The heat is on in Saigon

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Jan 01, 2014

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Where I stayed
City Hotel 2 Ho Chi Minh City
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, April 9, 2012

So says the song in the excellent musical Miss Saigon - go see it if you can...

Firstly let's take a couple of steps back from where we parted last time - with Shelley suffering in our hotel room in HCMC. The Cambodian - Vietnam border crossing was worthy of note for the unexpected row of luxurious casinos which lined the Cambodian side of the border. I can only assume this relates to a prohibition on casinos in nam with no such equivalent rules in Cambodia but it was an unexpected oasis of decadent wealth in a country of poverty. The second point of note was the stark contrast between the genial, smiling of the Cambodians - despite the country's horrific recent past and difficult present - and the harsh Vietnamese. In the next few days it would become clear that this was not reserved for universally miserable border guards but also applied to those who have chosen people facing professions including your guides, but more on that later...

Saturday night in the neon vibrancy which is Saigon was spent with yours truly being sent out into the chaos of motorbike filled streets to perform various errands for the stricken shelley, including collecting pizza, medication and yoghurt. Although, as with Thailand and the more touristic parts of Cambodia, there were go go bars in what was backpacker central, the girls were less imploring than usual and I felt saddened to have returned to my standard level of desirability, i.e. un, despite my relative - if depleting - wealth.

Sunday heralded a minor upturn in shelley's condition - pretty severe food poisoning - and we sought to make amends by attacking the city's tourist trail. Things got off to an inauspicious start when the reunification palace turned out to be closed to tourists' for the day due to an important meeting. Fortune seemed to be on our side however when a friendly looking toothless cyclo rider - essentially a bicycle with a seat for one person on the front - arrived on the scene to offer us a tour of the city for the bargain price of three dollars per hour per cyclo (he had by now brought over his equally smiling friend). With Shelley wilting we signed up for the tour and we pedalled at a steady pace to the nearby war remnants museum - an interesting, if very one eyed, history of the war complete with a number of impressive relics in the shape of us helicopters, planes and artillery. Next up was a pagoda with an almost over whelming scent of incense. We were then taken on a fairly long and slow paced ride amongst the rabbit warren of always busy streets before being told to get out at a locals' only market. Things suddenly turned a bit dark and our toothless driver pulled out a hitherto unseen piece of paper claiming that we owed him 500000 dong (25 US dollars) per cyclo rather than the agreed 3 US dollars per hour. I was initially gob smacked, especially when his friend helpfully counted out one million dong from wallet. Luckily I was wise enough to grab this back before reminding them both that we had agreed three dollars per hour per cyclo making a total of 12, not 50, dollars owed. He said that the three dollars had only been the price of the admission ticket to the palace and that we therefore owed one million to which I replied we would have walked or got a 'proper taxi' if that were the case and also suggested that they may be a pair of f&@king thieves. In order to try and expedite our exit I counted out the money due at the agreed rate. The pair seemed genuinely offended by this and even made chase in slow motion on their heavy pedal machines as we headed for the safety of a busy market, all the while throwing expletives at this pair of wily old charlatans. The experience had left a bitter taste in the mouth but not too damaging a hole in the wallet and we determined that it should not ruin our day as we set off towards the other sights...

We took in notre dame cathedral - a very obvious French relic - the people's office, again undoubtedly a French construct and opera house (ditto) before heading to the banks of the murky but impressive Saigon river. It was from here that one could witness the magical blend of old and new that is modern Saigon. Old women wearing the sterotypical pointed bamboo hats and carrying exotic foods in baskets on either end of bamboo canes straddling their shoulders bobbed past imperious French buildings from the 1800s whilst modern skyscrapers which would not be out of place in any US city towered behind. Magical stuff...

The evening was spent in slightly less cultural fashion as we watched the premier league football over a few beers in backpacker central. On the way home, we decide a massage was in order and the fact that within five minutes, I had been covered in massage oil, had had my buttocks inexplicably exposed and had a girl sliding her thighs up and down my own thighs, suggested that we may have ventured into a massage parlour offering 'extras'. The curtain between mine and shelley's bed had been left open and the look on her face was one of similar acknowledgement and astonishment, although I can't hand on heart say it was an unpleasant experience...

Monday's trip was to the cu chi tunnels - a 200 kilometre plus network of tunnels around 30km outside Saigon which had been crucial to the viet cong's fight with the US in the Vietnam war. Our guide was stony faced and his English was completely indecipherable, especially to the Europeans in our group. However, once inside the tunnels spoke for themselves and - such was their size - I thought I was going to have a panic attack, whilst Shelley had to make an early exit. Seeing that people were prepared to live in such conditions for as long as it took tells something of why the yanks could never have hoped to vanquish north Vietnam.

Shelley had something if a relapse in the evening meaning that we left Saigon with something of a whimper, settling for a movie in our - for once - lovely hotel room...
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