Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Trip Start Jan 16, 2008
117Trip End Jul 28, 2008
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Where I stayed
Rudely awaken by some suspect Vietnamese tunes and the firm nudge of the bus conductor, she proclaimed "Saigon". My watch indicated 4.25am. A Vietnamese bus arriving 1 hour 35 minutes early - it felt unnervingly surreal. Zombie-like we descended the bus steps to a barrage of eager-eyed touts and an incredible wall of heat and humidity. Were we still in Vietnam?
Having eventually found a hotel that was open and better still perhaps offering the opportunity of a bed (although trying to operate the broken tap in the sink felt like you were competing on the Crystal Maze), we crashed out enjoying the artificial comfort of a packet of marshmallow "Choco Pies"
Daylight in Saigon and the racetrack of roads was alive with highspeed maneouvres converging from all angles, often using the pavement as an alternative slipway. I often find driving on the "correct" side of the road overrated!
However, the streets of Saigon seemed a long way away as we stepped into the War Remants Museum. Without doubt the most horrifying and harrowing visual experience of our lives, the museum told the story of the Vietnam people through the recent conflict. The photographs were taken by courageous journalists, who perhaps more than anyone helped swell the anti-War movement in America that eventually led to US withdrawal. It was a display of inhumane, if not insane, brutality. It is almost incomprehensible to think that human life is attached such a value. Never will we forget turning the corner to see a pair of glass jars containing the foetuses of a generation savagely decimated by chemical warfare. It was difficult to hold back one's emotions. All the while you were somehow haunted by the reflections of US Defense Secretary, Robert S McNamara's In Retrospect - it was all a seemingly unbelievable mistake. Full stop.
A visit to Reunification / Independence Palace was a natural completion of the story
Hot and rather sweaty (sorry Kim!), we wandered to the Notre Dame Cathedral and on to the central market for another delightful nasal experience. Nothing like a bit of dried fish in 30+ degree heat!
In the evening we sampled the delights of Quan An Ngon. A Saigon institution, patrons were spilling onto the streets waiting for a table. Around the courtyard are around a dozen small kitchens each cooking up a particular specialism. The Hue-style pork compacted as if a loaf of spam and diced into cubes was a little interesting. Fortunately, no "loose bowel movements" to report.
With our departure from Singapore in less than 6 weeks we managed to buy the "last 2" seats on the bus to Cambodia. A brief, but fascinating stay in Saigon ended as did Vietnam. As always wishing we had another week to explore, we can't really complain...