Saigon and activities

Trip Start Jan 16, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, February 17, 2006

So we made it away from Soc Trang safely and you know that Phuc was there to see us off. A half hour early as expected. We again thanked him a lot for his time with us. He gave us his cell number so we can call him if we have any problems while we are in Vietnam. Good to have an inside source if we need one. The bus trip was uneventful (thankfully), except for the guy falling asleep on my shoulder. We made it through and then picked up a moto to a part of the town we want to stay in. This place is really called Ho Chi Minh City and is divided into about 23 districts. District 1, where we are staying, is called Saigon. We got a hotel for 14 USD dropped our bags and showered. Nice enough place, better than that piece of crap we stayed in during our time in Soc Trang. We arrived and actually saw Westerners! After being stared at for the better part of 4 days it was nice to see other travelers. No one here stopping and staring anymore, yea. We also had a mad craving for food that we could recognize so we went to a cafe that served recognizable food and ordered food. Amy had the hamburger and I the spaghetti with meat sauce. It wasn't as good as the Dunravens but it was definitely what I wanted. We cleaned the plates down to nothing. I even got to buy a copy of the USA Today and read news from home. It really is the little pleasures that you miss. We relaxed with our paper and sat on the balcony writing in our journals. Since we had to write about the Nguyen clan it took a while. After that we treated ourselves to a really nice dinner out, since it was Valentines day. Beautiful lamb shank topped with porcini mushrooms (thinking of you Tony), and Amy had Argintinian steak smothered with a gorgonzola cream sauce. Espresso, chocolate mousse and limoncello finished off our sumptuous dinner. It was a full 30 bucks, which is a fortune here. Shopped around for another hotel, ours is too much and not noisy enough. Found just what we were looking for down the street. It is 4 dollars less a day, is larger, and has a balcony looking out on the street, lots of noise. So we checked out of the first hotel (after the free breakfast was served), and moved our bags down the street. Then we set off on our walking tour of the city. Got side tracked in the market buying presents for you folks. Won't say who got what though, it would ruin the surprise. Then it was off again to some of the other local sights. Went to the American war (the Vietnam war to us), remnants museum. It tells the communist side of the story of our conflict with them. Interesting none the less. Especially the hall showing photos of all the photographers, and their work, who died covering the conflict. I think it was about 40 or so photographers from almost 10 countries. Some even had their last shots on film displayed which were snapped seconds before their demise. Since we ran out of time to tour the Reunification Palace we headed back home for the night. We booked a tour for the following day for the Cu Chi tunnels about 20 km outside of Saigon. This is where there was a massive tunnel complex that made it able for the VC to move around undetected during the Vietnam war. It is a massive honeycomb network with as many as 3 different levels to it, and almost 200 miles long overall. There were kitchens, make shift hospitals, living quarters and trapdoors inside. There were even secret entrances underneath the level of the river that were impossible to detect. These people were ingenious in so many ways. They made the metal spikes for the trapdoors out of exploded ordinance, shoes out of discarded tires and took the dirt from the tunnel digging and put it into bomb craters so as not to be detected as to where the tunnels were. The most amazing thing I think was the kitchens and air holes. The kitchens which are underground would vent the smoke over 100 meters away from the cooking sight. Even then it wasn't a straight chimney, it was a few holes on the sides of a concrete slab covered with leaves. So as not to let the smoke come out of the chimney the way you and I are used to. Then the air holes were made at an angle to take advantage of the prevailing wind and lined with bamboo. They also had screens towards the top so critters couldn't get in and neither could American tear gas. Then they let us down in a section of the tunnels. They had been enlarged for the western size body and were still VERY small. The section we were able to go through was about 100 yards, and that was plenty for me. It was hot and dark. We were only underground for a couple of minutes and came out drenched in sweat. I don't know how they spent weeks and months in there without coming out, but they did. Back home, shower and rest. Then we went down to the swank Rex hotel for a drink on their roof top bar. It was great feeling the breeze so far above the street as we enjoyed our evenings libations. It was expensive though, I think it was almost as much as having a drink in the US. Still it didn't amount to more than 15 dollars for our 4 drinks. Back home to set up our bus ticket for the rest of the country. This might be the best deal we have come across so far. We have read, talked to people and seen it advertised all over here. The open bus ticket. If you buy it all the way to Hanoi, which we have, it stops at about 7 different cities. They are all places we want to go anyway so it works great. The ticket is good for up to 6 months which is plenty of time for us. We are able to stay at any stopping point as long as you wish and then just call a day ahead for the next bus out. All of this for a grand total of 22 USD a person. We can travel the length of the country for the cost of a bottle of wine. Unbelievable. So we have all of our travel set for the rest of the country, which is nice. So we have decided to take the 8pm to midnight bus to Mui Ne tomorrow and move on. It is a small beach area surrounded by gigantic sand dunes. Our tans are fading, (I know you are very sad for us), and we feel it is time to get back to the beach. We had our hotel guy call ahead for a hotel there so we will be greeted at the bus station by our driver. This has been a really good place though, seems quite a bit like Bangkok, but cleaner. The street action is nice and the street food is cheap and brilliant. Just last night I had a pork chop with rice and veggies for 73 cents. It smelled so good when I walked by that I had to have one. We ate it while we enjoyed one of the local delicacies, Bia Hoi. That means fresh beer. They serve out these gigantic kegs and bring it to you in liter containers. They cost a whopping 50 each. So dinner and beer last night set us back $1.73. With all the cash we are not spending Amy feels that we have plenty to go shopping with tomorrow before we leave town. I, of course, am not so sure. That's life in HCMC we should be updating again in a few days with more beach pics and the like. Take care all you are in our thoughts.

A n D
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