Published: July 23rd 2012July 23rd 2012
Having arrived in Saigon at abour 8 pm, we set about trying to find ourselves a place to stay. Saigon has a much more defined backpacker area than Phnom Penh so we hadn’t prebooked anywhere. We had done a bit of research though and had the names of four or five places we would have been happy to stay. With our bus journey again taking longer than expected, the only room on offer, from any of the guest houses we had down, was a small windowless room and though it was clean we decided to give it a miss.
We started to have a little wander and after finding a number of other guest houses full up we happened upon a nice old Vietnamese lady who initially told us she had a lovely single room just for James for only $5, but we politely declined this and she told us that her sister had lovely rooms for us to stay because she loved English people. She took James by the hand, literally, and took us to her sister’s place. Her sister first showed us a room that was out the back past the kitchen on the ground floor
and again it had no windows. It was worse than the first room we’d seen so we turned it down and we were thinking that it was going to be a long search. However, as we were about to walk out she said she had another room. Ok we’ll have a look, turned out to be quite a nice room. Twin room with a double and a ¾ bed, it was clean and even had a window! Yep we’ll take it.
Once we’d settled we decided to have a little wander, get ourselves some food and maybe a beer or two. As we started our wander we spotted a place that was selling beers out of a shop and a seating area. A kind of bar and patio if you will. Anyway the beer was cheap and pretty decent; it also turned out to very popular with backpackers. ( Note to shop owners in the Uk...this is a great idea! you just need some kids chairs and tables and a big ice bucket!) We went for food, came back and made ourselves comfortable. We were still desperate to manage to meet some people, it turns out to
be a bit like dating, we were worried we were looking to desperate, trying to work out how to start conversations and smiling madly at anyone nearby! We finally got talking to a nice Irish couple who were heading the opposite direction from that so we got lots of useful tips from them, and seemed to bump into them everywhere from then on!
Following our long day on the bus we let ourselves have a bit of a lie in before heading off to see the Reunification Palace. It was originally built by the French who had colonised Vietnam; following the independence of Southern Vietnam it was bombed by the North and so was rebuilt prior to the Vietnam War.
It was designed and built in the sixties and like many buildings from that era is a bit of a concrete monstrosity. It’s also not really a palace, just a government building really. It was though interesting as it had been largely kept the same as the day of surrender to the North Vietnamese in the seventies and even still had the presidential Huey helicopter on the roof.
After the palace
we decided to see a Chinese pagoda which was meant to house a number of ornate and bizarre statues. On the way we were nearly drowned in our most spectacular monsoon storm yet. Thunder and lightning so close that it felt that it was on top of us. We hid with locals in the entrance to an underground garage.
It took a bit of searching to find the pagoda and some of the statues were in fact weird, didn’t really feel like it was worth getting soaked for though.
The day after we took a bus trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, a collection of tunnels built by guerillas located about 50 km from Saigon. The tunnels at their longest stretched to the Cambodian border and were the primary reason why the US trained “tunnel rats”. It ended up being a very interesting tour, we were shown the entrances to the tunnels which were tiny and never looked like anyone could actually fit through them until we were shown the technique. Ventillation was solved by drilling tiny holes through rocks and using empty termite nests, really clever.
We were taken down
into one of the tunnels only for 15m mind and even though it had been widened for chunky westerners it was still pretty tight; a hands and knees job. Its hard to imagine spending hour after hour in there so, so cramped. We had to head out when I crashed into James and James into the lady in front as it was so dark.
After getting back from the tunnels mid afternoon we decided to go to a market in search of food and maybe a bargain. It was much smaller than the market in Phnom Penh but it was very similar. Same type of stalls and another spectacular food market. We spent maybe an hour and got some food and bargains there before narrowly avoiding a soaking on the way back to our guest house. Saigon has had the worst rain yet, no escaping it!
Had another nice night at the street side bars and witnessed a great moment when there was a sudden flurry of movement as the old lady bosses kicked people off their chairs on the street and moved about 10 tables in 30 seconds just in time for
a police car to come past, then as you could still see it leaving, put all the chairs back out...phew close call!
That evening we bought our open bus tickets which cover our travel all the way up to Hanoi in the north on big sleeper buses. Again we were promised that the bus was direct and wouldn’t do any stop offs on the way. When it came, it was not the company we thought and we did indeed stop off on the way, lots of times, and it resulted in a ten hour journey, which would’ve been bad enough, becoming a 12 hour journey. I’m beginning to notice a theme here. Still, we both really enjoyed Saigon, the people are really friendly and you don’t get the same feeling that everyone’s trying to rip you off like we did in Cambodia.
There are more photos below