A very long queue at Adelaide Airport preceded a smooth and well-serviced flight with Malaysian Airlines to Lumpur, followed by a two-hour stopover and then the flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
I got through passport control and immigration very quickly, while a large crowd of other people waited in long and slow moving queues for an entry visa: compulsory for entry into Vietnam. I had applied for my visa to the Vietnamese Embassy in Australia and my passport and visa check took all of two minutes. Apply for a visa in your country of origin and bypass the crowds at the airport upon arrival.
It was already dark at 6:30 pm, something I found strange, given that in South Australia it's still quite light at 9 o'clock at this time of year.
The cab ride from the airport to the hotel that my friend had booked for me was an amazing introduction to the chaotic traffic of Ho Chi Minh City. It's well known that motorcycles are the favored form of personal transport here, and this city of seven million people must have at least as many motorcycles and scooters.
They move en masse, weaving rapidly in and out of lanes and other riders' way, never indicating their intended trajectory with indicator lights, beeping their horns incessantly (I am told this is a code about ceding or demanding right of way), and all while they are occupied by two or more people! I saw families of three and four people – mum, dad and one or two children – on small motorcycles of no more than 125cc capacity. Women who wore long dresses ride side-saddle on the pillion. What I could not fathom was where these passengers were seating: there certainly was no seating room built into these machines for any more than, at the most, two rather delicate and wispy bodies. The pictures that display this madness are coming as soon as I can snap them.
On a short walk to acquaint myself with the immediate surroundings, I get touts trying to get me to hire a motorcycle, sell me cigarettes (no, I don't smoke) I get offers from street vendors for all manner of goods and trinkets and I get propositioned by hookers. It saddens me that all of the ones I saw plying their trade that night are so young: they look like children!
Right now I am catching my breath and quenching my thirst at my hotel. It's hot and a bit muggy, and I am well satisfied after a plate of pho at a local eatery. It's 10 o'clock at night, but the activity outside is as frenetic as ever. An American movie is playing on the TV on the wall behind the reception desk. I don't know what it's called, but I can see Robert Downey Jr. and Zac Gallifianakis filling the screen with their nodding, talking heads.
A young woman from the family that owns the hotel shows some interest in my iPad as I type this, then gets into a conversation with two Asian men in very competent English, telling the younger of the two that she is also studying Spanish and a business course.
The hotel has wi-fi for guests. They saw me looking for a connection and immediately offered their network name, while the young woman types the password on the iPad to connect me. The iPad will remember the network from now on and I'll no longer have to type in settings to connect.
Time to return to my room, cool down with a shower and get the cameras out for tomorrow. I need to find an adapter for my charger plugs.