Saigon - or HCMC if you like
Trip Start Sep 14, 2009
78Trip End Aug 16, 2010
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
After being dropped off again some 5km out of town we took a taxi to the backpackers area, where we had picked a hotel out of the Lonely Planet book and whilst it was good, it was a bit above our budget so Issy and I set off to find a place to stay. There were quite a few touts trying to get us to stay at their hotels for which they receive a commission and we went with one down the infamous back alleys of the old town, stepping over people making and eating their food it on the pavement. The deeper we ventured down the maze of alleys, the tighter Issy held my hand. Although there was nothing to be scared of, it was fairly daunting to be led down the dim passages from one poor hotel to another
Saigon is a city that is going through a massive transformation. Huge modern glass buildings are popping up everywhere and the downtown area is full of chic boutiques and restaurants. Suffice to say we didn’t go there much, preferring to stay in the old part where the atmosphere that I had seen in old films still prevails. Crazy markets and bustling streets with hawker stalls everywhere. Crossing the road was in itself a life threatening event. We all held hands in a long row with me at the for front of being hit first. We had to walk slowly across allowing the motor cycles to take their own evasive action.
You cannot go to Vietnam without being touched one way or another by the war (or rather wars if you consider the French occupation)
We also visited the Cu Chi Tunnels that are about two hours north of Saigon which is where the Viet Cong, occupied a large area that the American Forces were unable to infiltrate despite carpet bombing the whole area to nothing. There were 200km of underground tunnels that were incredibly small measuring around 50x30cm so that the large framed Americans were unable to follow the locals. They have dug out a “tourist tunnel” that is twice the size of the old ones, but still it is a squeeze to get through and you literally have to sort of crouch down and waddle through like a duck
From here the Viet Cong resisted every attempt to destroy them and whilst suffering large casualties, they survived the end of the war. There were also examples of the traps that they set up to catch and kill troops including pits dug into the ground with bamboo spikes tipped with poison. There was also an array of land mines that are still killing and maiming hundreds of people each year. Inside the area is a shooting range where you can shoot anything from a Colt 45 to a huge Rambo type machine gun. I paid my $10 and went down with Aidan to fire an AK47. Liz and Issy were with us to watch but when the first person fired his rifle next to us we all screamed in pain at the noise. It was the largest most shocking bang I have ever heard. I had no idea that it was sooooooooo loud and cannot imagine what it would be like in a war situation with those things going off all the time around you. Anyway, undeterred we put on ear protectors (we found out they were for show only as they had no insides to them) and I took aim with the AK47. The guns are strapped down so that you can’t run amok and there are targets to hit some 50 yards ahead
The trip to the tunnels was combined with a visit to Caodai Temple which is a multi faith church in Vietnam with some 2 million followers. The Temple itself is fabulously decorated in bright colours and the central focus is the “all seeing eye”. There are four religions that are included in the faith, Maoist, Buddhist, Catholic and Hindu and each has it’s own colour associated to it. We were there for a short service where we were allowed to observe from the galleries above. A strange place, that seemed very serious as there were “quiet police” everywhere although I suppose by having four religions they are covering all bases.
On one weekday we took a taxi out to a theme park where there was a water park for the kids to cool down in. On arriving we found the water park section but it was cram packed with screaming school kids on day trips out. There wasn’t any space in the place at all and so we reluctantly decided to give it a miss and visit the rest of the park which had an archaic log flume, dodgem cars where we were the only dodgems so the guys manning it took pity on Issy and Ady and proceeded to chase them around in other cars
In front of our hotel was a long thin park, where at night, we went to watch hundreds of people who would flock to and take part in mass aerobic sessions, games of badminton in dim street lights, play keepy-uppy games with feathered shuttlecock type balls, and basically chill out. At around six in the morning there were Thai Chi groups that we heard about. We didn’t actually make one funnily enough!
Saigon had a nice feel to it and we enjoyed our time there with the contrasts between modern and ancient Vietnam still evident.