Published: July 22nd 2012July 17th 2012
To cross the border into Vietnam we had to endure one final Cambodian bus journey. To our surprise the Cambodian leg of the journey went pretty smoothly, unfortunately the Vietnamese leg didn’t follow suit. After trying to trick us into paying for a yellow fever certificate we already had, we passed fairly quickly through the rather imposing Vietnamese border, the style of which made it clear that we were entering a communist country. However soon after boarding our bus, following a 2 hour wait at the border, it soon became clear that this was not the direct bus to Ho Chi Minh City (“HCMC”) that we had been promised and in fact the bus wasn’t even going to HCMC! If it wasn’t bad enough that the bus was stopping at every little town, village and side-street, most people onboard were smoking! After a change of bus we finally arrived into HCMC at around 1am, just 6 hours later than planned!
The first thing that struck us about HCMC, formerly Saigon, was the swarms of mopeds and motorbikes filling not only the roads but also overflowing onto the pavements. It was amazing to watch the river of traffic seemingly flowing as
one, yet if you looked closer every rider was casually weaving, dodging and jostling for space. Entire families were crammed onto one motorbike, the children sometimes in their PJs and fast asleep but thankfully strapped to their parents. We soon learnt that absolutely anything can be transported on a bike, from planks of wood to T.V.s, fridge-freezers, A.C. units, wardrobes, flowers, fruit, fishing baskets, pigs, chickens and dogs. The sight we were most impressed by though, was the immaculately dressed women in tailored suits and dresses, fully made up and riding their bikes in 4 inch stilettos!
On our first day we visited the Reunification Palace, the former home and office of the South Vietnamese President, until North Vietnamese troops stormed in gates in 1975, marking the fall of Saigon. Visiting the Palace is like stepping into a 1970s time warp with its very kitsch decor, furniture and colour schemes and complete with its own theatre, cinema and basement war command centre.
Next we visited the War Remnants museum and despite the obvious Vietnamese bias, it was still very informative and moving, especially the section describing the effects of Agent Orange which still affecting the health of some
The pavement as well as the road is fair game in rush hour!
children born today.
Although we had seen our fair share of “Thai brides” in Southeast Asia thus far, we were pretty shocked when we went for dinner in HCMC’s tourist/backpacker area. The number of mismatched couples (gorgeous young petite Vietnamese girls with fat old and mostly balding Western men) was astounding and frankly horrendous. The area’s only redeeming feature was a delicious sushi restaurant, we ate and then got out of there as soon as possible.
The following day we had an early start on our bus tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, a series of underground tunnels, living quarters, command centres, hospital wards, latrines etc built by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War to escape the American troops. Despite being on one of our first organised bus tours we had a great time and it was a fascinating place to visit. We got to experience first-hand what it felt like to clamber through the tunnels, indeed a claustrophobic, hot and sweaty mission. Unbelievably, the tunnels we went through had been widened and enlarged for Western tourists to fit through!
That evening we signed up for another organised tour, this time on the back of motorbikes
for an evening street food tour of the city. We both had our own guides, two young ladies dressed in traditional Vietnamese outfits and full of fun! We blasted around the city in a convoy of bikes through the mad rush hour into the late evening, stopping off at street vendors to consume as many delicacies as we could manage (including frogs, goat, razor clams, crab, and the best scallops we’ve ever had!), washed down with all the alcohol that would fit! The evening was fantastic and turned out to be one of our highlights of South East Asia.
The following day we fitted in a little bit more sightseeing, including visiting the Jade Emperor Pagoda before boarding our overnight 18 hour train journey to Hoi An to meet both of our parents. Yay!!!
There are more photos below