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Motorbike Madness in Ho Chi Minh City

motorbikesWhen discussing my forthcoming visit to Vietnam, a friend told me that on no account should I attempt to hire a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City. Almost as soon I left the airport I realised why. I looked out of the car window, as we crossed a junction, to see an army of mask-cladded motorbike riders heading towards the side of the taxi. At the last moment some stopped, some passed in front and some behind, but the taxi driver never stopped or seemed remotely concerned. This is the way of life in Ho Chi Minh - motorbikes are everywhere. The taxi driver laughed as I took out my camera and began snapping away. But its impossible to capture the mass of motorbikes around you. Photos do not do it justice.

loadedbikeI found the funniest thing was what the crazy Vietnamese people were carrying on their scooters and bikes in the busy rush hour. In the space of the 35 minute drive from the airport I saw a rider carrying a large desk chair, another with a large suitcase held to the side; an electronic keyboard; a large metal shelving unit; a massive china vase with flowers in it; 8 crates of saigon beer; a washing basket and no word of a lie, there was even someone carrying a kitchen sink! Women were riding in suits and high heels. Parents had small children standing up riding between Mum and Dad. It appears to be organised chaos.

It's important to learn quickly how to cross the road correctly. Once you start walking, you don't stop. Don't turn back! Let me explain...the motorbikes just keep on coming, but there is some kind of unwritten rule that they will avoid you. It's a bit scary at first, but it works, as long as you don't hesitate too much. They will go behind, or in front but they will not hit you. Also be aware of motorbikes driving on the pavement. If the road seems too busy to these mad riders, well, they just mount the pavement.

I stayed in District 1 of the city which, as a traveller, is the main place to stay. There are hundreds of cheap lodgings close to all the main city sites, and vast numbers of traveller-orientated shops on De Tham and Bui Vien where you can buy almost anything - resembling its own little Koh San Road area. Admittedly, some of the bars in District 1 shopmight not be to everyone's taste. Loud music blares out and staff try to get you into their bar ahead of the one next door. Up to 5 members of staff might be on the road, all surrounding you, trying to get you into their place. You need to be focused on your goal, don't pause for thought, or you will be sitting down in the bar with a bottle of Saigon before you can say 'Ho Chi Minh'!!

The Cinnamon Hotel is well located in District 1 and is a friendly boutique hotel with 8 floors and a distinctly Vietnamese feel incorporating tranquility and nature whilst being just a few steps from the lively city around it. Not for those with mobility issues as there is no lift. View details

If like me, you may not know a lot about the Vietnam War, by the time you leave Ho Chi Minh city you will. Take time to visit the War Remnants museum. It is a moving portrayal of the history of the war with some horrific photoscuchi of the victims of Agent Orange. A trip to the Reunification Palace gives you an understanding of how the Vietnam War ended and is also fascinating.

A lot of the main city sites are within easy reach, so take a few hours to walk around and see Notre Dame Cathedral, the Town Hall, the Opera House, the Palace and the famous Ben Thanh market, open either during the day or night.

To continue the 'war' theme, a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels is also a must on the tourist trail. Any hotel, or any of the many travel agents lining the streets in District 1, can assist. The tunnels are about an hour and a half bus drive out of the city in the middle of forested land. Here Viet Cong guerrillas built a series of tunnels and hid and lived in them while the American choppers were bombing. Unfortunately the site has become quite like a Theme park! However you do get the chance to pop down into the tunnels and walk underground to get the sense of how it was during that time. Randomly at the end of your visit, you are offered the opportunity to buy bullets and shoot a series of different guns. Quite bizarre. I did not partake in this.