Walking Saigon

“You want cheap ride Saigon River”, is what the Rickshaw man is shouting, although it takes me a few minutes to work it out properly, his lack of front teeth and his very fractured English make him a tad hard to understand.  But I do get it in the end.  In fact cheap rides to the Saigon River seem like the special of the morning because it was what I am constantly being offered on my early morning walk through the streets, towards (yes – you guessed it) the Saigon River.

It is overcast, a bit misty, already quite warm, even at six thirty on a Monday morning, but not yet oppressive, that will, no doubt, come later.  I thought I might, just might, beat the Rickshaw boys by being out this early.  I really thought that I might escape the constant barrage of offers, suggestions and questions about where I am from; but no, silly me, of course they are there out and about touting for business as good self-employed workers should, they were clearly taught, as I was, that “the early bird catches the worm.”Mind you, this worm has not been caught, well not yet anyway, because walking is the thing and the actual destination does not matter.  

The square near the Ben Tanh Market
Traffic in the square near the Ben Tanh Market

I do not know about you but I like watching cities wake up, they are all different, and they all rub the sleep out of their eyes in their own special way.  Saigon sort of drifts into consciousness, it does not explode at a frantic pace like New York; it does not stretch, yawn and belch like Cairo and it certainly does burst into life with the very British bustle of London.  Saigon wakens slowly, sluggishly a little bit like the Saigon River that drifts slowly past but with a purpose and with a lot of people moving about.

The big event of the morning appears to be breakfast on the street, everywhere there are locals partaking of Tea, Coffee; both the hot and the iced versions or some other concoction that looks suspiciously like beer but I am sure is not, whilst squatted on small stools, or just on their heels Asian style (how do they do that by the way, and seem so comfortable); or sitting in doorways or even just standing around.  The drinks are very personal with each person having their own little pot or cafetiere in which they brew their own drink.  Then they serve themselves in their own cup, mug or glass; so they are not served as in a Melbourne coffee shop and it is much more like a home brew.  The food is a bun of some sort stuffed with a variety of fillings – or fruit.  It is all consumed at an unhurried pace before the business of the day begins.

As I walk things sprung to life all around me, lottery ticket sellers are everywhere, spruiking their wares at the workers, cigarette and postcard sellers are out and about pushing their products, working men head to work in an unhurried but purposeful way, while a few “working girls” (out late) hurry home, maybe they have to get ready to work their day job.  The traffic increases as I approach the river, the noise level also, as the car horns start up their almost endless cacophony, a noise level that will last all day.

Just step out - don't blink - just go
Just step out – don’t blink – just go

The traffic around the river is getting busy, cars, bikes, rickshaws, pushbikes and even hand pushed barrows all compete for space along the main road and I need to cross through it all to get to my (self-imposed) destination, the river.  So with total confidence I step off to cross the street, a Rickshaw Man (the one with no teeth) immediately jumps out between me and the traffic, to protect me (completely unneeded) is what he wants me to think but more to impress me is what I guess.

 Just a word about Rickshaw Man; he has been following me now for the 30 plus minutes that I have been walking and a single word springs to my mind: “sequencing”!  Matthew Reilly in his first book “The Contest” used the word “sequencing” to explain how the strange collection of creatures who were all involved in the contest could follow one another before the battle officially began.  They could not touch one another but they could follow; he called if “sequencing”.  It adequately describes Rickshaw Mans behaviour.

River reached I walk along the waterfront heading away from my hotel for 10 more minutes then I will turn and walk across town going home via a different route.  He is still sequencing me, his efforts to get me on board increase and they are becoming tiresome and wearying.  As I turn for home I reach into my Billy Connelly book of quotations and use his (and my) favourite expression for “Go Away!”  The two word expression, of which the second word is “off”, has the desired effect, he understands it, mutters something in Vietnamese, I suspect not dissimilar to what I have just said and goes; but we are fated to meet later in the morning; but that indeed is another story.

Slow moving traffic on the river
Slow moving traffic on the river

Through the increasing traffic and increasing numbers of people I walk, at a leisurely pace back to my hotel, the Sheraton Saigon, when I finally arrive the girl on the door greets my like a long lost friend, “enjoy your walk sir” is her question; “most of it” is my answer, “ but Rickshaw Man was a bit of a pain”.  She does not get it, of course, and just smiles sweetly and welcomes me into the blissful cool and relative quiet of the hotel lobby.

Walking Saigon first thing in the morning is great fun, quite educational and a good way to start to your day, just try to stay away from Rickshaw Man!   If that fails then perhaps put my Billy Connelly vocabulary, or your own personal equivalent of it to work first off; it might not be PC but it will get you some peace, for a while!

So its over to you – Tell us about waking up in your favourite city – and your experience – just reply here with a contact and we will get back to you or send us an SMS to 0479 355 566 – and we just may call and talk to you on the Travel Writers Show

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