I broke the strictest, most imperative and perhaps the only rational rule of travel. I did zero research before I embarked on a month-long country cross in Southeast Asia. I knew so little of the trip I booked so late for that I literally had the faintest idea of basic geographic knowledge. All I knew was that my I had heaps of crumpled small denominations of dollars and pesos in almost every possible stashed opening of my 60L backpack, rolled random clothing held together with brown elastic bands for varying weather (yes, in Asia where the only sure description of the weather involved the words humidity, extreme heat and a possible heat stroke), a completely charged and battered slim iPod partnered up with an idiotically bulky choice for a D-SLR and a booked ticket sandwiched in between my copy of jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, leaving for Ho Chi Minh. An old polite-looking foreign guy queuing up behind me in the flight check-in counter attempted to break the monotony of light local Filipino chatter by asking me if I was on my way to Saigon. I gave him an equally polite smile and told him I was going to Ho Chi Minh. He seemed confused and repeated “So you’re going to Saigon.” Poor old dude, he seems really nice but he’s obviously already hard of hearing. I adjusted my voice and spoke a few decibels above normal conversation level and used my trainer skills by properly syllabicating “No, not-sai-gon. Ho-chi-minh.” He might have heard it correctly this time and we probably weren’t going the same way because he backed down and did not attempt to speak to me again.
It would be days later before I learn that Ho Chi Minh was still known for its famed old name Saigon.