● For full details on our route, transport info, hotel details, etc, look at our Google Maps page

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon

28th – 30th December

Our final destination in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, formerly and better known as Saigon. So much for the dry weather, the heavens opened just as we stepped off the bus. Bloody typical! Sam watched the bags in the dryness of a café and sent Ady to do the dirty work – he came back about an hour later, having found a room for $10 down some back alley! As the southern capital, Saigon isn’t known for it’s bargains but at least the hotel was dry!

A Chance Encounter
Sometime later, the rain abated and we headed out into the complete madness that is Saigon and caught the end of the Vietnam vs Thailand Asia Cup Final, second leg! (phew!) It was a nail biting climax, Vietnam equalised in the last few seconds of injury time. The bars and cafes where the locals were watching the game erupted, and within minutes chaos descended onto the streets. Everyone mounted their scooters, grabbed their flags, and paraded around the city centre cheering and chanting. Ady took hundreds of photos, the atmosphere was electric – at one point several people clambered onto the roof of a car and jumped up and down hysterically until the roof caved in. People were dancing on the roofs of buses and amongst the sheer madness, Sam walked straight into Gill, a girl who she used to work with 5 years ago! We called it a night at 1am but the party carried on until 3am when the police (thankfully) told everyone to go home!

After a sleepness night we made a slow start the following day. As usual, due to prioritising our stomachs (check out the picture of Ady’s pineapple fried rice) we eventually made it to the sights….if a little too late. The Reunification Palace was closed for lunch between 12.00 and 1.30pm and by now it was 11.50. The nearby War Remnants Museum was also about to close for 90 minutes. Saigon’s Notre Dame cathedral, completed in 1883, deserved a closer look but this too was closed. Surely churches are open for worshippers to visit at lunch time? Frustrated we found ourselves passing time in an expensive shopping mall, trying to avoid the attention of the overly helpful assistants.

The War Remnants Museum
The wait was worth it though. Less fussed about the palace and swayed by Lonely Planets “not for the faint hearted” review of the museum we joined the masses wanting to know more about Vietnam’s 30 years of war. The relics and documentation were extremely thorough and left few questions unanswered. The photographs of and detaile
d stories about the victims were particularly harrowing and after a couple of very humbling hours, we left feeling slightly queasy, yet having learnt more about the country and it’s history than in our whole time in Vietnam.

Wanting to end the day on a lighter note we set off for the Museum of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine, hoping to have thoughts of killing and destruction replaced by knowledge of healing herbs. Turning down offers of a moto ride across town, we struggled to make sense of the useless Lonely Planet map. Over an hour later and way too much pounding the pavements (when they exist and aren’t covered by bikes) we still hadn’t found the place. We were determined to find it but were running out of time and as usual, the weather turned against us…we found ourselves legging it for shelter before we got soaked. It just rained and rained (thought this was dry season?) and we sat nursing a fruit juice as long as we could before hopping on a bus in the vague direction of home.

Which way now?!
Saigon rush hour is completely mental – the bus crawled along the road at snails pace. After about half an hour and still at a loss as to our whereabouts (we were definitely nowhere near tourist-ville) Ady spoke to some kids at the back of the bus. It seems we were on the wrong bus and were heading miles out of town, not a small balls up in this city of 12 million! Damn – should have listened to the local girl who told us which bus was definitely going our way! About 2 hours later we made it back to the hotel, a little weary but at least laughing about our ride into “real” Saigon.

We’d spent most of the day deliberating on whether to stay in Saigon for NYE or head to Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital, we call it PP) directly, or slowly, via the Mekong delta. The Saigonese certainly know how to party, if the night before was anything to go by! Still, unsure of how we’d fill another 2 days before NYE, we found a tour that would take us through the delta and deposit us in PP for the New Year celebrations. The usual time taken to tour the area is 3 days but neither of us could handle this long on a coach with 40 other tourists, yet the price of all the tours was way less than if we’d travelled independently, cobbling together each of the legs. We’d miss visiting the Cu Chi tunnels but if we stayed one more day we’d spend New Year in the border town of Chau Doc, probably with a bunch of old fusties. Keen to see another, slower side of Vietnam where the people are warm and friendly (and don’t try to rip you off!) we booked to depart the next day.

No comments:

Visitors Since 19th May 2009...