Ho Chi Minh City
We arrived at Ho Chi Minh City from the airport via the public bus (152) and the roads were absolutely manic! Although it was mid-day there were lots of scooters buzzing in and out of the cars and past the pedestrians trying to cross the roads. It would most likely seem like chaos to lot of people but the roads were actually easy to navigate compared to our time in China (the scooters seemed to remain on the roads and not continuously mount the pedestrian’s pavement).
The streets are a little more difficult to navigate. There are lots of alleyways filled with hotels, hostels, tour shops, restaurants etc. with the majority having a list of names on a billboard at the mouth of the alley. The names and number differ what end you approach from also which can get a little confusing.
There’s lots of food stalls lining most of the pavements selling the famous Vietnamese Bhan mi and fresh fruit smoothies. Dotted in between and behind the stalls are restaurants with their chairs and tables spilling onto the pavement.
The Cu Chi tunnels
Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels was our main reason for wanting to visit HCMC. Both Leah and I have a huge interest in history! After studying the Cold War as well as the war in Vietnam in more detail our trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels did not disappoint!
We booked the tour from one of the tour guides along the main strip of shops in the backpackers area. After bartering over the price a little we paid 85 dong for the trip (which our hostel was advertising for 130 dong) and were told to meet back at the shop 8am the following morning.
The morning of the trip we were met outside by a guide and taken to the tour bus. Our guide was an old Vietnamese man who actually took part in the War on the American side.
The journey took just over an hour and a half with a 20minute stop over at a workshop. All of the employees have been injured in some way by the war and were creating mosaics on slate using ground egg shells. The whole thing was a really nice idea as it was a way for tourists to give money to these people without them having to take charity handouts.
Cu chi tunnels
We arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels in the late morning and were walked around the site by our ex Vietnamese war soldier tour guide. We were really lucky with the tour we booked because not only was it the cheapest one we could find but our guide was really informative and actually hilarious. He had a very blunt/ stern sense of humour so came out with amazing anecdotes throughout the day.
The site was full of b52 missile holes and examples of the booby traps that the Vietcong planted, as well as miles and miles of underground tunnels. Our guide also gave us a first hand account of when he and his unit had tried to find Vietcong members in the tunnels by searching for the tunnels ventilation holes. It was really interesting!
I never knew that Halloween would be a huge thing in Vietnam!
The bars, coffee shops and restaurants were full of pumpkins, ghosts and other spooky decoration on both Friday and Saturday night. Although we went for a walk on Friday night and saw that the Main Street of bars was completely rammed we didn’t celebrate Halloween ourselves until the actual Saturday night.
We walked to the Main Street after dinner and found a bar/ cafe jammed full of people. The alcohol was really cheap compared to some of the other bars along the street and people were spilling out into the crowds walking past with their drinks.
After having a few gin and tonics a large crowd of us went in search of somewhere to dance until the early hours. We ended up in the donkey bar just a few minutes walk away and ended up playing a few international games of pool; English, American, Norwegian, spanish..
I don’t know where the time went but by the time we got back to our hostel at 5am the next day we’d had a hilarious night. We even managed to arrange to have dinner with a hoola (Hawaiian) dressed Thai girl and a superhero dressed American the following night!
Feeling a little worse for wear Sunday morning we decided to have a very easy day in regards to physical activity. We set off for the walking tour recommended in the lonely planet around 11 o’clock and walked the route in just under 2 hours.
It was actually a great way to see a lot of the city. Until then we’d mainly stayed in the old town, venturing out into the Muslim quarter for the night market, but now we were wandering around the financial centre. Luckily the weather was really nice so after stopping for a quick juice in a juice bar by the notre damn we checked out the old post office, palace gardens and giant statues.
After having lunch at a little vegetarian restaurant whilst a storm suddenly hit, we went to the war museum.
The museum had been recommended to Leah and myself by a few different people and it did not disappoint.
We did the self- guided tour, following the recommended route, starting on the third floor and working our way down to the ground floor. Each exhibit had its own private room and were mostly set out in the same way. Photos and text lined the walls of the room with added details on the tables around the edge. At 2pm the rooms were pretty busy so everyone formed an unspecified queue as they looked at the photos and read the text.
The photos were really powerful and showed what life was like for both the civilians and soldiers during the war. The whole exhibition is rather against the American troops but it’s easy to understand why from the Vietnamese perspective. It also seems to have been created in an anti- war spectrum because one of the final exhibits is complexity dedicated to the global anti- Vietnam war demonstrations and protests. Although it was a great message to promote, it seemed a little ironic when toy guns and army uniforms were being sold in the gift shop…
One exhibit I found the most powerful was the one devoted to the effects of ‘Agent Orange’. I studied this a little at university this past year and the facts still astound me. It’s unbelievable that monsanto is still able to trade globally when they are partly responsible for so many fatalities as well as the deformities and ailments that have plagued the Vietnamese for generations!