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Wild about soccer in Saigon

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We’d expected to be at least slightly freaked out by the legendary Saigon traffic, where the motorbikes are so numerous that throngs of them roaring across intersections eight or 10 abreast give the impression of a horizontal waterfall of bikes. But we found Saigon to be pleasant and easy to navigate, and far less traffic-choked than Bangkok. I guess after four months of Asia, we’re old hands now when it comes to negotiating motorbike-clogged streets. We didn’t see as much of Saigon as we might have liked, since we had only allowed ourselves a few days there (we had decided we wanted to be in Hoi An for both Christmas and Ciaran’s birthday, which meant reaching it by Dec. 20). We spent one entire day visiting the Cu Chi tunnels, the 280-kilometre network of underground tunnels where the Viet Cong lived and hid during the Vietnam War. Mark and I had been to the tunnels 12 years ago, but thought the kids might enjoy crawling around in them. They learned a bit about the war in a hands-on way, and were fascinated by the examples of vicious Viet Cong booby traps.

Part of our time in Saigon was also occupied by seeking out dental and medical care for the kids. Chloe is still having problems with some warts/callouses on the bottoms of her feet (these have been plaguing her for a couple of months now), so we were hoping to have them seen to. Ciaran had chipped away part of one of his front teeth on a tiled floor in Cambodia after being tackled by a friendly dog he was playing with. The dentist visit was a success story: an examination and x-ray showed no lasting damage to the tooth, other than cosmetic, and the total cost to find that out was just $20. In Chloe’s case, the clinics we’d picked out to visit were both closed on the day we showed up—except for one where the cost was going to be $185. So we bailed. You might be wondering: Don’t you guys have medical insurance?? Yes, but we hadn’t yet bought a new SIM card for our cell phone and hadn’t phoned the insurance company beforehand, which we’re supposed to do, and $185 just seemed a bit outrageous to look at some warts. We already know what the problem is—we had taken her to two different doctors in Thailand—so we were looking for a solution, not a $185 assessment. We decided to continue treating them ourselves for now.

The big highlight in Saigon was something we stumbled onto serendipitously. We were heading back to our hotel after dinner one night when we heard what sounded like an incredible cacophony of traffic and honking, even by Saigon standards. We noticed people driving by on motorbikes—often three or four to a bike—waving Vietnamese flags and red ribbons, whooping and hollering. The further we walked, the thicker and more clamorous the crowd became. We were wondering if we’d wandered into a night-time political rally of some kind, but it definitely looked more like a celebration. After asking around, we discovered it was indeed a celebration—of Vietnam’s soccer victory over Singapore in the Southeast Asia Games that were happening in Vientiane at the time. I had read that soccer is a big deal in Vietnam, but even so, the truly massive crowd and frenzied partying were an incredible sight to behold. The festive mood was contagious, so we bought the kids red satin bands to wrap around their heads like everyone else, which netted us some big smiles and appreciative looks from partying Vietnamese as we made our way up the sidewalk. (We took some fabulous photos of the mega street party, and I would have liked to upload them here, but unfortunately we accidentally lost them all while reformatting the SD card in the camera.)

We were back at our hotel to put the kids to bed long before the party ended; the noise and clamour went on until the wee hours of the morning.

So you can imagine my surprise when I went online to look for more information about the tournament, and discovered that Vietnam had actually not won the final game, but had merely won the semi-final. The final game would be played three days later. (Can you imagine the streets after that victory? But we were in Mui Ne by then, a small town on the coast, and apparently Vietnam lost the game.)

Posted by The Rymans 20:58 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel

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