Vietnam - Mekong Delta and Saigon

Trip Start Apr 15, 2008
Trip End Apr 01, 2010

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mekong Delta - Making its way from the plateau of Tibet through China, Laos and Cambodia, the Mekong fans out as it reaches Vietnam, originally forming nine tributaries that gave the delta region its Vietnamese name 'Cuu Long' (meaning nine dragons). We travelled a few hours southwest from Saigon to reach Vinh Long, in the centre of the delta. Our journey was very slow as this was the first day of the new luna year and millions of Saigon's population were heading out of town for the holidays. When we arrived we boarded a little wooden boat and found ourselves in amongst the water highways that are used to transport everything from schoolchildren to mountains of rice.
The delta supports a mass of cottage industries and at every turn there are people making rice paper, putting pots into smoking kilns and bashing out tools for harvesting the plentiful supply of rice. After chilling out in a hammock over lunch we jumped into a sampan rowing boat and donned a conical hat for a peaceful trip downstream with the aid of an experienced rower!
Our home for the night was courtesy of a local family, we stayed in a house on the edge of the river. Our host family's hospitality was wonderful, after exploring the local area we feasted on an excellent dinner washed down with rice wine. We slept in a dorm in army-cot style beds under mosquito nets, unfortunately I didn't get much sleep as the dogs barked all night, aided by the cockerels and then a loud speaker came on about 5am belching out music and broadcasting to the peasants, I assume this is a wake up call to get the farmers back out into the rice paddies to work?
Cu Chi Tunnels - Cu Chi was the military command of the Viet Cong troops during the war with the Americans in the 1960's. Here there are a series of underground tunnels where the Vietnamese used to hide in the daylight hours to avoid the B52 bombings. There are over 200kms of tunnels on three different levels. These tunnels have to be experienced to be believed, they are so small, hot and humid I just cannot believe people used to live down there, baby's were even born down in the tunnels. We were able to experience crawling through a section of the tunnel, I can tell you it was a very harrowing experience, we couldn't wait to get back above the ground, it was really claustrophobic. As part of the tour we were shown the various cruel but ingenious traps the Vietnamese made from very basic materials, and had the option to shoot an AK45 assault rifle, we passed that one by!
The War Remnants Museum (Saigon) was an excellent place to visit, but also a very sobering experience, unbelievable to think something like the Vietnam war could happen only a few decades ago. The museum was opened to the public in 1975, its role to display exhibits of war crimes to remind the world what went on in the hope that it will not happen again. Graphic pictures and horrific accounts of the atrocities of this war are incredibly moving. 
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) - Before we came to Vietnam the name Saigon conjured up many images and it wasn't long before this buzzing city had us under its spell. From first light the streets gradually fill with early morning exercise fanatics, pots of pho noodle soup bubble away ready for the breakfast rush and by mid-morning the wide tree-lined boulevards are packed with thousands of motorbikes. The smell of Vietnamese coffee seeps from street cafés and as the day progresses, men sit drinking tea and playing frantic games of Chinese chess. Evidence of the colonial past can still be seen as baguettes and coffee are served outside crumbling French villas. Saigon as it is popularly known despite being renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975, has lots to offer: from wartime history in the War Remnants Museum or the former government buildings of the Reunification Hall to the stunning pagodas of nearby Chinatown and the chaotic local markets that sell everything from chopsticks to chickens.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi or Happy New Year! The Vietnamese sure know how to celebrate; the holiday goes on for a week. There are many activities in the streets the dragon dances being very popular, people burning mock money too, its supposed to bring them prosperity. At night the fairy lights light up the trees, streets and buildings, it is like another world. There are people everywhere, huge flower arrangements adorn the boulevards and music blasts at you from every direction, it is a hectic and crazy scene but intoxicating, we were so lucky to have timed our trip for this special event. In summary we would really recommend a trip to Vietnam for a unique adventure, much better than sitting on a beach sipping cocktails!
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