Soon after returning from our European adventure, my boyfriend and I were telling travel stories to a group of friends. We were explaining how we had serendipitously found ourselves across the road from the Arc de Triomphe one evening, courtesy of yet another wheelchair versus public transport complication.
When we got to the part about crossing the infamously busy Place Charles de Gaulle intersection, one of our workmates interrupted to say, “But you’re not allowed to cross the road there! You’re meant to use the pedestrian underpass.”
“Nonetheless,” I countered, “We did cross there…” and my boyfriend continued the story.
Afterwards, I chuckled to think that someone would feel compelled to stop a narrative dead in its tracks simply to highlight a breach of pedestrian protocols.
Anticipation can be one of the best parts of a holiday. Planning where you’ll go and what you’ll do can stir up a sense of excitement long before you go away. And it can colour the way you experience the holiday itself.
The internet heightens this experience, exposing us to troves of photos and stories that help us plan and visualise the holiday. It also simplifies the logistics – because these days you can book almost every aspect of your holiday online.
Unless you have a significant physical disability, that is. In which case you can book almost no aspect of anything online, ever. Including holidays.
While we were in Ho Chi Minh, I visited a brothel for the first in time my life. With my 13-year-old daughter in tow.
At least, I think that’s what happened.
We’d been walking for hours in the stupefying heat – first to Saigon Square, a shopping centre my daughter wanted to visit, then on a circuitous route down to the harbour. We planned to check out our options for a family boat trip, taking in the sights of the city along the way.
We spent a bit less than two days in Ho Chi Minh, arriving on Sunday evening and leaving late on Tuesday morning: two teenagers and two adults who hadn’t travelled together before.
Taking a spin in a cyclo (one of Vietnam’s three-wheeled bicycle taxis) was high on my wishlist. But given the short timeframe and challenging dynamic, I knew we’d have to be opportunistic; grabbing the chances that came our way and abandoning the ones that didn’t, without regret.
Photo from virtualtourist.com
So I kept the wishlist loose.
On the Monday morning, we visited Ho Chi Minh’s largest markets – Ben Thanh – whose narrow aisles were a dense coagulate of people, noise and humidity. Pretty much as expected.
I’m not a city girl at heart – so as a travel destination, Ho Chi Minh City initially held little attraction for me.
As we planned our holiday, I thought of Ho Chi Minh as a stopover where we would sleep a couple of nights and recover after our plane trip, before beginning our Vietnamese adventure in earnest.
It’s not that I don’t like cities. I work and socialise in Sydney. It throbs with a life that I’d miss if I were permanently banished to the suburbs (where I live) or some beachy bushland (where I’d like to live).
Food, music, theatre, pubs, festivals, ferries, friends. They all connect me irresistibly to a somewhat city-bound life. But I hate the busyness of the city – the press of bodies on the footpath; the noisy, traffic-jammed streets; the feeling of being rushed and stagnated all at once by the sheer volume of humanity competing to move through the same space.
And with a population of nearly 9 million to our 4.6 million, the streets of Ho Chi Minh are notorious for their busyness – and chaos.