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snippets of saigon

     I was lucky to have gotten in to the Ho Chi Minh City airport at 5AM, before the hustle bustle of the place spun into gear, though I was exhausted after my overly-extended layover in Guangzhou. I caught a taxi into District 1 (the Backpackers' District), and immediately haggled the price down to the equivalent of 7USD (yes, it's possible!). As I was scheduled to arrive well past midnight, I had pre-booked a dorm at Ngọc Thảo Guesthouse for the first night of my trip - a night that I ended up spending in the gritty international terminal of the Chinese airport anyway, miming conversation with an inviting Vietnamese family of 12, - though it is completely unnecessary to do so as there are plenty of hostels and rooms to rent in the area. Once you get over the inevitable fear of crossing the street, you're set.

     I spent my first day in Saigon acclimatizing to the culture, the weather, and the food. Although I'd been to Singapore before (hopping over to Johor Bahru, Malaysia, on a day trip), the culture was still incredibly new to me. Having traveled in Europe for the majority of my life, I was totally unprepared for and unaccustomed to haggling prices in particular. In most Western countries you would typically ask for the price, huff about steep it is and storm off if the vendor refused to lower it, knowing very well that they would call after you and offer you a better deal. In Asia, however, I was surprised to find that this was absolutely not the case. Not only is it ridiculous for tây (or farang, if you wish - both terms are used to describe Western tourists) to claim that something is too expensive - I mean, really, how much did your plane ticket cost? or your trip in general? We really have nothing to complain about, - but there is a huge difference in cultural values between Western and Eastern countries. Upon observation and further research, I've found that Vietnamese values (as well as those of other countries in South East Asia) lie primarily with family, good name, education, and respect for others. That being said, bartering became a means for me to get to know the local people and share our differences with each other - in the end, the forming of these relationships became my favourite part of shopping (which, of course, always turned out to be a lengthy process).
Pictured above is the common area of Ngọc Thảo Guesthouse, which is an incredibly friendly little hostel situated in the heart of the Backpacker's District. Various tours can be organized through the hostel (like ours to the Cu Chi Tunnels), as well as airport pickup (15USD). Amenities in the common area include wifi, computers, a TV, and beverages (water, tea, coffee, sugar, milk) free of charge. Air-conditioning and wifi in dorms. The staff speak English and are extremely helpful - they can also help you find a SIM card for your phone.

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