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February 23rd 2007
Published: March 7th 2007
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Mekong trip

Saigon to Phnom Penh, via Mekong delta.

- Sorry, we thought you were going to arrive yesterday. We were waiting for you, said the very friendly receptionist at Yellow House Hotel (YHH) in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, Saigon from now on).
- Now we're fully booked.
What a nightmare, arriving in a new country, late at night, with nowhere to stay!
- Wait, she said, I'll make a phone call.
- The hotel next door have a room for you, do you want to see it?
We went next door, and a little bit less cheap Vu Chau seemed to be even better than YHH.
- I'll pay the difference in price, said the YHH receptionist.
Not a lot of money for us, but a lot more for them, and it was a very nice gesture.

Tired from the flight from Singapore, via Hong Kong (!), we went to bed early. On the agenda the next day was to book transport to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as we wanted to go to Cambodia first for a couple of weeks and then come back for a couple of weeks in Vietnam.

Having looked around for a while, we saw the opportunity to take a buss

Saigon wiring system.
& boat trip via Chau Doc instead of an express bus via Bavet. Good choice! We booked a combined three-day tour of the Mekong Delta with bus and boat, with the last six hours by boat from Chau Doc up the Mekong river to Phnom Penh before another hour by bus. Now it was time for some afternoon sightseeing.

The Reunification (or Independence) Palace seemed like a good idea. This was were the Vietnam war really ended, in April 1975, two years after the Americans left. Two North Vietnamese tanks broke through the gates to the palace on 30th April 1975, after the palace was hit twice by bombs on 8th April 1975. Next to The girl in the picture, and a few more, the former event was probably one of the most well-publicised events/images during the Vietnam War.

The palace is a modern building, built between 1963 and 66. It's been left pretty much as it was in 1975, except for the repairs of the bomb damage it got on April 8 1975. Two bombs hit the helipad on the roof, to warn the then sitting South Vietnamese president to get out, before Saigon fell. (You can
The Gate, now rebuilt,The Gate, now rebuilt,The Gate, now rebuilt, the Reunification or Independence Palace, as it's also called.
see where the bombs hit, marked by two red circles in the picture with the helicopter.) The President's private quarters, entertainment room, reception rooms, cinema, bunker, etc seem to be intact. After a close to two hour guided tour, we were shown a documentary on the Vietnam war, which lacked a bit of objectiveness, but very interesting still.

A slow walk from the palace took us to the main post office, which is well worth a visit, due to its impressive French-style architecture. We continued slowly, soaking up the atmosphere, through a couple of parks to our hotel. Being Chinese New Year the whole of Saigon seemed to be on the streets, on small motorbikes.

You have to have a motorbike by the way. Without a motorbike you're nothing. Not many people are nothing in Saigon, though. We've never seen so many motos in our life! No motorbike, no girl/boyfriend. The better the motorbike, the better the girl/boyfriend. That simple! Why complicate things?

Oh, and they call it Saigon, not Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC is only used by the media, foreigners and officials. Vietnamese refer to the city as Saigon, apparently, and so do we now.
3rd floor garden3rd floor garden3rd floor garden

in the Reunification (Independence) Palace. This was where the President's family lived.
HCMC is also much larger than Saigon. Saigon is really only District 1, which is the most central parts of the city. HCMC is more like a small provice, stretching out almost to the Cambodian border.

Five am start the next day, as usual (and we thought we were on holiday!!!), to catch our Mekong Delta trip. A couple of hours on the bus took us to My Tho, where we changed to a small boat to take us to a couple of islands in the delta. First up was Unicorn, where we got some lunch accompanied by Vietnamese folk music (some of the songs sounded a little bit like bluegrass). A quick change to a "canoe" took us down a small canal connecting to the mighty Mekong river, where our first boat was waiting. A short trip on the Mekong river, past fishermen and their nets, took us to another island. Time to change to a smaller boat again, up the Thoi Son canal to a coconut candy factory. We ended the first day in a "bungalow" right next to a river near Can Tho city. A number of bungalows were run by a very friendly family, who cooked us dinner and taught us how to package and eat rice paper fish rolls. Some of the gang also had a taste of Mekong Whisky. We opted out. That is one smelly drink!

5.30: alarm went off. An hour on a boat to the floating market, a feast for the eyes, full of fruit, vegetables, meat and anything else to do with food. The merchants on this market spend all their lives on the boats, signaling what they're selling by simply raising what they have on offer in the mast, like melons for example. This part was one of the absolute highlights of the mekong trip! The floating market shows the soul of capitalism in a socialist country. Very interesting. The link between input and output is so very direct here.

Many people in the western world would really need to visit something like this. The merchants and farmers on this market know very well that the more work they put in the more they get out of it. There is definitely a giant disconnect between input and output in the western world, especially in western Europe and in Sweden in particular. If you got a problem,
President's entertainment roomPresident's entertainment roomPresident's entertainment room

We like the 1970s furniture!
get to work and solve it, instead of waiting for someone else to do it. The Vietnamese people doesn't seem to blame anyone. They put in an enourmous amount of work to change their situation and we couldn't see anyone complaining. Sure, they could do with some help from richer nations, especially since a couple of them used to bomb Vietnam for decades, but from the little we had time to see, Vietnam is definitely on the right track. Looking at the country's GDP growth confirms this, and Vietnam is increasingly taking over manufacturing contracts from China. Nice work! OK, enough ranting.

We spent our second night i Chau Doc and managed to visit a Buddhist temple, situated on Sam Mountain just outside town, before sunset. The next day was mostly transport to Phnom Penh, but with a couple of stops along the way. The first was a fish farm, a short boat ride from Chau Doc. H had some trouble with the (no pun intended) fishy smell. (It wasn't just the fish that reeked, their fish-based food was also aromatic, to say the least...!)

Next up was a small Cham minority village (islamic), along the Mekong River,
Heli padHeli padHeli pad

Located just outside the cinema, where they held briefings during the early part of the war, so they could take off quickly on the day's mission. The two red circles show where the bombs struck.
where they sold scarves, sarongs, table cloths and lots of other stuff. The kids were more successful selling very tasty "muffins" though. Rather basic sales technique - buy mine, cause I'm cute - but it worked very well.

On the boat again, for three hours and a bit this time, to the border. Did we mention that the delta is flat as a pancake, which you would expect? The scenery is very varied though, with everything from small villages to endless stretches of fields with the odd house here and there. This is when you really realise how important the Mekong delta is to the people living there. It's pretty much their everything; source of food, fertiliser, they clean their clothes and themselves in it, cooling off (humans and cattle), playground, etc. Everywhere you see, very proud, smily, happy, hard working, but, by most standards poor people, on the way to a better future.

We can't wait to get back here in a couple of weeks, if nothing else just for the superb chicken with lemongrass and chili, but first we have some old temples to visit in Angkor, Cambodia.

(Note that this post has a lot
One of the two tanks that...One of the two tanks that...One of the two tanks that...

broke through the gate April 30th 1975. Unfortunately not, but the same model.
of pictures, so click on next page at the bottom to see them all.)

- Forlat, vi trodde ni skulle komma igar. Vi vantade pa er, sa den trevliga receptionisten pa Yellow House Hotel (YHH) i Distrikt 1 i Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, Saigon hadanefter). Nu ar vi fullbokade.
Vilken mardrom, just kommit till ett nytt land, sent pa kvallen, och ingenstans att bo!
- Vanta, sa hon, jag ska bara ringa ett samtal.
- Hotellet bredvid har ett rum, vill ni titta pa det?
Vi gick dit, och det lite mindre billiga Vu Chau tycktes vara battre an YHH.
- Jag betalar mellanskillnaden, sa YHH receptionisten.
Inte mycket pengar for oss, men en hel del for YHH, och det var en trevlig gest.

Trotta efter flyget fran Singapore, via Hong Kong (!), vi gick till sangs tidigt. Pa nasta morgons agenda stod bokning av biljett till Phnom Penh, Cambodia, eftersom vi ville tillbringa ett par veckor i Kambodja innan vi aker tillbaka till Vietnam i ett par veckor.

Efter att ha kikat runt lite hittade vi en buss- och batresa via Chau Doc istallet for en expressbuss via Bavet. Bra val! Vi bokade en kombinerad
The classic revolutionary symbol...The classic revolutionary symbol...The classic revolutionary symbol...

outside the Saigon main post office
tredagarstur i Mekongdeltat med buss och bat, med de sista sex timmarna med bat fran Chau Doc langs Mekongfloden foljt av en timme med buss. Nu var det dags for en eftermiddags sightseeing.

Aterforenings- (eller Frihets-) palatset lat som en bra ide. Det var har Vietnamkriget verkligen tog slut, tva ar efter att amerikanerna lamnat landet, i april 1975. Tva nordvietnamesiska stridsvagnar korde ner grindarna 30 april 1975, efter att palatset traffats av tva bomber 8 april 1975. Forutom The girl in the picture (Flickan pa bilden), och en fatal andra, var den forra handelsen formodligen en av de mest publicerade handelserna/bilderna fran Vietnamkriget.

Palatset ar en modern byggnad som stod klar 1966 efter tre ars byggnation. Det har inte andrats sedan 1975, forutom reparationerna av bombskadorna fran 8 april 1975. Tva bomber traffade helikopterplattan pa taket, for att varna den da sittande sydvietnamesiske presidenten att det ar nog dags att ge sig av nu, innan Saigon foll. (Man kan se var de traffade, det ar de tva roda cirklarna pa bilden med helikoptern.) Presidentens privata bostad, mottagningsrum, sallskapsrum, bio, bunker osv, ar till synes intakta. Efter en narmare tva timmar lang guidad tur sag vi en dokumentarfilm
HCMC main post officeHCMC main post officeHCMC main post office

With Uncle Ho himself on the wall (behind the tree in the middle)
om Vietnamkriget, vilken saknade ett viss matt av objektivitet men anda var intressant.

En langsam promenad fran palatset tog oss till huvudpostkontporet, vilket med dess imponerande arkitektur i fransk stil ar val vart ett besok. Vi fortsatte sakta och andades in atmosfaren genom ett par parker pa vag tillbaka till vart hotell. Hela Saigon tycktes vara ute pa gatorna, det var ju Kinesiskt nyar, pa sina sma motorcyklar.

Man maste ha en motorcykel har forresten. Utan motorcykel ar du ingenting. Inte manga manniskor i Saigon ar dock ingenting - vi har aldrig sett sa manga moppar i hela vara liv! Ingen motorcykel, ingen flick/pojkvan. Battre motorcykel: battre flick/pojkvan. Enkelt! Varfor krangla till det?

Forresten, staden kallas Saigon, inte Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC anvands bara av media, utlanningar och "officiellt" folk. Vietnameserna kallar tydligen staden Saigon, och sa gor aven vi nu. HCMC ar ocksa mycket storre an Saigon. Saigon ar egentligen bara Distrikt 1, vilket ar de centrala stadsdelarna. HCMC ar mer av en liten provins som stracker sig nastan till den kambodjanska gransen.

Upp klockan fem nasta morgon, som vanligt (och vi som trodde vi var pa semester!), for att hoppa pa var resa
To cross a street in Saigon...To cross a street in Saigon...To cross a street in Saigon... just walk slowly so the moto drivers have time to spot you and drive round you... But when you see this lot coming towards you, all you want to do is run quickly!
genom Mekongdeltat. Nagra timmar med buss tog oss till My Tho, dar vi bytte till en liten bat som skulle ta oss till nagra oar i deltat. Forsta on var Unicorn, dar vi fick lite lunch ackompanjerat av vietnamesisk folkmusik (nagra av sangerna lat litegrann som bluegrass). Ett snabbt byte till en "kanot" tog oss langs en kanal till den maktiga Mekongfloden, dar var bat vantade. En kort resa langs floden, forbi fiskare och deras nat, tog oss till en annan o. Dags att byta till en annan mindre bat, upp langs Thoi Son-kanalen till en kokosgodisfabrik. Vi avslutade forsta dagen i en "bungalow" precis bredvid floden, hos en valdigt trevlig familj som lagade mat at oss och larde oss hur man gor och ater rispappersrullar med fisk i. Nagra i ganget smakade pa Mekong Whisky. Vi avstod. Den drickan luktar forfarligt!

Halv sex ringde vackarklockan. En timme med bat till den flytande marknaden, en fest for ogat, full med frukt, gronsaker, kott och allt annat som har med mat att gora. Handlarna pa de har batarna tillbringar hela sina liv pa batarna, och signalerar vad de saljer genom att hissa upp vad de saljer i masten, exempelvis meloner.
River fishing in the MekongRiver fishing in the MekongRiver fishing in the Mekong

The nets are put up at low tide, then in high tide the fish get caught in it and the fishermen dive round in it to catch them. How do you spot a fish in this water? It's only mud (not dirty apparently), but still!
Detta var en av de absoluta hojdpunkterna pa trippen! Den flytande marknaden visar den kapitalistiska sjalen i ett socialistiskt land. Valdigt intressant. Relationen mellan input och output ar sa valdigt direkt har.

Manga manniskor i vastvarlden borde besoka nagot sadant har. Handlarna och bonderna pa marknaden vet att ju mer de arbetar desto mer far de tillbaka. I vastvarlden rader ett enormt stort, upplevt, gap mellan input och output, speciellt i vasteuropa och i sverige i synnerhet. Om man har ett problem, satt igang och los det istallet for att vanta pa att nagon annan ska losa det. Vietnameserna verkar inte alls skylla pa nagon. De jobbar enormt hart for att forbattra sin sitaution och vi kunde inte se nagon som klagade. Visst, de kunde behova lite hjalp fran rikare nationer, speciellt som nagra av dem faktiskt har bombat Vietnam i decenier, men av det lilla vi kunde se ar Vietnam definitivt inne pa ratt spar. En titt pa BNP-tillvaxten bekraftar detta, och Vietnam tar over fler och fler tillverkningskontrakt fran Kina. Bra jobbat! Okej, nog med gnall.

Vi tillbringade var andra natt i Chau Doc och hann besoka ett Buddhisttempel pa Sam Mountain precis utanfor stan, strax innan solnedgangen. Nasta dag var mest transportstracka till Phnom Penh, med ett par stopp langs vagen. Det forsta var en fiskfarm en kort batresa fran Chau Doc. H hade lite problem med den starka fisklukten, men piggnade snart till igen. (Det var inte bara sjalva fisken som stank, deras fiskbaserade mat var minst sagt aromatisk...!)

Nasta stopp var en muslimsk by dar medlemmar ur minoritetsgruppen Cham bor. De vavde och salde halsdukar, saronger, bordsdukar och en massa annat. Barnen var lite mer framgansrika i sin forsaljning av valdigt goda "muffins", med en valdigt enkel forsaljningsteknik - kop av mig for jag ar sot - men det funkade!

Tillbaka till baten igen for tre timmars fard mot gransen. Namnde vi att deltat ar platt som en pannkaka? Valdigt varierat landskap dock, med allt fran byar till oandliga risfalt med ensamma hus har och var. Det a da man inser hur viktigt Mekongdeltat ar for de som bor har. Det ar deras allt: skafferi, godning, de tvattar sig sjalva och sina klader i den, kyler av sig (och djuren), lekplats, mm. Overallt ser man stolta, glada, leende, hart arbetande men, med de flestas matt, fattiga manniskor pa vag mot en
Thoi Son canalThoi Son canalThoi Son canal

We stopped here to visit the Coconut Candy mill.
battre framtid.

Vi kan knappt barga oss tills vi kommer tillbaka om nagra veckor, om inte annat for den superba kycklingen med chili och citrongras, men forst har vi nagra tempel att besoka i Angkor, Kambodja.

(Observera att detta inlagg har manga bilder, sa klicka pa nasta sida langst ner for att se alla.)

Additional photos below
Photos: 41, Displayed: 32


Coconut candy in the making...Coconut candy in the making...
Coconut candy in the making...

All is done by hand, and the result is delicious!
Along the Thoi Son canal Along the Thoi Son canal
Along the Thoi Son canal

Smiling away and giving us a pose, whilst working hard.
How to make rice noodlesHow to make rice noodles
How to make rice noodles

First you soak the rice, then grind, mix with tapioca, make pancakes and when dry cut into strips. Easy-peasy!
How many motorcycles can you fit on a ferry?How many motorcycles can you fit on a ferry?
How many motorcycles can you fit on a ferry?

Our guess was about half of these...
Our first night...Our first night...
Our first night...

on the trip we spent in one of these "bungalows". Well it's early morning in this case.

7th March 2007

Kan det vara så att de lite äldre vietnameserna inte har samma tillit till utlänningar som de yngre? Kanske de har svårare att le då. Deras eländiga historia måste ju satt djupa spår. Era bilder är fantastiska! Berättelserna likaså! En stor njutning när man får sätta sig ner och läsa en ny blogg!

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