Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sai Gon, Vietnam: Through the eyes of an adventure world traveler

From the airport to the city is very quick – about 15-20 minutes.  Saigon is a much faster pace with more cars and even more motorbikes & pushbikes (approx 3 million bikes).  It is the commercial capital and more modern than Hanoi.

Yes, you can call it Saigon as that is the name of the central city or district 1.  Ho Chi Minh City is the city encompassed.

Reunification Palace is quite interesting. Remember satellite pictures of tanks crashing through the gates in to the palace grounds back in 1975 and the Vietnamese raising their flag of independence.  Apparently the person who captured all that on film was an Aussie who was hiding up a tree!  A guide comes in handy in this place.  We saw it from the top – living quarters in true retro style right down to the bomb proof basement where all the old phones and telex machines are still sitting. 

In the War Remnants Museum we were left to wander through ourselves.  A guide is not necessary but a box of tissues is.  The photography in here leaves you feeling so shattered.
Cholon is the Chinatown of Saigon.  We were guided through the wholesale market  of Binh Tay– again the camera was whirring non-stop.  Love those markets!

I particularly liked the Thien Hau Pagoda which is where a lot of boat people came to pray to the Goddess of the Sea before they set off to countries unknown.  The ones that made it have sent back money to this pagoda so it is very well kept.  Hundreds of spiral incense burning from the roof and colours that capture your heart.

 Duc Ba Church 

A walking tour of the centre of Saigon is an easy half hour.  We started at Notre Dame Cathedral and strolled down the main street of Dong Khoi to the Town Hall, along the way passing some fabulous buildings of history and importance.   Transport yourself back to the early 70’s and imagine the journalists in the American war congregating at the Rex and Caravelle hotels at 5pm everyday to file their stories and have a drink at the roof bars.  Both hotels have withstood the ravages of war and are popular places to stay.

There are some very trendy bars in Saigon and plenty of expats frequenting them.  Q Bar opposite the Caravelle Hotel is particularly good. I was really surprised by the amount of expats working in Vietnam.  Anything from banking, advertising and tourism to teaching, engineers and VSA.

 Cu Chi tunnels

Cu Chi is approximately 1.5 hours drive from central Saigon.  We stopped enroute to see rice paper being made and to look at some duck farms.  The tunnels at Cu Chi are amazing.  Imagine digging 250kms of tunnels by hand!  They had ingenious methods of letting smoke out without alerting the enemy to where they were.  Also ingenious were the entrance/exit ways slightly larger than A4 paper.  The tunnels have now been widened by three times to allow Westerners to get down in them for a look!  We didn’t see the firing range but it is possible to let off a few rounds yourself (for a price).

 Boats with different shapes and sizes on Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta was fairly busy with boats of all shapes and sizes.  We went to an island and had fresh fruit and tea, then to another island where we saw coconut candy being made.  Got in to a smaller sampan and cruised up a narrow canal to a place where we sampled rice wine and fresh honey.  Back in My Tho we had lunch at a restaurant then headed back to Saigon.  Delving deeper in to the Mekong is recommended – our tour was too short for this but there are some good tours that include an overnight in the Delta in homestays or basic hotels.


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