Money ~ US Dollar accepted
While the Vietnamese currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND), do take note that the US Dollar is widely accepted as the "other" currency in Vietnam, especially in Saigon. Therefore, you don't even need to change a lot of US Dollars to the local currency if you want to shop, pay for something or tip
Just for your information, the exchange rate is roughly US$1 = VND 16,000 (as of Jan 2007)
The Paris of the Orient?
1. Book shop and plastic cover making stand
2. USO map of Saigon, 1964
My third visit to Saigon wasn't until two months later, from November 17-20, 1964, when I stayed for three nights at the Dong Khanh Hotel in Cholon, the Chinese district of Saigon.
The copyright laws were not taken very seriously in Vietnam in those days, if they existed at all. Even the more serious book stores had numerous low-quality pirated books on sale.
In one of the book stores I found a smeary pirated edition of John Rechy's novel City of Night, which was a best-seller in the United States that year. Since I was slightly acquainted with John, having met him in El Paso through a mutual friend, I bought a copy of the pirated edition and sent it to him. (Which in fact he had asked me to do.)
In a letter dated November 19th I wrote:
I am still alive, healthy and presently enjoying a short three-day vacation in "The Paris of the Orient" -- not a very apt comparison, in my humble opinion. If I had to compare Saigon to some European city, I guess I'd call it -- I was going to say "The Barcelona of the Orient" but Saigon is at best a shoddy imitation of Barcelona. Saigon's street of flowers looks sickly compared to Barcelona's Rambla de las Flores, and in Saigon there are no hills, no Mediterranean, no Plaza de Cataluña, nothing even remotely resembling the Paseo de Gracia.
Today in a photography shop (where I was buying black market piastres) I saw some color pictures of Barcelona, which is what got me started on that kick. [. . .] (One of my most persistent slips of the tongue is to say peseta instead of piastre; this has become something of a standing joke in Tan Ba.)
But getting back to Saigon. The whole city has a peculiar smell to it. Most people don't like the Saigon small at first; in fact only the most anally-oriented ever get to like it at all. It's not exactly a garbage small or a sweat smell or an excrement smell, it's more like -- swamp gas.
Though nowhere near the South China Sea, Saigon is an ocean port and has an altitude of just about sea level, give or take a few meters either way. Any ocean going ship can steam right up the Saigon River and dock here. the city is entirely surrounded by water: one side by the river and three sides by swamp. Vacant lots on the outskirts are more likely to be -- vacant swamps.
The tallest buildings in Saigon are the hotels, sticking up 8 or 9 stories high in random places around the city, surrounded by low buildings and tumbledown shacks. Each hotel has a restaurant on the top floor, where you can get a fine view of -- the other hotels. All the hotels have a curious untrimmed look; they seem to have little wooden huts and various indefinable structured perched on the top of them.
Saigon does have a few advantages like on the Nguyễn Hué Boulevard there is a man squatting on the sidewalk with a paper-cutter, a pair of scissors, a charcoal-burring iron and several rolls of plastic. He does a thriving business putting plastic covers on paperback books.
[To this day I can still tell at a glance which books I bought in Saigon, because they all have clear plastic covers on them.]
HCM is one of the few places I have visited where traditional dress is still worn in the streets and not just for tourist consumption. The older generation still wore the traditional hats of Vietnam.
I just recently retired my old Karrimor backpack. This is a new Karrimor Global 50-70liters.
It come with a removable day sack which is very useful for camera storage, guide books & etc.
I didn't mean to say that only expensive backpack fit for long travel, but you definitely don't want your inner secrets pouring out at airport checking points because the zipper give way. The Karrimor Global, is one of the 'world traveler' rucksacks with so many features i may need extra columns to write about it.
The Karrimor Global is aimed at serious travelers, capable of conversion from a suitcase to a proper rucksack. The Global can cope with airlines and trekking porters all in one go.
The Karrimor Global also comes with the Karrimor Gold Star guarantee which puts in the true 'lifetime' category. The carrying system is hidden behind a zipped panel which rolls away into a small storage pocket to reveal the SA Super Cool back system, within a few seconds your suitcase becomes a rucksack.
Horse Cart Ride to Quoi Son
As part of the tour, we were taken on a horse cart ride through town. The most interesting thing about this ride was that we got to see in a glimpse how people lived in this small town. There was even a school that we went past, and the students who were hanging around outside were waving and saying "Hello". I waved back and had even wanted to stand up until my wife told me not to rock the cart. Oh boy.