Last stop in Vietnam... Saigon

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
Ngo Clinh Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, February 8, 2012

We've had to cheat and fly to Saigon as all the trains were fully booked and we didn’t fancy a 24 hour bus on Vietnamese roads (they’re nothing like S. American buses!) We’re staying in the backpacker area, although it’s touristy it’s good to have things like bus and tour operators on your doorstep plus there are plenty bars to keep us amused.  We were pleasantly surprised by Saigon as we had heard that it was hectic and busy with traffic, so we were imagining another Bangkok.  Instead we were able to walk into the centre (mostly on pavements) beside park areas and find some historic buildings which make the centre interesting to visit.  There is the Rex Hotel where the journalists were briefed during the Vietnam War, City Hall and an Opera House which all have good French architecture.  We drop by the market on our way which is a bit more like Asia, with sellers pushing t-shirts and shorts into our faces and at one point I got a slap on the bottom for not paying attention (from a woman seller which I think makes it ok!?) We also head to the War Remnants Museum which tells the story of the Vietnam War from the point of view of the North Vietnamese and the effects on the Vietnamese population.  The surprising part to the museum is that it seems to explain why the Vietnamese don’t seem to bear a grudge against the US people.  There are many photos of the US protests against the war and stories of US soldiers and pilots who refused to continue fighting in the war.  Other parts of the exhibition show the effects of Agent Orange on the population (the chemicals dropped to destroy the tree and foliage cover the North Vietnamese used to hide).  The photos are pretty horrific and without getting too political, make you wonder how the US have not paid compensation to the Vietnamese people but have paid out to the US soldiers that have suffered problems after coming into contact with the chemicals.

We have a slightly more light hearted evening where we go for a few beers and try and work out the situation with the many Asian girls in bars talking to older Western men.  We have since learned that usually the situation isn’t as bad as it looks, the girls are there for conversation and paid commission on beers sold.  They can earn a fairly good living and practice English so although it seems strange to us, in a lot of cases there isn’t anything more dodgy happening.  Saying that, we also did see a few Western odd balls walking about with pretty Asian girls but I’ll say nothing more about that.  We spend the evening in the street bars, sitting on tiny plastic stools drinking beer literally on the street and watching the world go by, definitely one of our favourite spots for enjoying Asian city life

Next day we are on a trip to Cu Chi Tunnels, the tunnels used by the North Vietnamese to fight, live and hide in.  The tunnels were originally constructed to fight the French and conveniently used for fighting the US.  Of course as we know is normal in Vietnam, our tour included a stop at a shop for an opportunity to buy something.  However this was an interesting stop as it was all traditional artwork produced by victims of Agent Orange.  We would have liked to buy something to support the cause but unfortunately we preferred the work when it was half finished rather than high gloss finish.  We then went on to a tour through the tunnel complex which showed us the various traps set up for the US soldiers, mostly in the way of pits and spikes (true Indiana Jones style) and this explained the difficulty the US had in winning the war on land (they didn’t have a chance) and so why they switched to such a heavy bombing campaign.  At one point during the tour we were given the opportunity to shoot a AK-47 but declined – not sure I really understand the logic.  Learning about the terrible atrocities of war does not make me want to go and shoot a gun but each to their own.  The final part of the day was the opportunity to go in one of the tunnels that had been widened so Westerners can fit!  Being only 100m long I didn’t think it would be difficult, off we went crouched over in tiny tunnels trying to move along, a lot of people bailed out at the first opportunity as it was pretty uncomfortable but we continued on and as there were less tourists you begin to get an idea about how it was to try and get about in the tunnels.  I eventually bailed out (40m short of the 100m mark) as I was by myself, couldn’t see a thing and wasn’t entirely convinced that I would be able to squeeze through the next part of the tunnel.

In the evening we caught up with Ash (from our Halong Bay tour) and a girl that was staying at his hostel, went for dinner and then back to the street bar to watch the world go by and hear other stories of travelling in Vietnam.       
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