Tag Archives: saigon

Biking in Vietnam

10 Feb

I finally got out on  a bike ride. 

We hit the Ben Thahn market in the morning where you can buy anything from snake wine to weasel coffee.  I’ll be bringing home some of that weasel coffee if anyone wants to come by and try it.  Just the smell of the roasted beans brought me to my knees and put my saliva glands in overdrive.  I’ve never smelled anything quite so delicious.  And it is delicious.

We then hired ciclo drivers to haul us to the other end of town to visit some Buddhist temples.  I booted my driver to the passenger seat while I took over the cockpit.

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I immediately felt right at home on the fixed gear single speed machine.  Well, for a moment anyway.

I thought I’d show off my superior American cycling abilities to the other ciclo drivers so I stood up to sprint. As I did I immdeiately lost control and just about dumped my passenger and myself into oncoming traffic.  The ciclos are essentially a really big 200 pound trike set up in reverse with a hinge connecting the front wheels to the back wheel.  They manuever much like those swing bikes from the 70’s which is to say they go in the opposite direction to where you think they should go.  When I stood up and started sprinting my ciclo got the death wobbles that got worse the more I struggled for control.  It took a moment to realize that what I needed to do was let go and be. Another buddhist move necessary for successful transportation in Vietnam.

After arriving in one piece I wandered around the temple bowing to people and chanting, “om mani padme sum.”  Everyone looked at me like I was from India or something.

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After half a day of pedaling in 90 degree heat nothing beats a nice bowl of pho bo and an ice cold Tiger for recovery.

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I’m Huge

9 Feb

In Vietnam anyway.  I never have to worry about getting lost in the crowd here.

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We spent the afternoon visiting Go Vap, one of the orphanages here in HCMC.  Can you believe this cute little girl is an orphan?  I can’t.

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Don’t you just want to pick her up and squeeze her? I did so, I did.  Far from being the depressing place I had imagined the orphanage to be it was actually pretty upbeat.  Most of the kids there were busy just being kids.  Yelling and smiling and stealing my sunglasses and camera and wiping their snotty noses on me.  I think they were mostly just thrilled to interact with someone other than the workers in the orphanage.  The number one thing these kids need is human contact.  To be picked up and hugged does more good than just about anything else. 

One of the action items being discussed on this trip is how to impelement a program where people can visit Vietnam with discounted airfares and hotel stays to make it affordable and spend half a day every day for a week or more interacting with the kids.  A hug goes a very long way.

There were some pretty extreme cases of kids with encephalitis that absolutely took my breath away and made me stumble. I wondered how it’s even possible with todays medicine that these kids can be suffering like they do.  Needless to say I didn’t last very long at all in that room.  I couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures either.  Its was too hard to deal with the reality of it all.

So, on a brighter note here are some shots of an incredibly beautiful city with great food, very polite people and lots of things to see and do.

View from stairwell in my hotel:

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Veiw from the Rex Hotel of downtown HCMC:

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Crazy man on the drums:

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I finally got out on a bike ride today and what a bike ride it was.  More on that later.

Ho Chi Minh City

8 Feb

I really, really wanted to ride a bike around the city.  I’m scared.  It Turns out I barely dare cross the street on foot.  A sea of scooters some with as many as 6 people on board.  Entire families busting around the city on scooters designed for one person.  Its scary just to watch let alone participate.

Complete and utter insanity.  I’ve been to a lot of big cities in Central and South America as well as most of the big ones in Europe and I’ve never seen anything like this.

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The weird thing is that if you want to cross the street you just step off the curb and go.  Paul from Paul’s Kids showed me around HCMC (that’s what you call Saigon if you’re hip) yesterday and the first time he stepped into traffic I lunged for his collar to save him from certain death.  Come to find out that’s how you cross the street here.  The scooters and cars just flow around you like its no big deal.  It’s a Zen thing I’m told and it helps to be buddhist.  Nobody yells at anyone or gets upset about getting cut-off.

I’m definitely not used to it yet so I make sure to keep Paul between myself and the oncoming traffic.  I’m into self-preservation.  Maybe I’lll give the bike a go in a day or two.