The motorbike races of Ho Chi Minh

Despite my 2 1/2 hour wait in Immigration at BKK, I was only meant to be in Thailand for twelve hours in total. I was able to get some sleep, eat breakfast at the hotel on the rooftop and watch planes fly overhead, and then move on to Vietnam.

After a very short afternoon flight to Ho Chi Minh, I was finally hanging out in the city I’d meant to visit two years ago, but due to last minute complications in getting a visa, had cancelled my trip. Getting a SIM card at the airport is a very easy experience, as there are several SIM card counters and taxi services available right when you exit Immigration and baggage. Just pay, get the SIM card, and they put it into your phone for you and check that it’s working. Viola.

I was instantly assailed by the humidity, heat, and roaring sound of motorbikes lumbering by as I walked out of the airport to find my prearranged ride.Of course, in true fashion, my ride was nowhere to be seen. The company also didn’t answer my phone call, nor have they yet to answer my email inquiry. The closeness, the noise, the fumes … it was enough to want me to get out of there. I wasn’t going to wait for them to “maybe” show up. From now on, I certainly won’t be using this company again.

Fortunately, there are several good taxi companies in HCMC, and there stands are right outside as well. I took one of the Vinasun taxis to my hotel in District 3. It was a slow ride, as I had arrived during rush hour, but it gave me a chance to observe the million motorbikes clamouring on the ride for space. It’s nothing short of amazing when a family of four, five, or even six go whizzing by on a motorbike. Sometimes it might be three people, a large tree, and fixings for dinner all precariously perched on the bike. The bikes jimmied in and out of larger bits of traffic, but really, I could poke most of them as they were so close to the taxi. I have to admire the temerity of the riders and the drivers that they just go with the flow of traffic – and sometimes against it.

Coming from Shanghai after three years, I was used to loads of honking and many different types of vehicles on the roadway. I had to dodge so many scooters in Shanghai – and probably laid flat a few as well, just by being on the sidewalk, emphasis on the “walk” part – that Vietnam didn’t seem like it would be that challenging. After all, almost no scooters obeyed traffic lights, road signs, or walkways in Shanghai, so it couldn’t be that much of a challenge, right?

I have to say, living in Hong Kong now has made me a little soft. There are almost no motorbikes or scooters in HK, and the honking is definitely at a minimum, unless you’re blocking traffic or being a class-A idiot. I wasn’t sure if I could handle the notorious road crossings in HCMC without being run over or unseating a cyclist.

By the time I arrived at my hotel, I was tired, but we had passed Tao Dan Park on our way there, and it was only a half-block away. Even as I got to my room, I could hear the music from the park.

This music would lead me to my first exploration into the celebration of the Tet lunar holiday in Vietnam.

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