Ho Chi Minh CityThursday, 7 April 2005
To get to Macau by the evening of 17 April is definitely going to be a race but until today I haven’t felt rushed. I’ve only had to do one overnight train trip and I usually have the morning or afternoon (all day yesterday) to look around. It’s actually felt quite relaxed.
Today should have been as well. Now the road to the border is improved I figured on about five hours to Ho Chi Minh City (aka HCMC, aka Saigon). I didn’t figure on a leisurely lunch stop (at 10am), a very slow hour to cross the border and then the bus actually breaking down, leaving us cooking in the midday sun for an hour while they fit a new fan belt.
When I finally get to HCMC I quickly discover none of the trains north leave at convenient hours. So I’ll push on tonight, taking the 11pm train to Nha Trang. I even manage to get a soft sleeper.
There’s still time for a look around, a quick visit to the War Remnants Museum (aka the Museum of Chinese & American War Crimes), a stroll by Reunification Palace (where the North Vietnamese tank crashed through the front gate back in April 1975), past the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the incongruous old French town hall. I arrive at the Rex Hotel in time for a sunset beer at the rooftop bar.
The amazing thing about traffic in HCMC is not the sheer volume (it is busy), but the overwhelming ascendancy of the motorcycle. There are bicycles too, but the ratio feels like 10 cars to 10 bicycles to 100 (or 1000) motorcycles. And they never stop. When roads intersect the cross-traffic just slows, merges in, flows through and pops out the other side. It’s been suggested that riding motorcycle taxis is like an extreme sport and, as we race back through the night-time traffic to my hotel, I hate to admit that it is strangely addictive.