actually waited about ten minutes at a crosswalk trying to cross the street. A local finally took pity on us and guided us through the mayhem. But now I’m pleased to announce I can cross just fine solo. It’s actually kind of like a fun challenge and every time I make it across the street alive I can’t help but feel like a champ.
Other than fearing for my life, my first few days consisted of exploring the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh, haggling at the popular Ben Thanh Market for dried mangoes, huge roasted cashews, and bracelets. Just in case you were unaware, all backpackers, men and women, must not be braceletless. I’m not sure why. We just do.
Mette and I also took a day trip to the Mekong Delta. The Mekong River actually runs through six South East Asian countries including China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. This river has many channels and tributaries filled with fishing boats, floating markets, and wildlife. Our tour consisted of several boat rides, visiting Unicorn Island, honey and rice wine tasting, watching the coconut women of the Ben Tre Province make the famously delicious coconut candy, and eating at a local riverside cafe that had a menu complete with crocodile, squirrel, iguana, and turtle options. We finished the day by meeting up for dinner and a stroll with a friend from my hometown (it’s Nathan Anderson to all you Kingsburgians who are reading this). He is in the Marines and has been stationed here for about nine months or so. It was nice to see a familiar face and to be shown around by some one who knows their way around the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City.
Now I’m continuing my life on the edge by riding on a large sleeper bus for a five hour drive to the backpacker beach town of Mui Ne where kite surfing is all the rage. The sleeper bus is pretty cool considering all the seats recline and there are two levels. Kinda reminds me of the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. Well minus the talking shrunken Jamaican heads, of course. But watch the video of my driver below. He really likes to multitask and if I was smart I’d probably insist on getting off the bus. But instead I’m going to embrace the new risk takin’ me and pray that I make it in one piece…
This was a bit of a long post so thanks for reading even though I bet some of you are now questioning my sanity or the way I rationalize my choices. But let’s be real, I think a good handful of even my closest friends have already done that!
Cheers and keep on wishin’,