In between our evening arrival here in HCMC (1) on Wednesday and our morning departure on Saturday we have two full days and only one scheduled tour: a motorcycle sidecar tour.
We were met at our hotel by Henry (2) who explained the process: we would ride with a driver (3) on the motorcycle with a sidecar attached, one of us in the sidecar and the other riding pillion (4). Guess who got the sidecar?
I had pictures of motorbike riders in earlier posts, and you undoubtedly noticed the face masks. The air in Hanoi is pretty bad, but it’s much worse here. A significant portion of bikers wear them. I saw people get out of cars and put on masks before walking away. I saw people working at their sidewalk stores wearing masks. So we were offered masks by Henry and took them. I’m not sure they are anything more than a placebo, although they probably help with the larger particulate matter. We only wore the masks while riding on the bike.
Henry followed us on his scooter, and gave us radios with earbuds so he could talk to us while we were riding. Although we were in the traffic, we really didn’t have the same experience as if we were riding a motor bike or scooter in the city. The sidecar bike is big, heavy, loud and not nearly as maneuverable as a normal bike. Still, we were in the thick of things, in the bike lanes, surrounded by the bikes swarming like flies around a discarded fruit.
But this was more than a ride, it was a tour. When he picked us up, Henry asked what we wanted to see. We pleaded ignorance, so he took us on his favorite itinerary. The first stop was the remnants of Saigon’s floating market. Like Bangkok and the other large cities in the region, the government doesn’t like these markets for lots of reasons, including health concerns and their generally unsavory appearance. The people live on their boats and spend a few days in Saigon selling, then they sail back down to the Mekong delta where they spend a few days buying product. Among other things, it means their children don’t get much of an education (5).
Chinatown in Saigon is huge. Like in many other countries, the Chinese here are merchants. Years ago they built a massive market, which caters primarily to wholesalers.
Our last stop on the bike was the neighborhood where Henry used to live. Sally engaged in a conversation with a little baby nam Tim who’s mother was teaching him a bit of English, and we stopped for some refreshments on the obligatory low chairs and tiny table. I was chided for finishing my Vietnamese coffee too quickly; apparently, the socially acceptable way was to spend an hour or two on two ounces of coffee. Sally enjoyed some locally authentic Lipton tea.
At this point it was lunchtime, so Henry and the driver dropped us off at the former home of Henry Cabot Lodge, who was the US Ambassador to South Vietnam during the war. The house is now privately owned and occasionally used for various events. We were treated to a tour of the house by our guide They (6) and the owner’s father, an elderly man. And then we sat down to a five course meal in the formal dining room under a portrait of Lodge.
As we finished the delicious meal, They joined us and Sally had a lovely conversation with her about tipping, the Ginger Cruise, her children and her time in America.
It was mid afternoon by the time we got back to the hotel. I spent the afternoon catching up on pictures and blogging. Hope you enjoyed my work!
(1) “HCMC” = Ho Chi Minh City amongst the cognoscenti. Not amongst the locals; they usually use Saigon. In contrast, the northerners in Hanoi almost always use Ho Chi Minh City.
(2) Again, not the name his mother gave him. He declined to say his real name, telling us we couldn’t pronounce it anyway. His English was excellent, btw, which he attributed to YouTube.
(3) I never got the driver’s name.
(4) A pillion is a secondary pad, cushion, or seat behind the main seat or saddle on a horse, motorcycle, bicycle or moped.
(5) Schools are not free in Vietnam. Most poor children only go through primary school, and then the money runs out.
(6) Pronounced more like “tway”; she told us to call her Tree.