Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Serengeti: Day 2. Still Amazing.

You know you are camping in an unusual campsite when the morning discussion goes something like this- Everyone else: "Did you hear the lions last night?" Me: "No! I missed lions?! All I heard were frogs and hyenas. Oh, and baboons. I heard a lot of baboons." The others: "Yes. There were definitely lions. And the group over there thinks they saw a cheetah in the campsite." Me: "Balls!"

We were camping inside of the Serengeti National Park and unlike other predator-inhabited game parks I'd been to, there is no fence separating us and the more ardently carnivorous mammals. How this works is still a bit of mystery to me. We were told not to worry, that we're not appealing to them since we generally don't yield a lot of meat, particularly when compared to a buffalo or wildebeest, which is true. But I'm pretty sure I have a good 20-30 pounds on an impala and they're called the 'McDonald's of Africa' by virtue of the fact that everybody eats them.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The indescribable Serengeti.

I have just typed and deleted at least a half dozen paragraphs, all of them trying to express how spectacular our time in the Serengeti was. It is not working. Everything I have written sounds cliche and trite and blah, which I guess would be fine if the Serengeti was any of those things. But it's not, it is so very, very....AAARGHHH (must keep finger away from the delete key, must control impulse, MacBook not so aerodynamic)

You know what? I took photos. Lots and lots of photos. They have a currency of approximately one thousand words each. How's about I just share some of those and let them speak for themselves. M'kay?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Ngorongoro Crater Needs more Cowbell.

Throughout our tour, there was some debate as to whether we were heading in the right direction. Not that we were lost, it was more that some people, mainly our crew, thought it was preferable to begin the tour in Nairobi and travel southward (as opposed to our more northerly route). Their reasoning was that with the more commonly run itinerary, you begin with a dusty and sweaty safari, followed by a series of early mornings and countless hours on a bouncy truck. By the end, you are nice and tired and are thus more excited at the thought of leisurely sipping cocktails on the beaches of Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.

I get what they're saying and I thought they were all really nice guys, therefore it pains me to be the one to point out how completely and utterly wrong they are on this one. The safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti is, bar none, the highlight of this tour. This is simply a fact. Doing the safari first means your 14 day tour has already peaked by day 5. It is akin to watching the finale of a firework shows and then having to feign enthusiasm for a guy with a sparkler. It is like eating the best desert ever prepared and then having to content yourself with a lackluster salad. It is like bedding down Brad Pitt and then having a go with Timmy, the chubby guy that delivers your office mail and is really nice but smells of slightly of cabbage. Sure, there is nothing wrong with sparklers, salads or Timmy, but they just can not compete.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Marangu aka As Close as I will ever come to Mt. Kilimanjaro

Moving right along on what was really the Road from Zanzibar, we continued on to the small town of Marangu.  From best I could gather, there is only one reason people come here.  They are either coming from or going on a climbing expedition that ideally results in their reaching the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Seeing as I would prefer smuggling a nest of angry cobras in my underwear to climbing Africa's highest peak, thankfully, this is not why we were camping there.

To be honest, I'm not totally sure why exactly this is one of the stops.  I imagine it has something to do with the logistics of getting us closer to the Serengeti but since that does make for a very sellable itinerary, we were also treated to another orphanage stop and village walk.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rolling into Lushoto

Finally, we were on our magic bus, er, I mean truck and pointed north in the direction of the Usambara Mountains. By tearing down camp early enough to be on the road by 5am, we had successfully avoided the truly frightening fate that is Dar traffic and were now speeding past small villages and vast empty stretches of land.

Cruising along, enjoying this scenery with plenty of room to stretch out, not feeling like I have to keep an eagle eye on my belongings (as I did on the chicken bus) or worry about getting left behind on any stops- these are the some of the things I did not think I could pull off, traveling solo in Africa and were  amongst the top reasons I signed up for a group tour.  Now that our first real Overland day was finally happening,  I was loving it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Zipping through Zanzibar

It was day 2 of our Overland Truck adventure and we were already ditching the truck and come to think of it, the land, as well.  We were taking the ferry to a place whose very name conjures up mystery and exoticism, we were heading to Zanzibar.

Our destined archipelago has been a part Tanzania since 1964, only before that time, there was no Tanzania. The mainland nation was called Tanganyika and only changed its name as a result of its merger with Zanzibar. In other words, Tanganyika + Zanzibar= Tanzania.  I imagine this is something that Tanzanian schoolchildren learn pretty early on.  Therefore, I am baffled as to why we had to undergo the full customs and immigration process both on entering and exiting Zanzibar City.  It's still the same country!   You would think that a nation that borders seven different countries would have sufficient real border crossings without having to implement an unnecessary fake one.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Country #90: Bouncing into Tanzania

Although it may not seem like it, there was actually a method to my madness. There was a reason that I voluntarily boarded a local bus for the 13 hour bone-jarring ride from Mombasa to Dar Es Salaam. It is not for naught that I spent more time sitting across from a woman whose carry-on was a cranky and vociferous rooster than I did on my flight from Miami to Amsterdam. It is not without cause that I put myself in a situation where, as the only non-African passport holder, I took the longest being processed at the Kenya/ Tanzania border and subsequently had to run like a crazy woman lest the bus continue on without me. Like the proverbial chicken (but not the one on the lady's lap), I simply had to get to the other side.

This is where I would begin my first Intrepid/ Dragoman overland trip.  I confess that in the past, when planning my own travels, I have cribbed many an itinerary from these companies.  In many countries, this is actually pretty easy to do, relying on public transportation in lieu of their signature overland trucks, at a fraction of the cost.  However, East Africa is different. My experience on the chicken bus had only emphasized my suspicion that this was in no way a practical alternative in this part of the world.  So, instead, I had signed up for a 14 day excursion, dubbed the Road to Zanzibar, that would eventually bring me back to Nairobi.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mellow in Mombasa

On my 3rd day in East Africa, I witnessed one of the odder race demarkations I would see in the course of my stay.  I arrived at the Nairobi railway station, surprised to see a line of people standing to one side of the entrance, animatedly screaming at the passing commuters.  A closer glance revealed they were selling train tickets!  No counter, no computerization, just a bunch of people waving ticket stubs and yelling.  Concerned, I turned to the cab driver and asked him if I had to go get my ticket from them.  He smiled and said "No, the white people go to the office inside on the right".  I did as he said and entered the office that was officially designated for long distance travel.  Sure enough, there was an unmistakeable consistency in skin tonality.  We were all lily white and were all there to board the Jambo Kenya Deluxe overnight train to Mombasa.

After receiving our cabin assignments, we were sent to a roped off part of the platform that had about 50 white plastic chairs.  There was still plenty of time before the train departed so I wandered off in search of a drink but turned back to see concerned glances from the guy in charge of the white chair zone.  Apparently, his role is that of a muzungo wrangler.  It is his job to keep the white people out of trouble.  One British couple told me he had approached them when they opted to sit on a bench with the locals and said "No.  You sit there." while pointing to his fiefdom.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kissing giraffes in Kenya: Country # 89

People often ask me if I get nervous traveling on my own.  My answer is usually not.  I try to do research beforehand so that I don't find myself staying at the intersection of Murderer's Alley and Pickpocket Place.  I try to exercise 'city sense'.  I try not to look like I'm packing a ton of cash (this one comes really easy, somehow).  And I always try to look like I know where I am going (this is one: not so easy.)  Yet none of these made me feel 100% confident heading into a city, affectionately known by friend and foe alike as "Nairobbery".  Tales of general lawlessness abounded and seeing as  I was set to start a safari in two weeks, one that required a large cash payment, I felt like a veritable walking ATM.

To allay these concerns, I initially based myself in the 'burbs.  I went straight from Kenyatta Airport to the Bush House and Camp, a lovely guesthouse located in the Karen district. This area, named after Karen Blixen, the author of Out of Africa, is where affluent Kenyans and ex-pats live in massive gated mansions with ever-present armed guards keeping watch.  It is not the most exciting part of town but it is the safest.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Monkey Mania

All animal lovers have one species that they adore above all others. For me, it is cats. I find their elegance and independence inspirational. In a few days, I am setting off to Kenya to try to see, for the first time, a leopard in the wild. But I have not done this yet. So, that brings me to my second favorite animal group, primates. (Note: If anyone takes it upon themselves to read this to my two beloved shih-poo's, or more alarmingly if those deceptive bastards have been hiding the gift of literacy from me and are reading this for themselves, what I really mean is dogs #1, then cats, then primates. 'kay.)

A couple of weeks back I had the chance to visit a place so cool that to call it a zoo would be to do it a disservice. It is a nature park, one that just so happens to have over 30 species of primates. One that was started by a photographer and owner of two tamarins, 40 years ago, who hit upon the revolutionary idea of letting his growing brood of monkeys run free with no cages or restraints to inhibit them from socializing, either with each other or with their human admirers. One that now boasts one of the most successful breeding programs in the world.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Country #88: Hello, Malta...



I'll be honest. If the itty bitty island nation of Malta had never achieved its independence (something it did in 1964), I probably would have never given it a second glance. My decision to visit recently was primarily born out of my quest for numbers. Much as I hate to admit it, I am quickly becoming a numbers slut. Malta's appeal lay in its potential to become my 88th country. And as I slowly close in on the milestone #100th country, this quest of mine is becoming more and more of a challenge. Many of the remaining lands are either too remote, too expensive or too dangerous.

But not Malta. It sits 60 miles south of Sicily, is priced comparably to the rest of western Europe and offers as its biggest threat the risk of a nasty sunburn- something which, after a soggy Amsterdam summer, didn't sound so bad to me.  Later, a closer look revealed that Malta had more to offer than just another notch on my geographic bedpost.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The incredible vastness of Anchorage

Man, what a difference a month makes. At this moment, I am settled in and cozy in my summer home of Amsterdam, a place I totally adore. I love that I am never lost for more than 5 minutes, as there is always a recognizable landmark right around the corner. I love the fact that it is a world class destination yet still very much a small city. I love the gezelligheid-ness of it all. If I wanted to look for the polar (no pun intended) opposite, I would have to, say, finally download the photos from my camera and check out some pictures I snapped in early June during a four day stay in Anchorage, Alaska.

Sure, Anchorage proper is a tiny city, certainly smaller than Amsterdam but just try to put together a descriptive sentence about any city in Alaska without resorting to the adjective "vast" and see how well you do. It's just not possible. The spaces are so open, the mountains so present, the sky so...vast.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Paraguay: Country #87 on #200.


Last month's visit to Paraguay was special for three diverse but equally important reasons.

1) It was my first time visiting this small land-locked country, thus making it eligible for the list. In the highly competitive game of Counting Countries, Paraguay now ranks as my 87th nation.

2) My friend, who for purposes of protecting the innocent, will only be referred to as Akapero, had recently moved to Asuncion and was, within a short time, firmly entrenched in the expat community. He was a knowledgable and enthusiastic guide whose only payment was the delivery of roughly 100+ pounds of Cuban food and coffee makers. Yes, plural.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

WHALE SHARKS!!

A couple of years ago, when I was in Djibouti, I was told by a hotel concierge that there was chance I could swim with the world's largest fish, the whale shark. I immediately ran to my bag, threw on a swimsuit and began thinking of names for my new aquatic pal. No sooner had I settled on Spot (for obvious reasons) than I was informed that they were going too deep to be able to swim with them. I'd been ditched by the whale sharks.

Years prior to that, I was in the Galapagos swimming with sea lions when the guide told me a story about a time he was leading a group through the same area when a whale shark unexpectedly decided to join them. The guide was new to the area and not familiar with this particular species, so in an inspired show of bravery and leadership, he high-tailed it out of there, leaving a very freaked out group to fend for themselves. I took this as a cue to constantly keep my eyes peeled, certain that I would have my chance to see one. Armed with the knowledge that big as they are, whale sharks are gentle vegetarian plankton eaters, it mattered not one whit to me if the guide chose to stick around or not. Again, I was left wanting. Until now...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In the words of DL Roth: "Panama!!!"



A good day: Finding out that my job is taking me to Panama, a country I've never really had a chance to explore, and I will now have time to do just that. A great day: Learning that we are going to be accompanied by my buddy, Gabe, a real-life Panamanian who is eager to show us the sights and is unafraid of joining the demolition derby that passes for driving in his lovely city. A "how could this possibly get any better?" day": Enjoying a fine afternoon in said city with the aforementioned Panamanian when a text comes in informing me that my next trip will be...wait for it...to Panama.

Thus I found myself in Panama City twice (for a combined total of roughly 4 days) in the last three weeks. By no conceivable account is that enough time to appreciate everything there is to see but it is certainly a good start. (Note to Francisco, my Panamanian friend who might mistakenly thinks I will stop nagging him now about a Panamanian getaway: the operative word in that previous sentence was "start." I want more!!!)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

So this is what it's all about... (Caribbean edition)

So, what do you think happens to a person who spends a lifetime pooh-poohing all-inclusive package tours and the people who take them? I'll give you one hint: I, along with my friends Ivon and Frans, just got back from 6 days in Punta Cana.  This is a part of the Dominican Republic known for nothing but all-inclusive resorts. I'm not exaggerating. For real, try googling hostels and Punta Cana. You know what you get: nada. This area is not meant for the likes of my ilk.  It is the capital of All-inclusive-package-Landia

Yet, here I was with an opportunity to fly there for nearly nothing and a slew of days of at my disposal. I decided it would be a test of my ability to sit still and "relax" (urgh!) without a plan, guidebook or agenda at hand. To emphasize this point, I was forced to relinquish control almost immediately when, 18 hours before departure (the time when I realized this was going to happen), I was struggling to find a single reasonably priced resort. I valiantly fought the urge to send us on a nicely structured week-long tour of the Dominican Republic instead and went to hotwire.com to participate in some blind bidding. For anyone not familiar with this, it is sort of like the Priceline bidding process, in that you commit to buy without knowing what property you will be booked into, difference being that you go in agreeing on a price set by Hotwire. With maybe 12 hours to go, I accepted a price of $71 per night (incl. taxes) and learned that we would be staying at the Barcelo Dominican Beach Resort. The relentless planner in me went to Trip Advisor to see what others had to say. The phrase "worst vacation ever" came up with alarming frequency. Then, I checked the weather. Every day featured a picture of a cranky-looking rain cloud. At this point, my inner planner went to sleep.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The surprising loveliness of St. Petersburg


On day 4 of our Arctic expedition, the five of us hopped a night train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, expecting it to be miraculously warmer at the other end. I even formulated some scientifically shaky theory involving the Baltic Sea, rouge breezes and an imaginary warm front coming to envelope us all. It is notions like this, and a myriad of other reasons really, that would make me a crap meteorologist. We had travelled straight north. Of course, it was colder...much, much colder.

But it was also sublimely stunning. The streets were exactly what a winter dream should like. Thanks to frequent snowfall, and believe me, it gave new meaning to the word 'frequent', the snow stayed white and pristine, not having time to turn into the usual snirt (snow dirt) I am accustomed to finding in big cities. The architecture, mainly neoclassical giving way to Art Moderne, rivals anything found in the grandest cities of Europe. The light has this crispness that is hard to put into words and even harder to capture in pictures. From the moment we stepped off the train, I was shivering in awe.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Country #86: The Magnificent Madness of Moscow in March

Question I have heard a number of times in the last week: Why would you go to Russia- a place created solely for bears and snow monsters- in the still frigid month of March?

Answers I have given : Because I can. Because it is there. It won't be so cold, really- statistical averages put in the high 40's and 50's during this time of year. (Note: Turns out, statistical averages lie like a bitch.) Because I found a fare for $199 RT from NY to Moscow ($411 with taxes). And finally: because I've never been.

To be both obvious and honest, one of these responses carried more weight than the others. I've been watching fares to Russia for ages, and combined with the hassles of acquiring a visa beforehand, have found much to be discouraged about. But now, with this cutthroat rate and enough time on my hands to follow the comedically-dictatorial process necessary to obtain a Russian visa, (ie. sample rule of many: Visa application photos must show the applicant with a neutral expression- no frowning, no smiling) I figured I could just layer-up and ignore the cold. This line of thinking must have had some merit to it- or I have successfully surrounded myself with like-minded travelers- because four friends, Amy, Laura, Diana and Georgiana also signed up for this snowy adventure.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Xmas in Hanoi


Here it was, the end of my journey through Vietnam. After landing in Ho Chi Minh City 20 days earlier, I'd made my way north through this geographically narrow but culturally vast country until arriving in the capital city, Hanoi. It was the longest solo trip I've done to date, but with so much to see and so many friendly people, it never really felt like I was alone.

My time in Hanoi was pretty limited, one day before Halong Bay and another after. It was enough to hit some highlights, see a water puppet show and celebrate Xmas with drunk ex-pats in Santa suits but not much more than that.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Happily Hanging in Halong (aka Alliteration is Fun!)


I landed in Hanoi, hoping to spend one night and then catch a boat to Halong Bay. What I had not hoped for was the nasty, rainy weather that greeted me and threatened to stick around for the duration of my visit. I checked into the hostel and went to weather.com hoping for reassurance- rain for the next five days. Obviously, they were hacks and did not know what they were talking about. So I went to wunderground.com- same answer. I tried a couple other sites, none gave me the answer I wanted. I started talking to people returning from Halong Bay trips. What did they know?

I was not sure what to do. The idea of boating, kayaking, snorkeling and hiking in the rain didn't really hold a lot of appeal. But when was the next time I was going to be this close to an almost natural world wonder? Like an idiot (because, really, there is no other word for it) I toyed with the idea of skipping Halong Bay. But, then again, rainy days amidst the hustle and bustle of Hanoi didn't sound so good either. It was one of those odd conundrums that felt very real at the time but looks pretty ridiculous in retrospect. World famous nature site vs. lively cosmopolitan city? Oh, the horrors. Particularly when there was nothing to prevent me from doing both.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

That's just the Hue it is..




Continuing North through Vietnam, the next designated stop on the Touristic HCM Trail is the ancient capital of the Nguyen dynasty, the history-filled city of Hue (pronounced hu-ay). I was chatting with my seat-mate on a Hue-bound bus when I began boasting about/ lamenting my condition as an over-planner. On the one hand, whenever I arrive into a city, I know exactly where I am going, have a good idea what I am getting (via reviews and travel boards) and sometimes even have arranged pick-ups so I can skip all the tout-related harassment. On the other hand, I know I missing out on some of that spontaneity and 'live in the moment' spirit of travel that non-planners crow about. Given the number of backpackers I have seen late at night, lugging their stuff from place to place, trying to find a bed in any place that will have them, I am generally ok with the trade-off.

But just when you think you have it all under control, the travel gods come along and sneak a whoopie cushion under our ass. Such was the case in Hue. I arrived at the highly recommended Nino hotel, with my printed months-old reservation form, and was warmly greeted into a lovely antique-filled lobby. After two cups of tea and a few furtive phone calls taking place behind the desk, it dawned on me that something was wrong. I soon learned that something was the fact that I had arrived on Dec. 17th but thanks to a drop-down menu glitch had made my reservation for Nov. 17th. The conversation I'd just had came roaring back to me. Here I was, with all my bags and nowhere to stay... precisely in the situation I work so diligently to avoid. I was so busy fuming at my mistake that I did not notice that the well-documented hospitality of the hotel staff had already kicked in. The manager had made some calls and gotten me discounted rates at some nearby hotels and then put his brother to the task of touring me around downtown Hue, showing me all my options, all the while apologizing for what was unquestionably my screw-up. It only took two stops to find a winner, the modern, airy Ideal hotel right in the center of the bar/ restaurant action. The Nino's manager had arranged a spacious $60 room with a balcony and my own private garden for way less. It was somewhere I never would have booked, based on the listed price, but now that I was there, I loved it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hoi An Taylor

Two things I learned mid-way through my tour of 'Nam:

1) Hoi An is probably one of the most beautiful cities in all of the country.

2) Getting there via a Camel line night-bus from Nha Trang is not such a great idea.

Earlier, I wrote about how efficient and stress-free the Fula/ Pula buses were.  On this journey, I met their bizarro world counterparts, the Camel bus line (or to use their full name, the "You'd wish you ridden a camel instead bus line").  Not to get into all the nasty details, because #1 is the memory I am taking away from all this, but the bus was filthy and smelled like feet. For 13 hours, the driver was reckless, even by regional standards.  And they crowded the aisles with local villagers sleeping on the floor, making it impossible to reach the (possibly working) bathroom.  Not that this mattered, I guess, since I woke up to find- first thing in the morning- a toddler with his penis in a water bottle and a group of women making "ssssss" sounds, trying to get him to pee into the bottle. Before the little darling had produced a single drop, I had already reached the conclusion that there would be no more overnight buses in my future.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Naw, Trang

Stop #4 on the Trail: Nha Trang, a popular, touristy beachy party town, a Vietnamese Cancun, if you will. And like Cancun, it is not really a place where anyone in a sober state of mind would want to stay for too long. Perhaps I say this because it was raining during most of my time there; it was the wrong time of year for scuba-diving; I already live by a beach and/ or, this may have been a big contributing factor, I contracted a pesky stomach bug that left me not really feeling up for the Spring Break-like bacchanalian spirit that prevailed.

Initially, I was pretty excited about the multitude of restaurants, bars and galleries around the corner from my hotel, the fantastic Ha Van. I spent an hour taking in the surroundings, both on the beach and off, before checking back in at the hotel and asking if perhaps there was something else that I should be doing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Easy Riding in Dalat


I have already blogged Dalat...sort of. In my kangaroo-induced excitement (and, let's be honest, my need to get in a December adventure), I wrote about the Crazy House mere days after my return to the States. In that same frenzied state, very similar to extreme jet lag as I recall, I neglected to mention much about what exists outside the walls of Chez Loco. That is a real shame because Dalat ended up being one of my favorite places in all of Vietnam.

I arrived into Dalat via a surprisingly comfortable seven hour bus ride from Saigon aboard a bus line that has not decided whether it wants to be called Fula or Pula. The buses say one thing and the uniforms another. With clean buses, competent drivers and free bottled waters, Pula/ Fula made the ride through glorious mountain passes even more enjoyable than I had expected.  They also set me up for certain disappointment in the north, but that's a story for another time. This story has more to do with Easy Riders and their motorcycles than Pula/ Fula and their buses.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mekong Delta Blues

From the traffic and scooter madness of Saigon,  it was time to venture south-west to the peace and serenity of the Mekong Delta. I accomplished this via a three day tour commonly offered at every travel agency and am now here to say that the three day tour is much too long (as the one day tour is much too short). It is the two day tour that is the best bet, assuming you are returning to Saigon, that is. If not, then disregard everything I just said.

On day one of my escape to the wetlands (my 3rd such escape if you also count the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Danube Delta in Romania, all before setting foot in the Everglades, a mere few hours from my home), I was joined by two lovely French couples and an elderly American woman who had a disturbing propensity for vomiting and collapsing at the worst possible moments. I would have been more sympathetic to the old lady's plight if she would have heeded the advice of the guide and Fadia, one of the French women who also happened to be an incredibly kind-hearted doctor, and returned to Saigon to seek medical attention but she stubbornly refused to listen and thus we were almost two hours late and with a near invalid in tow by the time we got near the water.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

No, not the famed mountain and river routes used by the Northern Vietnamese Army to provide aid and support to their Southern counterparts.  I'm referring to the current backpacker tracks.  There are two: either you begin in Ho Chi Minh City and go north or you start in Hanoi and go south.  Either way, somewhere along the way, you end up crossing paths with those who chose differently than you and fervently exchange notes on all the places they've been/ you're going to.   If this sounds like conveyor-belt tourism, it sort of is, but with a country as long and narrow as Vietnam, it is all but unavoidable.

I chose option #1 so my introduction to Vietnam came via that place that no one really calls Ho Chi Minh City.  It has had that name since 1976 and every now and then, you see the abbreviation HCMC used in newspaper and such, but almost everyone I came across still refers to it by its earlier name, Saigon.  I guess this is akin to how I still refer to the place where the Dolphins regularly lose as Joe Robbie Stadium even though that name has not existed since the mid-90's.  Also Miss Ho Chi Minh City would make a crap name for a musical.