Saturday, 26 October 2013

Saigon 12 years on!

I last visited Saigon in 2001! Can you believe it? That's so long ago. It makes me feel so old.

I was 20 and had spent 5 weeks travelling around Vietnam on my own. I started in Hanoi, then went on a tour to Halong Bay, did a 5 day hike in the mountains in Sapa where I stayed in villager's huts. I spent time in Hue, Hoi An, and Mui Ne beach when it was literally a fishing village with only one hotel, one mid-range guesthouse and one backpackers. I did a boat tour of the Mekong Delta - including visiting a tiny village with just me and my guide, where the locals thought it was hilarious because I was so big for 20! They also wondered why I didn't have a husband and could afford to travel, even as a waitress!

By the time I got to Saigon, I had literally about $40 left. I needed to save $20 to pay the airport departure fee, I also needed money to get to the airport. I spent $6.00 on a scungy bed in an even scungier dorm room. I bought a packet of crisps and beer for dinner, and stocked up on local cigarettes. So gross! Despite all this, I had the time of my life.

Fortunately, I've calmed down a bit since then! I like to think that I've grown up a bit too! I ended my wild ways some time ago and so hopefully I'm quite a lot more responsible.

Though my memory of that time is starting to grow a little hazy - I am getting on after all, and to be honest, there was a probably more than a little booze that dulled my memory - I can already notice quite a few changes since I was last here.

For example, there are a lot less motorbike touts. In fact, so far I'v only seen one. My memory is of being constantly followed by moto taxis!

While there are still a lot of motorbikes, there are a lot more cars. And new laws mean everyone is wearing helmets - basically unheard of 12 years ago.

There are also a lot more foreign restaurants, and right near our hotel is an amazing foreign supermarket. Though these kind of places were out of my budget before, previously restaurants were almost exclusively Vietnamese. Maybe this is different outside Saigon? Has anyone travelled recently?

Also, though I haven't seen a McDonalds, I've seen Pizza Hut, KFC, Gloria Jeans and The Coffee Bean. When I was on the backpacker trail, the rumour was that because there was no such thing as Copyright, chain restaurants didn't exist in Vietnam. There were no Maccas or any other fast food outlets. I guess like so many cities, it's become a lot more "international" as the big corporations move in.

Though these are small observations (I've only been here for a day after all!) I guess it shows that  continued travel is necessary if you are going to understand even a little of a country or culture. What you take from a place, and what you learn, also depends on who you are when you visit.

Never stop travelling!

Gone are my days of drinking cheap beer on the footpath. Not exactly toddler friendly!

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