Ho Chi Minh City

Trip Start Sep 15, 2009
Trip End Sep 25, 2009

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Flag of Vietnam  , Hồ Chí Minh,
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I could not believe the vast number of motorbikes that were there until I had seen them myself. The Vietnamese love to honk as much as the Cambodians, if not more. Saigon was as noisy as Phnom Penh but it was clean, modern and more orderly; fewer if any illegal parking, subtle street side vendors.

Day 1.  The Mekong Delta.
I went on a group tour to see Mekong Delta. This part of Mekong River was full of ugly big sand barges busy catching, collecting and hauling drift sand from the water. The boat took me on the murky water to the Mekong Delta where we went on three islands to visit fruit gardens, to sample tea, to see how they made coconut candy. After lunch I was given a few choices: take a walk, ride a bicycle or nap on a hammock. Watching TV was not on the program? I choose to sit at the restaurant to wait for the time to get back to my hotel.

There was a short sampan ride with passengers wearing traditional conical hats, cute but not enough to save the day..

I felt relieved to return on a bus instead of in a boat, not having to see the sand barges again. I have seen enough of them today, more then I have ever seen.

Day 2. Tay Ninh and Cu Chi Tunnels.
I went to Tay Ninh to see a Cao Dai Temple. Cao Dai is a religion invented by a Vietnamese, who managed to have reconciled and believed in a few religions, including Christianity and Islam. Think of it as a comprehensive insurance policy, everything is covered, just in case. This is definitely not for me. I can't even handle just one religion, don't throw anymore at me.

In  the afternoon, the group tour took me to visit Cu Chi Tunnels, which the Viet Cong dug and hide in them during the Vietnam War. Three levels of tunnels as deep at 9 meters, interlinking  over 100 kilometers long.

Day 3  was pretty much wasted..
I walked around  the city to see the usual tourist spots. I didn't plan well, slept late and many places were closed for lunch. I need to try again.

I went to see what had been the American Embassy, shouldn't but was surprised that it was then the American Embassy again and was off limits to the tourists. Standing in front of it, I started to imagine in 1975 how was it like when the last American helicopter was taking off from the roof top, leaving behind thousands of American-supporting Vietnamese, confused and scared, their fates were then in the hands of the advancing Northern troops, who were already inside the city.

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There were many new, beautiful and elegant luxury hotels in Saigon, hard to believe this is Communist administration. The historic Rex Hotel, Caravelle Hotel and The Continental Hotel were still in business. Rex Hotel and Caravelle Hotel were where the press corps had stayed and met during the Vietnam War. The Continental Hotel  was the setting for the book "The Quiet American" but they did not shot the movie here.

Budget hotels in Saigon enjoyed  good reviews in general. There is a cluster of them in Pham Ngu Lau Road backpackers area. Land is expensive in Saigon, beware there are many skinny tall guesthouses with no lifts.

A unique restaurant:

The elegant Quan An Ngon Restaurant was set up more like a food court dressed up to the nine, with tables and chairs in the middle of an open courtyard surrounded by small food stations. The extended menu included just about anything u can find in every regions of Vietnam. Authentic regional dishes, lowly priced but small portions so u will need to order many dishes. They ran out of food fast and the service was very slow. Be there early and take it easy.

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