Saigon. A walk in the park!
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog› entry 17 of 35 › view all entries
We arrived in Saigon after a 4 1/2 hour journey from Mui Ne. It was by far the best bus ride we've had and even though it was in the middle of the day was still a sleeper bus! We shared 3 beds between us at the back :)
Arrived early evening and began our search for a guest house (by far the worst we've had!). We saw a dingy, dirty $14 room which after nearly 1 hour of looking I was willing to settle for if it meant taking off my backpack (but I insisted on soldiering on!)! After being led by a local lady offering us an $8 room, down a maze of alleys and past groups of dodgy looking locals (to what looked like her house!!), we politely declined (to which she responded, "i've got a hot shower"), and got the hell out of there! We returned to a nice but slioghtly more expensive Spring House Hotel :)
After eating we found a Bia Hoi etablishment and sat on the street for a well needed drink (more cheap booze)!!
The next day, on our realisation that it was pancake day, we went to a restaurant and had pancakes for breakfast (with a tropical twist! Mango and coconut!!)!
Afterwards, we visited the War Remnants Museum which was a real eye opener and quite disturbing (but there were still tanks and helicopters that were awesome!). The museum mainly contains war photographs including some horrific images like soldiers being blown up by landmines, civillians moments before being shot dead, and worst of all pictures of the many disabled and disfigured people and innocent children due to the effects of agent orange. There is even a case containing 2 affected foetuses.
Back at the hotel we tried a can of Birds Nest drink from our minibar (it didn't actually taste too bad. Lumpy!)!! Then off we went to Pho 24 for tea (Vietnam's equivalent to Subway. Minus the sandwiches!).
The following day was our tour to Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels (just what I've been waiting for)!! Caodaism (meaning high tower) is a mix of Buddhism, Christianity, Hindi, Confucianism, Taoism and Muslim, and the followers visit the temple to pray every 6 hours - 6am, 12noon, 6pm and 12midnight!! They dress in different coloured robes with each colour representing a specific religion. The temple was beautiful and very colourful and contained 9 steps to heaven, on which the worshippers move up every 5 years (its like a Southeast Asian version of Scientology!!)!
After witnessing some of the service we left and continued on our way to the tunnels where our guide 'Slim Jim' showed us around! First was a well disguised hole in the ground for snipers to hide in. It was tiny with a lid to cover it and Jim volunteered to get in (the smallest space I've ever been in! and damp!!). Next we were shown a variety of horrific traps (including a Bamboo trap. Man, I really wanted to see a Bamboo trap!), which all consisted of sharp spikes to puncture the enemy on various parts of the body depending on which trap they unfortunately stumbled upon (none were really fatal. They were used as objects of terror against the enemy). Our third port of call was a firing range where if you desired, you could purchase bullets to fire an array of weapons (I desired!!). We thought we weren't going to have enough dong as 10 bullets was the minimum purchase, but another member of out group in the same boat suggested going halves (to which we politely agreed! Yay guns!!). The weapon of choice was an AK47 (the one we could afford and share. The M60 looked good but would have wasted the bullets too fast to share!) and Jim went first (it was pinned to the wall though so not much recoil), then the other guy took his shots. There were a couple of shots left so I stepped up and pulled the trigger of a real live gun! Hehe :D (I wanted to keep one of the spent rounds but we guessed that would be a big no-no on a plane, so pics will have to suffice!)
Then it was time for the long awaited tunnels (which were wicked!)! Slim Jim informed us they had been doubled in size for us Westerners to go down. So we commenced our trip through the 100metres of the tunnel system still intact. We ambled (well, some of us crawled) through the dark, tight, humid space (you can hardly call it a space!), about 10metres underground and emerged the other side drenched in sweat (it looked more like i'd swam through there). We were rewarded for our efforts with steamed Tapioca and some Vietnamese green tea before heading back to Saigon. Had some street food and a drinking coconut each (our first and last in Vietnam), then brought some giant lychees!
The next day was a lazy day and Jim fetched some goods from the bakery next door (ABC man! the best baked goods in the Southern Hemisphere). We took a stroll to a Pagoda which was in a dive of an area (and looked like a dive of a Pagoda) and I wasn't really dressed appropriately! So we went to KFC instead (gotta have a little fix from the West!)! We stumbled upon a free gym that's actually in a park (hence the title of this entry!) and had a little workout of our own!!
We went on a tour to Mekong Delta the following day and it was made apparant early on that we wouldn't be getting the trip we'd booked which was quite annoying (but we thought the itinerary still seemed good and quite similar, and if this was the extent of our being ripped off in Vietnam then we'd done pretty well!). The day turned out to be very pleasant (despite the annoying big-headed guide who called himself Stiffler!). Our boat took us past the 4 islands - Phoenix, Unicorn, Dragon and turtle - 2 of which we got to explore. First of all we got into small boats and donned conical hats and were rowed by locals (for a short amount of time, me too!) through the shady canals. On the first island we sampled a variety of tropical fruits while listening to traditional music, then got to see some bee farming and the production of local honey (of course we got to sample more food and drink! Honey tea was wicked!), and Jim got to stick his finger in amongst the bees and lick their honey (I'm a bonafied Winnie the pooh)!! Next it was onto the coconut candy workshop where we saw the production of coconut sweets (these were a tasty little number). At the end, Jim got to hold a Python (our guide showed his true colours and wasn't very nice to the snake. So Han refused to hold it incase it got frustrated!). Back on the boat to island number 2 where we had a free lunch (which didn't really consist of very much!), the a few hours free time to explore. We grabbed a couple of bicycles (with all the suspension on mine it was more like a low rider!) and took a look around (where I nearly got crushed between 2 mopeds on a bridge!!). Then it was time to return to Saigon where we went for a lovely meal in a friendly restaurant (quite literally the nicest people we met in Vietnam. It doesn't hurt to smile :) ). We had a quiet one on our last night, toasting Vietnam with our cans of Lipton Iced Tea (that had become our drink of Nam - other than beer of course!) while watching the discovery channel in the comfort of our hotel room (later on as Han fell asleep I found Nicholas Cage in 'Bangkok Dangerous' amd thought it would be good to watch as research!).
On our final day we visited Binh's Soup Shop (Pho Binh meaning Peace Soup) which during the war was the secret headquarters of the Vietcong (serving oblivious GIs beef noodle soup while planning the Tet offensive upstairs). After our bowls of Pho Bo we were honoured with an invitation upstairs to take a look at the secret meeting room (which donned a shrine to NVA generals and the original owner, and of course Uncle Ho!). Then we had to rush back to the hottel for our taxi to the airport. Au revoir Vietnam!