People, Ho Chi Minh City
The next time when you're calling for the restaurant check in VN, write on an invisible piece of paper on your palm . Of course, make eye contact with a waiter when you do so or people will just think you're plain out of your mind. This really beats having to say something in unintelligible Vietnamese and getting more than just a check...
The same custom holds for Singapore. It doesn't seem to work for Korea and Japan though, I tried it and it cast serious doubts on my IQ level.
I know you're really rubbing your eyes when you see this. What, those speed demons are friendly? Well they are, to a certain extent.
The next time you're in VN, observe the drivers carefully. They seem to be waving to another driver occasionally.
You'd probably think that those drivers know one another but no, they don't . Those waves mean that a traffic police is cruising along and that the oncoming driver better slow down...
A 'O' shaped wave means that the common enemy is on a motorbike, another wave conveys another meaning so on and so forth.
Driving penalties are very severe in Vietnam and it could cost the driver's rice bowl, thus the strange stockmarket-like waves.
The first thing you'll notice on a busy Vietnam street are the mysterious masked riders on those zippy mopeds and scooters ( called an 'om' ) Upon a second look, you discover that these Zorro wannabes are actually ladies. Not only are they masked, they also wear long gloves, long sleeved shirts, hats, etc. in an attempt to block out all forms of UV light. Guess that makes them more Lestat than Zorro but fair skin is really prized over here. Never ever tell a lady over here that she has a lovely tan!
According to a local chappie I talked to, there's about 6 to 7 million people in HCMC and half of the population here owns scooters or xe oms!
He added that it was especially essential for a guy to own one because it would literally be impossible to date a gal without one! A favourite outing is usually a cruise around town on one of those oms ( appropriately termed "hug" ) and a stop at the city park ( next to New World Hotel ) .
From my own observations, the folks in Vietnam are very warm and are not restrained by the normal uptight Asian ways of expression, and if they like you, they will touch you (in appropriate places of course, such as on the shoulder and the arms) as a form of affection (which probably explains why so many guys fall for Vietnamese ladies but that's a different story). However, gentlemen, please do not let these signs mislead you unnecessarily, just in case you get a slap across your face for trying to get fresh!
Vietnamese people have nice delicate aspect. I saw this little girl in a traditional music show during a Mekong Delta organised tour. She and her sister sang traditional vietnamese songs during a morning break for a tea at a local farm.
HoChi Minh, for whom Saigon was renamed after the end of "The American War, was reportedly a simple man who would have abhored the cult of personality that has arisen around him, especially in the north.
Here our intrepid VT-er takes a look at "Uncle Ho" in statue form in a seminar room at the university in HCMC.
The cyclo somehow still survives among the forest of small motorbikes. All it is is a bicycle with a passenger seat attached to the front. I like to imagine that this is a father taking his family for a ride ... They do warn you about protecting your belonging when you ride in one -- but your money etc... shouldn't be in your purse anyway.
Watch out! The locals, especially the guys, just "do it" anywhere, anyplace. Be prepared to see the sights of guys facing walls and hedges, doing the deed. I had seen one guy doing his deed next to a traffic pole at a busy traffic junction in HCMC, oblivious to the passing human traffic.
If you are eating at a semi-outdoor /streetside place and you are set upon by beggar children, its best not to give them anything. If you do, it can start a frenzy and cause trouble for the proprietor. Once I saw the owner smack the kids and lock one in a closet because of them annoying the customers.
WAIT until you are finished and you can give them your change as you leave the restaurant. Everyone will be better off that way.
You can tell the legitimately poor kids because they tend to have really dark dirty skin and dirty clothes
Others may be just oppportunistic, some are sent out to beg by their lazy parents. Don't beleive every sad story of misfortune you hear.
You have noticed on photographs in other tips that all motor bikers are wearing helmets (By law, since Dec. 14th 2007), and they are very disciplined. If you have a close look, you will notice that many ladies wear also long gloves, covering their arms; it is a protection against sun, mainly, as like in many Asian countries, having a fair skin is a beauty criterion; many young ladies wear these gloves when they bike in the polluted streets, and even when there is no sun, that may protect against dust, dirt,. . . . . They have sometimes a strange look; and not only motor bikers wear these protections, also pedalling bikers wear this accessory (picture 5). I just love to look and discover all sorts of people in the streets, and you may too have lots of amazement subjects with only these little common things here.
The bike is the king of the streets in Saigon, at least for some time, before they will be pushed away by the growing population of cars which just will make the streets more crowded and jammed!
The little people of Saigon have sometimes only a bike as their belonging, and this bike must be very strong and well maintained; not only are the bikes used to transport themselves, but also for all sorts of goods. In Saigon, you may see many of these bikes, laden with heavy or voluminous things, and the foreign visitor just opens widely his eyes, . . . and tries to make some pictures.
People fit out their bike to transport flowers and plants, and they even speed! (first picture), other construct their rickshaws in order, not only to transport, but also to display their goods (picture 2), like these bananas. Some have rear-view mirrors ( picture 3), but I never have seen that many on a bike. . . . Well, if you need one you have choice!
This lady, on picture 4 has not an electrical bike, despite the big battery you see on the luggage carrier; the battery is for energy for moving the toysshe transports and for playing music! And if you are in the mood for some fresh coconut water, stop a guy like this one (picture 5), and he will serve you with great pleasure. All sorts of goods are transported on bikes in Saigon. . . .
If you hear alot of honking while walking the streets of Ho Chi Minh, don't worry, the motorcycle riders aren't mad, they're just making sure you (and everyone else) knows they're there.
Here in the US, we mostly use our horn to express anger and irritating, but in Vietnam, it was clear that they use their horn for a more positive purpose. It's more of a "beep, beep, here I am" than a "hey jerk! out of my way!"
People, taxis, motorcyles, etc. are going in lots of different directions at once at intersections and such so this is how they let their presence be known.
I just like to look around when I walk in a city, and make (silly and stupid, I admit!) links between the things or people I observe, the general atmosphere, what I have see elsewhere. . . . Saigon is a capital city for bikes and bicycles, and of course, the local police rides bikes too; they have big machines and looking closely at the guys and their machines I thought the streets of Saigon and surroundings must not be very good, and the administration takes care of the bodies of the mounted police; look (first picture), they all are wearing corsets, as they are probably shaken a lot when they bike at high speed. . . the corsets give them a special elegance. . . . They have an exhausting job, and here (picture 2) they have a rest.
Ah! But the corsets are only for the elite troops apparently; here (picture 3) the police have smaller bikes, small helmets, and do not have corsets. . . . Only silly remarks. . .
During my stay in Ho Chi Minh City, I noticed that many motorcycles had an extra seat for small children. Actually, it was a wooden chair placed between the driver and the handle bars.
I don’t know if the chair is special designed for this purpose?