Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Sunday, October 30, 2011

10/30/11: Saigon’s Ben Thanh Market

Our last day in Vietnam, last chance to take advantage of the dirt-cheap (‘cheap-cheap’?) prices before heading to China. The four of us hopped the shuttle downtown to the indoor Ben Thanh market, a huge indoor, open market with myriad vendors selling more knockoffs and fish products than you can possibly imagine. Our first stop was probably the most comical one, a stop for Heidi to buy some ‘designer’ jeans, not a quick process. The girls at the vendor of choice immediately engaged Reade and Tate, asking them how old they are, if they had girlfriends, giggling when they said ‘no’. They were a sort of ‘friendly aggressive’ that we hadn’t yet encountered in our travels, with some comical twists thrown in here and there. We had arrived early in the morning, and this wasn’t the first time we heard “You are my first customer of the day, please buy from me!” After leaving with a pair of hot jeans and a t-shirt for Reade, I wished them well on their next ‘first customer’ as they tried to sell us an additional t-shirt.  

Snake wine; yes, that's a cobra and a scorpion in a bottle of wine, and yes, they do drink it!

Reade and Tate both bought a flute from this guy.



Very narrow passageways everywhere, miscellaneous smelly things around each corner. Weird kinds of both wet and dry fish and shellfish, durian fruit (Kack! We just can’t escape that smell!), backpacks, purses, belts, ‘Rolex’ watches, luggage, clothing of all sorts; it was a veritable cheapo’s shopping paradise! I scored myself a fine timepiece for $20 (that’s like, 950% off, what a deal!), and ended up getting the stinkeye from the first watch-guy I’d talked to, him eyeballing the new ‘Rolex’ on my wrist as I accidentally re-walked past his counter (Heidi will be the first to admit I have no ‘mall sense’). I just had to keep checking out the backpacks around every corner, being the ‘gear dude’ that I am. The funniest thing I encountered was a backpack labeled as a Deuter, sporting a North Face model name, with an ancient Dana Designs logo on a lower strap. Dana Designs hasn’t even existed for quite a few years; after being bought by K2 10+ years ago (who continued to sell the line for a year or two), Marmot then bought the brand, after which the great pack company from Bozeman, Montana effectively ceased to exist, some of its innovations being integrated into the Marmot line. I regret not buying one of those mongrel packs; I hate “lack of buyer’s remorse” more than anything, especially when the source is 8000 miles from home, and cheap, to boot.

The North Deuter Designs 'mongrel' pack that I wish I would have bought for merely 137,000 dong. The exchange rate is $1 to 21,000 dong, so get $50 out of an ATM, and you're an instant millionaire. The kids loved this.

Taterbug, doin' his thing.

The tallest building in Vietnam; that's a helipad to the rear right.

We caught a great lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant near the market; upon sitting down at the table, we were served little appetizers that were packaged in leaves, folded up into little boxes. Food was wonderful, and the kids got a Sprite, which is becoming quite the treat as we make our way around the globe. We walked back toward the ship, the last street before which was more of a freeway, albeit with few guardrails to keep stray tourists from wandering into its path. Scooters, cars, buses, motorcycles, more scooters, bicycles, along with a few trucks thrown into the mix; we saw no reasonable way across this morass of humanity, and we thus had to suck it up and utilize to their fullest extent the street-skills we’d gained to navigate this final barrier between us and the MV Explorer. We lined up, side-by-side, and stepped off the curb into the 50 kph melee before us. Just keep walking, don’t deviate, best not to look upstream at the advancing waves of traffic swerving around us, I told myself. I was so engrossed in not dying as a family that I forgot to set the P&S camera to ‘movie’, and thusly only got some crappy stills, which cannot possibly do this experience justice (though you can barely see Tate’s huge smile in one of them). We all survived, adrenaline absolutely peaking, Tate screaming “Let’s do it AGAIN!!!” Not.  

This is it! Note Tate's big grin...

As we continued toward the ship, as usual I found myself off the back about 100m due to stopping to take pics, and a car pulled out in front of me, and stopped. An arab-looking dude in a suit rolled down the darkened window, and started asking me about dong-dollar exchange rates, and ended up flashing me his wallet-full of new U.S. $100 bills (and I do mean wallet FULL, at least 3/8” thick). He asked me if I had enough dong to exchange one $100 bill, just to ‘get him through’. I politely declined, and suggested that there were many places to exchange cash, adding that the Vietnamese readily accept American currency. Apparently, it ain’t just jeans and backpacks that they produce here in Vietnam. 

And this is the boulevard that we just crossed, about a half a block up, where there was a guard rail. The traffic was nonstop, the whole way across!

We managed to spend most of what we had in our travel wallets, and early the next morning the MV Explorer left the dock, the morning departure a result of timing the tides in the Saigon River. Watching the pressure wave of the ship’s wake hit the shore was fascinating, especially when making a turn; along the river’s edge, the water level would often drop a foot or two before the visible wake arrived, followed shortly thereafter by a tsunami-like wave that smashed into the shore, generally several feet above the normal river level. Not at all unlike the interaction between shoreline and sea during a tsunami.
The weird things you see out here…

PS: I can’t upload videos due to our poor internet access, and on top of it, I forgot to take a video when we crossed the street. But, it was EXACTLY like this, except our traffic was moving at about double the speed shown in the video:

Man crosses busiest street (NOT!) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 

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