This weekend, I decided to get out of the quiet of Bien Hoa and fling myself wholly into the insanity of Saigon’s District 1. I like to pride myself on being immune to culture shock, but my first night in the city made me rethink things a bit.
I arrived in the city, only to find out my hotel had to cancel my reservation due to overbooking. I shrugged, and figured I’d choose from one of the many hotels that lined the street, but I was escorted to their sister hotel and given a night for free. Check one for the Bali Hotel.
They also went ahead and reserved one of their nicest rooms for the next two days, at a rate that ended up being a dollar less than I normally would have paid. Check two for Bali Hotel.
I put my belongings in my hotel room, gave my computer and camera to the front desk to safeguard until I returned, and wandered out into the street. The first order of business was food, as I hadn’t eaten since lunch, and my stomach was loudly protesting the smell of grilling meat that surrounded me. I stopped into a small, quiet cafe for a meal of buttered toast and a pineapple smoothie, and ended up chatting with the owners for a while.
The walls were adorned with paintings, each of which was for sale. Most were no larger than 8 inches by 8 inches, but the skill behind them was incredible. He told me his sister painted them and sold them there for extra money. Had I some place to put the paintings, I would have bought a few.
After that, I wandered down the street a bit more, where I was stopped by a young guy offering me cigarettes. I turned him down, and started to walk away, when he called out, “What about weed?”
“No thanks,” I said.
At this, I paused and turned around. “Seriously?”
“I can get you cocaine, ecstasy, whatever you want.”
I laughed, but told him no thanks again. He stepped a bit closer to me. “It can be on the down low if you want,” he said. “I can bring it to your hotel room.”
“I’m not really into the whole drug scene, but thanks anyway.” At that point, I had to walk away. I’ll hand it to the guy, though — he was persistent.
A bit further down the street was a pub called the Skinny Cow (Spotted Cow? Striped Cow? It was some kind of cow) with the Australian Open playing on the tv. Having not kept up with sports in a while, due to not having a television in my apartment and being busy with other obligations, I sidled up the bar and decided to watch. While there, I struck up a conversation with a family of Americans who live in Thailand. They told me they bought a ship, sailed it to Thailand, and are now traveling around southeast Asia.
As they left, another beer was delivered to me by the waitress. Without saying a word, they had bought me another drink.
The next morning, I found a cafe not far from my hotel and sat down to breakfast. There was another traveler behind me who called out to me and introduced himself. He said he was the ‘craziest guy in the entire city.’ I didn’t believe him.
I really, really should have.
He went on to tell me of his escapades, and then interrupted himself, saying, “I’m gay. Does that bother you?”
I told him no, that I didn’t really care one way or the other what his sexual preferences were. He nodded and said, “Good. Oh, hey, any chance you are?”
I laughed and said no, shifting the topic away from that line of conversation. When he found out I was a writer, he continued to tell me I should write a book called “My Night With John,” continuing to try to hit on me.
I laughed again, and told him that title sounded like it may be about someone with traveler’s diarrhea.
During the course of our conversation, two English teachers from South Korea had sat down beside us. We struck up a conversation (hey guys, I know you’re probably going to read this. Thanks again for breakfast!) and ended up talking for around an hour or so. They were interested in the way I travel, and promised to show me around should I find myself in South Korea. When I went to pay, I found out they’d already taken care of it.
I could go on at length about my weekend and the numerous people I met, but the main takeaway is this: travelers, on the whole, are extraordinarily generous and interesting people. There’s a few crazies tossed into the mix, but it’s no different from any other group — and being surrounded by people with the same mindset and goals is energizing in a way that’s hard to explain.
I spent Saturday evening with a group of people from Singapore who were in Saigon for work. They took me around and introduced me to a type of food I never thought I’d find myself eating: snails. And it was crazy good, if a bit tough to get to.
Sunday, unfortunately, was spent mostly in bed. I’d acquired a bit of a cold over the past several days, and only drug myself out of my room to go to the pharmacy and get something to help me sleep and stop coughing. I spent the day watching terrible B movies on the TV and reading.
I got back into Bien Hoa a few hours ago, only to discover I’d left my iPad in my hotel room. I’m still not sure where, but after a quick phone call, they told me they’d keep it for me until I returned. If you ever find yourself in Saigon and are looking for a fun, inexpensive place to stay, check out the Bali Hotel. Excellent service, and the staff are very friendly.