Ho Chi Minh trail

ralph salad8th visit to a complex… and wonderful…city!

By Ralph McAllister

This is the eighth time I have returned to Ho Chi Minh in the last few years.

What is the attraction?

For you, it may not be the traffic. Every day, the pavements ,a euphemism if ever there was one, are crammed with motorbikes, parked or moving. Pedestrians are definitely second rate citizens.

The roads are unbelievably busy, again ,mostly with the ubiquitous bike.

Crossing the road needs a special technique…you walk slowly and, most importantly, you do not hesitate.

The other side may be a long way away but, magically, traffic weaves around you,and mishaps are few and far between.

Riding on the back of a motorbike is a different kind of challenge. Millimetres separate you from triumph and disaster, you rely on your driver.

I am lucky as Cuong ,my dear friend ,is an expert to the manner born, as he transports us to the latest vegetarian restaurant ralph and pal drininghe has found for me, or to the South Korean Spa ,set in one of the new luxury areas of high rise buildings which seem to have sprung up overnight.

The contrast between rich and poor may have intensified, but the warmth of the ordinary people is as comforting as that which I left in Thailand .

The heat,which doesn’t bother me, may put you off.

RALPH ON BENC HMostly it has been jandals and shorts to cope with temperatures in the early thirties.

We spent a weekend in Vung Tau,a coastal town about two hours from Ho Chi Minh . I couldn’t help but think of the place as a Blackpool of Vietnam.


Some pretty tawdry and steamy locations, with bars and parlours of dubious distinction, and not a Westerner in sight, apart from yours truly.


Cuong’s parents offered the most amazing lunch at their beautiful home ,with pickled onions as you have never tasted, spring rolls with a stunning sauce, and beer with ice, and beer with ice and beer with….you get the picture.

All the food prepared by Cuong’s mother who,during the war, was helping build the road between Hanoi and Saigon ,as it was called then.

Bombing took place regularly.

Weren’t you scared I asked? “No,” she said, “if I had been scared I would not have been able to do my job!”

This morning I went to buy some cut out thank-you  cards ,which reminded me a little of the Matisse work seen in London recently.

As I passed, a foot appeared through the first storey verandah, followed by a hammer, without its owner.

The hammer missed the woman sitting beside her sale goods by ,again, millimetres. The foot remained above.

She treated the incident with laughter, an example perhaps of triumph prevailing , over the risks of living in such a crowded and fragile infrastructure .

Execrable music surges across the park towards my hotel, and , no, Vietnamese television,does not help distract,it is also truly execrable.

So all is not perfect in this complex and wonderful city.

But I love it.

Now it is out with the jerseys and trousers and socks and shoes ,as tomorrow Melbourne awaits.

13 degrees I believe. Wish me luck. And I haven’t even mentioned Wellington’s weather!

Keep warm,