I’ve been in Vietnam for about 7 hours now. I don’t know if it’s because I’m here with fresh eyes after living in Bangkok for 12 months or whether I can actually feel a change. I’ve got a LOT more to see in this country over the next few weeks but I like what I’ve seen so far!
Okay so I’ll give you a little bit of back story here. I teach English as a foreign language. Which basically means you get paid to live like a student in some weird and wonderful countries. At first I became a teacher so that I could travel. But I fell in love with teaching and the travelling is just a massive bonus. Anyway, as I embark on a 2 month trip, I want to share it with you. I’ve lived in Thailand for a year. More specifically, Bangkok. But that’s a whole different story. Technically, right now I’m a jobless bum. I’m just another backpacker ‘doing’ South East Asia.
I said an emotional “see you soon” to some fantastic people in Bangkok and I arrived in Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon) only a few hours ago. I met an English boy (actually I should probably say man) and after being absolutely baffled by the currency here (30,000 dong is about £1 so we’re basically millionaires) and staring out of the windows of our taxi in awe of the city as we weaved through traffic and saw more motorcycles than either of us have ever seen, we arrived at our destinations; him a fancy hotel and me, a backstreet hostel.
My stop was first and having already paid for our taxi (we definitely paid ‘tourist price’, the taxi driver actually covered the meter with a rag so we wouldn’t see how much we SHOULD have paid…) I really wasn’t prepared for the driver to chant “tip me!” at me as he heaved my 14 kilo (I need you to know this because this is the lightest I have ever travelled and I basically deserve a medal) rucksack from the boot. I was totally flustered and handed him a couple of rogue notes that I had in the front of my purse. He shook his head and only later did I realise I probably gave him about 10p. I just paid 8,000 dong for a bottle of water and I’m pretty sure that taxi driver got 6,000. Oops.
Something that is pretty important in big Asian cities is to know a local. Not necessarily an actual local but someone who lives there and kind of knows the place and knows how to not get charged double because of the colour of your skin. In Bangkok when people visited, that was me. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who lives and works in Saigon and he came to meet me, took me for some authentic street food and then showed me the bright lights of Bui Vien (the Khao San Road of Saigon) We had a couple of cocktails and I was gawping around at just how different the place is. It shouldn’t be too much of a culture shock but it really is! I try not to look too awestruck because that makes you stick out and scream TOURIST! But maybe this is the transition from local to tourist, maybe this is what happens. As I sipped on a pina colada (I usually save the pina coladas for beach holidays. I just don’t feel they’re right in cities. I had ordered a mai tai…)
I watched children going by on motorbikes, I saw food carts trundle up and down the street, I even watched a fire eater practising or warming up. And it hit me, Thailand was so alien to me at first, it took me so long to settle in. But now, here in this wonderful city I find myself comparing it to Bangkok. Bolton is no longer my “normal” Thailand is my go to comparison. It’s been my home for 12 months. I can’t believe it’s my normal. In the street on the way home, we witnessed more than one little fella practising hot cupping massage just in the street. Like right out on the pavement. And in a really weird way, that excited me for the next few weeks. All the weird and wonderful things I’m going to experience. I can’t wait!