I’m not the one to normally take part in political debates. Whenever I find myself being pulled into one I incline to not to stay silent and not to voice my opinion. That’s not because I don’t have one. C’mon I think you know me better by now ! I have an opinion about absolutely everything! It’s just that discussions about politics tend to get very heated and controversial. Both of which I try to avoid. As per my experience one can spend days and nights trying to argue their case and yet never manage to persuade the opposition of their own version of the truth. That’s -in short- why I stay out of politics.
You can therefore imagine my great surprise when I found myself in the middle of the most politically charged “happening” of my life :
“Riding bikes with the Americans in Saigon. Viet Nam.” as I like to call it. Yes. And here is how it happened :
The layover in Ho Chi Minh City is scheduled for only 24 hours. As the arrival and departure are both quite late in the evening the wisest thing to do is to go straight to bed , get some proper sleep , wake up nice and early the next day, go explore, come back, get ready for the flight back and fly home. And that’s what I decided to do too. The lucky thing was that most of the crew flew to Ho Chi Minh for the first time just like myself and everyone was keen to venture outside of the hotel and see what the local life is all about. I had to two choices :
a) follow most of the girls I made friends with on the flight and book a bus tour to the tunnels outside of the city with a proper guide, time schedule and brochures.
b) step way out of my comfort zone and rent a scooter with our pilots and cruise around town aimlessly.
Do you wanna take a guess which one I went for?
Yes- you are quite right I went for option A… Originally. However as I was enjoying my free Saigon Bia (local beer) -a complimentary drink is included in the overnight stay of our crew hotel- in the hotel lobby I stumbled across Dave, our First Officer, and Grace, a girl working in the Premium Cabin. They were both very excited about the plans they’ve just made which was to get down with the local mayhem of a traffic the next day. They asked me to come with them and create a little convoy of tourists on bikes (which at that time we thought was a thing but it turned out not to be after all !). I was damn tired at that point, having been on my feet for more than 20 hours straight and a half of that very light beer was already working its magic on me.
“No guys- sorry I have already booked a tour.” is what I should have said.
“What the heck -why not!? That sounds like helluva fun!” is what I said.
I went straight to the receptionist and cancelled my tour. I woke up the next day wondering if this was going to be the day I die in a road accident. As we proceeded to the bike rental shop, choose our bikes and left a 15-year-old Vietnamese boy in charge of our passports I felt like this was the right moment to mention to the FO that I have never ridden a bike/scooter before. As a driver.
He looked at me and said:
“You will be just fine.”
I decided to believe him- after all he is the second one in the chain-of -command on board so I was in no position to question him. As it turned out he was right. I did just fine. It took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to drive that damn thing. It took me even less to figure out the traffic rules of Saigon. To put it simply : there are none. You see a free spot you take it, one-way streets mean nothing, round abouts or crossroads are pretty much the same thing – which is total chaos. Beep your horn if you are about to crash into somebody in front of you, they are gonna do the same thing. Watch the traffic ahead of you not behind you. Try to avoid pedestrians. That’s pretty much it.
We cruised around for hours never really getting lost (I suppose that’s the advantage of hanging out with the pilots, they somehow always know where they are), taking pictures and videos, joining the “gangs” as we called them which were the humongous masses of bikes at every traffic light and following them around, stopping for local street food and having an amazing time. I have always wanted to ride a scooter. And now I did. In Saigon of all places. I felt like if that day was the day I was to die in a road accident I’d die totally happy with a massive grin on my face!
As I said 24-hour layover is not much -but I feel like I made the most out of mine. I have truly experienced Viet Nam as much as one can in a day.