Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vietnam 2016 Day 8. Goodbye Saigon, hello Chiang Mai

I was on the road by 5 am, which gave me a comfortable 3 hours to go through the last 40 km and make it by the airport at 8 am, where I was going to wait for Thien or one of his buddies to pick up the scooter. I was happy about my decision about a hotel, because I saw only one other on the way, and that almost as I was entering Saigon. But I am getting ahead of myself. As I traversed the last few kilometers more and more scooters were joining the flow, so by the time I approached Saigon I was already surrounded by a mass of humanity. And a good thing it was, too, for one of the many pointed to my rear wheel with alarm. I had been feeling the scooter was unsteady, and I now discovered that it was because the rear tire had gone flat. Rats! It was 6:30 am, and I had some time to spare, but where was I going to find a place to fix the flat. Bless the hard working soul of the Vietnamese people, for in the little neighborhood I drove into the local scooter repair man was already hard at work! It took him but a minute to pull out a nasty sliver of metal from the tire and plug the hole with a cold sticky strip. I was back on the game, having lost less than 20 minutes in the repair.

But 20 minutes at 7 am make a huge difference in the scooter traffic in Saigon, so once again I was a minnow swimming in the maelstrom that was entering Saigon. So I did what any good tourist should do. I asked how to get to the airport, and found one of those wonderful people who, faced with giving complex instructions to a foreigner who obviously was not familiar with the city simply said “follow me” and took me half way there. A second good Samaritan repeated the “follow me” directive and by 7:30 am I was entering the airport. I thought I had made it clear with Thien that we were going to meet in front of the parking structure (it was very obvious where the waiting area was, for a good dozen of scooters were waiting for arriving relatives), but no Thien. At 8:30 am I gave up, parked the scooter in section F3, first floor, placed the parking card and some money in the compartment under the seat, and hid the key along the back edge of the seat, and hurried to check in for my flight to Thailand. I did send a What’s App message to Thien giving him the details (which he later acknowledged), and finally had the chance to relax, spend my last million in good airport food, and reflect on my Vietnam experience.

I don’t want to sound unappreciative, but I have to say I enjoyed North Vietnam and itsy bitsy better than I did South Vietnam. The people were, of course, wonderful. But the south seems to be lagging behind the north in development, reconstruction, and preservation of their history. Is this the result of the north being the victorious party in the Vietnam War? Maybe. Or maybe it is just an artifact of history, the north being closer to the culture of China than the south, just as north Italy is closer to the culture of continental Europe than the south. In any case, I bid adieu with a grateful heart to my sisters and brothers of Vietnam, who once again made feel welcome and graciously put up with my foreign ways. I love them, and their country, and look forward to coming back sometime soon.

Once aboard the plane I followed the route Saigon to Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Chiang Mai (and that took the whole day), without missing a single step, which I consider pretty miraculous (and now have to hope I can do the same flawless hopping on my way back). Once in Chiang Mai I exchanged some dollars (1 US dollar = 32 Thai bath), and paid US$ 5 for a taxi to bring me from the airport to my hotel. My first surprise was to find that here they drive on the wrong side of the street, just like the Brits do. The second surprise is that I had landed on the day Her Majesty Queen Sirikit is celebrating her 84th birthday. She married His Majesty King Bhuimbol in 1950, just a week before the latter ascended to the throne, so the royal couple have ruled Thailand for 66 years now, and are both going strong (His Majesty is at least five years older than Her Majesty, so he is scratching the mature age of 90). Both are beloved by the people of Thailand, so the fact that the Queen’s birthday was celebrated today is a big deal. My third surprise was to found that Chiang Mai is not a little town, but a regular and quite handsome city. I know I am going to like it here!

Rats! I forgot my Saigon ball cap in the plane :( I will have to buy myself a Thailand cap at the first opportunity.

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