Saigon / Ho Chi Min City (23rd to 28th Feb)

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Vietnam, all hotels/families who have foreigners to stay must register the foreigners' passport with the police. While doing the paperwork, our guest house owner pointed out that we only had a few days left on our visa.... (we thought we had a couple of weeks left). We got the Visas in Vientienne and didn't notice that the 30 days ran from the date of application not the date of entry. Not wishing to spend time in a Vietnamese gaol, our first mission was to organise our departure from Vietnam BEFORE our visa ran out. Not as easy as it sounds, as all flights are booked up until after our visa expires. Penalties at the airport are VERY severe we are advised. It took nearly all day and we ended up searching all airline and nearly all destination's in Asia - directly and indirectly from HCMC. Ended up paying a lot for business class flights to Bangkok.......

From then on we relaxed and spent time enjoying the sights and the life of Saigon.  

We had decided to stay in the backpackers area of District 1, Pham Ngu Lao. Our guest house, Ngoc Son at $12 a night was down a very long alleyway in a local part of town, about 15-20 minutes walk  from the main tourist area of Saigon  (where rooms go for $100-$750 a night).  The guesthouse owner spoke great English and he, and his family were really friendly, It took us a couple of days to days to find but there were some good and cheap places to eat nearby in Bui Tien street and we were really pleased to have chosen this area.   Finally tried the "Bia Hoi" the local "fresh beer"  - very nice and very cheap too at 25c a glass.  We continued to do a lot of walking in Saigon, averaging 7-10 miles a day.  

Two of the most beautiful buildings in central saigon are the Post office and the Catholic cathedral. also very interesting were two of the main temples in Cholon (Chinatown).  One of the oldest and one of the largest, Thien Hau, is the temple that many of the boat people visited in the 1975 exodus to pray for safe passage on the water, as it is dedicated to the goddess of the sea (obviously didn't work for a lot of them!).  Today, the temple is well maintained by donations made by those overseas Vietnamese that did survive the boats and have found a successful life overseas.    

We also went to the War Remnants Museum (no photos here) which we had seen on a previous trip here. This time the museum had grown substantially and was still expanding.  it appears, when compared with previous visits, that material around the "american" war had been "watered down" somewhat and the exhibits extended to cover other wars around the world. The theme seemed generally to be around the communist fight against capitalist aggression in Africa, Europe, Cuba etc. Most evocative/horrific were the were photos of the effects of the Napalm and Dioxin (Agent Orange) used by the USA in Vietnam. It seems the world never learns the lessons of history!!!    There were the planes/tanks and artillery used during the Vietnamese war and relatively new exhibit replicating the prison cages used by the South Vietnamese regime.  More like a theme park really and not nearly as moving as Tuol Sleng in Phnom Pen.

Another trip was out to the Reunification Palace - previously known as the Independence Palace.   It was here that a North Vietnamese Army tank rammed through the gates to overthrow the president of the South of Vietnam and ended the war in 1975.    The tank is still in the garden. 

There is also a plane in the garden, which two pilots (from the South and acting against orders, as they were really communist spies) used to try to kill the president by bombing the palace.  They did not succeed.  One of these pilots is, bizarrely, now the Vice President of Vietnam Airlines and still flies government dignitaries around today!

The traffic in Saigon is terrible.  Really, really noisy and most drivers have mastered the art of being able to not look where they are going and never meeting the eyes of anyone.  We were trying to walk across the road using a Zebra crossing  (not that they mean anything at all here!) and were right in the middle of the road when one guy came around the corner, still looking behind him and ran straight into Clive. Unfortunately, the motorbike driver did not even fall off after hitting Clive and just carried on regardless.  Upon reflection, it was a good job he did carry on because if Clive had got hold of him, I don't think he would have been riding for quite some time!    It is normal for both sides of the road to be used for travel in both directions motorbikes frequently ride along the pavements as well and red traffic lights are routinely ignored.    Our considered opinion is that in Vietnam, Hanoi has the noisiest drivers  (always,  and I do mean always, sounding their horn) but they will at least try not to hit you. Hue has the most considerate drivers. Saigon has the worst drivers in the entire world who are simply incapable of traveling and looking in the same direction at the same time.   Clive lived to tell the tale with an injury on his leg (which later got infected but is OK now). 
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Where I stayed
Ngoc Son

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