We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City ‘HCM’ (Saigon) after a very bumpy, smelly and all round sleepless ‘sleeper bus’!! Thankfully for us our hotel was just across the road from where we got dropped off, so we could start the day very, very early and get out and about in HCM. We had already done a lot of research on the Vietnam war and in Hanoi learned a lot about what had happened, from a North Vietnam point of view, therefore we were very keen to see how this differed in the South and headed straight for the ‘Remnants Museum’. We were greeted by a courtyard full of captured American weaponry and machinery, which like in the North, was a standard state of affairs with anything related to the Vietnam war, however the difference came when we stepped inside.
I was quite aware of the Napalm that the U.S used in the Vietnam and the vaguely knew about agent Orange, which was a chemical used (like Napalm) to eradicate foliage and anything else that happens to be hiding within! This was very vividly depicted inside the museum by a collection of photos taken during the war, which some are world famous now. Alongside pictures of U.S soldiers being very proud of their accomplishments, whether it be through the air borne attacks of chemicals or by their own personal hands. Some of the pictures depicted U.S soldiers holding corpses as if they were trophies, whether they were effects of a grenade they threw or partially alive from a shot they had made! It was a very disturbing collection of the power of man and how destructive we can be as a species. With the effects still harming many Vietnamese people to this day.
After taking in the destruction that occurred from the Vietnamese war and needing a bit of lighthearted fun, we decided to indulge in the age old tradition of beer drinking. This however is done very differently in HCM, as it is so in a lot of South East Asia. We headed down to infamous ‘beer street’ where the road is slowly replaced by plastic chairs as more and more people turn up to consume 20p bottles of beer. It was a great night and we managed to meet some great locals and tourists, whisly also enjoying the best beer HCM had to offer ‘Saigon’.
Unfortunately for us, we were not allowed to enjoy being hungover, which to be honest doesn’t really happen in 35degree heat anyway, but we had neglected that we had booked a Chu Chi tunnels visit for 8am the next day and knocking back cheap bottles of Saigon maybe wasn’t the wisest idea the night before! All in all the tunnel tour was a bit of a let down, as our guide was, how can i put this nicely ‘a f*cking tosser’, who was more concerned about selling us clips of AK-47 rounds than he was on telling us the history of the Chu Chi tunnels. Luckily for us two though, were stubborn bastards, so took ourselves on a self tour, whilst everyone else sat literally on the shooting range getting their ears blown out, while rich dickhead Americans (sorry but only stating a fact of what i seen on the day) shot the guns that slayed so many Vietnamese soldiers by the hands of the U.S! Yeah real tasteful. Of what we did get to see, it was really interesting and fascinating to see how essentially not only a army held off the U.S forces using the tunnels, but also created a civilisation within them. Just a pointer for anybody going to the tunnels, make sure your group size is below 50 and don’t go for the cheapest you find, as a group of ‘definitely 25 max’ will quickly turn into 55, when the ”other” tour guide doesn’t show…..yeah.
After a rubbish tour of the tunnels, we headed over to the ‘Reunification Palace’ which had been through many hands since its creation (Vietnamese, French and American) and since the fall of Saigon to the North in 1975, all of the decor has been left the same. It was quite funny to walk around, as seeing the 1970’s decor just made me think, how many people in London now would kill for some of this furniture, the Vietnamese are sitting on a gold mine (furniture wise). We got a great free guide, which we luckily got put onto a tour and learned the final pieces of how the war ended and why it was left in the way it was, when the North drove a tank through the gate of the palace and stormed the palace.
Once again we got persuaded to hit the bar street again, it becomes quite the norm when in HCM and not learning from the day before, booked a Mekong tour for 7am the next day! When will we learn. The Mekong delta tour was great compared to the tunnel tour (booked through different company of course PXN Travel, don’t ever use Tuan Travel). We started the day by taking a cruise across the Mekong delta and learning all about Turtle, Dragon, Unicorn and Phoenix islands. We then visited a Coconut candy factory and got to taste the little delights that they create. After some lunch and strange sight seeing on Phoenix island, we visited a honey farm which produced honey (obvs), as well as honey tea and honey wine….mmmmmmm. Obviously we got to taste all of them. Cheryl got to practice her Bee keeping skills and handle the honey comb, whilst i got to become friends with the local python, which was only a young one and was about 10kg!!
After getting honey’d up, we were shown onto small bamboo rowing boats (enough room for 4) and rowed down the mangroves through dense foliage and through a very narrow channel, which created great entertainment when another rowing boat came the opposite way! Our final stop of the day was a small village, where we were given some fruits, whilst having local music played by traditional Vietnamese instruments. It was a great round off to our Vietnam trip and a fantastic finishing trip for us to do, before we moved onto Cambodia.
All in all HCM was a fantastic adventure and apart from the constant berating of touts and hawkers every second of the day (not an exageration), that wear you down whilst you eat every meal of the day or enjoy a leisurely drink, it is a great example of Vietnam and its lovely people. There is a lot of skepticism of their nature and we were among those before we went there, however now we are total converts and can see why they hold some reserve compared to their tourist happy neighbor Thailand, after everything they have been through and when you meet genuine Vietnamese people, they are typical of any South East Asian and if anything, are some of the friendless and most straight forward.
—Stay Classy World—ACastling—