Miss Saigon

Trip Start Sep 19, 2009
Trip End May 19, 2010

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We caught a flight from Da Nang (20km from Hoi An) to Ho Chi Minh City, better known still by its former name, Saigon. Sadly, we had decided to miss out the other famous Vietnam beach areas in favour of seeing Cambodia and Laos on our whistle stop tour of SE Asia. Arriving in Saigon, we had a pick up arranged with our hostel. Unfortunately, nobody was there to meet us. Soon finding ourselves the only ones left at the airport, we decided to get a cab (which turned out to be half the price). What followed next was an big argument with the hostel owner, who was not pleased his driver was still at the airport waiting for us. We held our ground, pointing out that being that our flight had landed an hour previously, this was not much use... After it had all calmed down, we booked all our tours through him (mainly to keep things sweet!) and we went to explore the city.

I had thought Hanoi was tricky to cross the road, however it turns out it is nothing compared to Saigon. On arriving at the hostel, our taxi driver had to drag me out to the middle of the road to cross as we didn't know how to even start! Apparently, closing your eyes to cross is the way to go, although we did not fancy giving that a go yet! In need of some toiletries, we headed to the huge Ben Thanh market, where upon passing stalls the vendors were trying to grab us by the hand to buy their goods! It was a case of walking quickly with your head down, while subtly looking at the stalls! We eventually came across a stall with what we needed, as well as loads of discounted perfumes and aftershaves, which were much cheaper than we would pay at home. What then proceeded was Ben bartering with this comical little Vietnamese guy while chatting about football, with the final agreement on price coming down to a rock, paper scissors game! Unfortunately, Ben lost - so we paid the vendors amount. Fortunately, it was still peanuts and with such a good spirited barter, we were happy to part with the extra money! He then threw in what we really needed (toothpaste) for free!

We were also in dire need of some sun cream, but could only find tiny bottles with factor 50 or 80! We hadn’t really thought it would be a problem, but of course in Asia they want to be white and we were not going to get brown on factor 50! We ventured in the other direction to find a large supermarket, in hope of sun cream and olive oil, something also tricky in Asia to find as most had no idea what we were asking for! You may ask why we wanted Olive oil? It was not for cooking but for Bens blocked ear! Works a treat apparently, although I think after 7 months of travelling together, he was quite happy only half hearing! In order to get to the supermarket, we crossed this tiny roundabout - with a huge mass of road, and motorbikes and cars going in every direction possible. It was complete mayhem and terrifying to cross, made even more interesting when Ben tried to video the entire procedure! We were in luck for the olive oil, but not for sun cream! Oh dear!

Recommended by our hostel owner (who was now talking to us), we ventured down an alley way for supper, eating at a gem of a place called 'Little Saigon’ where they cook your food in an open planned hut opposite the restaurant. You can watch the food being prepared, and when it came out it was absolutely scrummy. By a stroke of luck, a pharmacy stall nearby had a 15 sun cream in a bottle bigger than your thumb, phew!

After some more delicious banana pancakes along with our now obligatory tea with condensed milk for breakie, we were off on a half day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels. On the way, we stopped at another huge ceramic shop and factory – this seems to be the thing to do here, but it was interesting to see the workers making the goods. At the tunnels, we had a guide who showed us all the different traps that were used in the Vietnam war. These were pretty nasty traps that would drive sharp metal into your legs or body when walking over them... Following on from this, we were taken to a gimmicking shooting range, which was so loud and every time someone shot I involuntarily blinked, much to Ben’s amusement – I’d be useless in a battle! Before we went into the tunnels, which were built to hide in when the enemies were near, we were shown the hidden entrances; so tiny that apparently one female tourist had got her hips stuck in it last week, haha not for me to try then! We used the tourist entrance to the tunnels with proper steps... however on going down I got panicking seeing that we would have to crawl through and it was pitch black! Strangely enough, this panicked me more than the working mines we had been into in Bolivia, probably as this time we had no torch or guide. I got out of the queue and waited until the majority of people had entered. Then, I forced myself back to experience it... it was not fun! I didn’t have to crawl (as I’m small!) but I did have to crouch which was very uncomfortable. It was so dark i had to use the screen of my camera for light, and after 25 metres I was relieved to get out. I guess as a matter of life and death this was actually a good choice, but I just don’t know how they did it?!

Back in Saigon, we were dropped off at the War museum, which covered in great detail Vietnam's war with America. To be honest we were both utterly shocked at what we read and the pictures we saw from the result of attacks on villages. Obviously, we were seeing a biased point of view, but we had a lot to learn here - not knowing much about this war and how the Americans got involved. It is amazing how little we are told about the atrocities here, back in the Western world. With this war being so recent, we were reading of so many lives affected now and the victims still so young. It’s actually amazing how un-bitter the generation seem to be now...

After a harrowing hour, we were glad to get out and walk the streets of central Saigon. We passed the Imperial palace, where the war eventually ended. It had impressive grounds and building, although it is now mainly used for conferences. In desperate need of lunch we found a rather posh looking restaurant, where they cook the food to one side in front of you. Sadly we were very disappointed with the food. It just shows the cheap eats on the side streets are the ones to go for...

We decided as we enjoyed it so much the night before, we would go back to Little Saigon for dinner. Then, it was an early night before a two day tour of the Mekong River that would eventually lead us in Cambodia...      
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