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Published: October 28th 2010
The pace of life picked up dramatically as we finished exploring the Mekong Delta and were plunged into a city which doesn't seem to have the word slow in its collective vocabulary! From the moment we stepped off the coach on Monday 11th October to the minute we clambered exhausted onto the train to Danang two days later, we couldn't take our eyes off the ball for a second.
Our first task was to find our guesthouse. We had booked it over the phone and the driver on the bus told us it was round the corner and down an alley. Laden down with our large backpacks and various other bags we started to dodge the people and the traffic that seemed to be everywhere as we followed his instructions and disappeared down a narrow alleyway in search of the hotel. After a few wrong turns and directions from locals we managed to find our guest house. The journey didn't end there, after another four flights of steep stairs with all our bags, we were finally in our room and after sorting out our laundry we were fast asleep!
Tuesday morning (12th October) was pretty grey and overcast and
we decided to have breakfast at a western style cafe near the hostel. We spent half an hour being bombarded by street hawkers trying to sell us everything from counterfeit books (of which we bought a couple) to fake designer sunglasses and hammocks and pretty much everything in between. As much as this is part of the Asian experience, it did get a bit tiresome when trying to enjoy a ham and cheese omlette! Once breakfast was finished we began our walk across town to the War Remnants Museum. The city was crazy, cars and mopeds flying at us from every angle, thousands of people crossing the road and walking along the pavements, the streets lined with people selling food and souveniers as well as the regular shops and market stalls. It took us about an hour to fight our way through the pollution, people and traffic to get to the War Museum and whilst we wouldn't describe it as enjoyable, it was a really great experience and a first proper taste of what big Asian cities are like.
When we arrived at the Museum, our first stop was in the section about torture and it was truly stomach
turning. Whilst not as poignant or upsetting as the Tuol Sleng Prison or Killing Fields, it still made us question just how human beings could be so cruel to each other. To see and read about some of the methods used to extract information from people or just to inflict punishment was really disgusting. We moved onto the first floor of the main museum which concentrated on the Vietnam War of the 60's and featured mainly photographs and stories about the atrocities that occured. Whilst it was informative and again highlighted the horror of war and its penchant for needlessly ending civilian lives, the overriding impression we got was that this museum was almost anti American propoganda. I understand that this country was subjected to some horrific treatment at the hands of the Americans, the museum was very different to any we have visited on our travels so far. The 9/11 Museum, The Oklahoma Bombing Museum, Tuol Sleng, the Treaty Grounds in New Zealand all told a story of violence and repression but they all retained a modicum of forgiveness and message of peace, whereas this one just seemed to concentrate on how bad the American Army was.
our time at the museum was cut short by a power outage, which left the museum in darkness and without air conditioning. Luckily we saw the main sections so weren't too disappointed. Another couple of hours in the manic Saigon traffic followed, as we wandered around the city and took in the atmosphere. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a beautiful red brick building in the middle of what appears to be a large roundabout in the middle of the city. It is a religious oasis of calm in the centre of one of the most manic cities on the planet. We spent a little time taking some photos and taking in the view of the cathedral before the rain started to pour and we sought refuge in the back of a taxi and then our guest house.
It wasn't long until we needed to be dried off and at the theatre ready for a showing of an ancient Vietnamese artform, Water Puppets. Now for those of you that aren't familiar with this form of entertainment, water puppetry dates back to the 11th century and are thought to have originated in the Red Delta area in North Vietnam. The first
Vietnamese puppet shows weren't just for the entertainment of villagers - the shows were thought to keep the spirits entertained enough that they would not cause mischief! The artform has been adapted over the years and now provides “entertainment” for people during special events, gatherings and special ceremonies, oh and also for the tourists!! The show itself lasts 50 minutes and takes place over a waist-deep pool of water; puppets are controlled from below and the secret of how puppeteers control the puppets from beneath the water has been closely guarded for centuries. On either side of the stage are the musicians who not only provide music for the show (using traditional instruments), but also random sound effects and voices for the characters (carved wooden puppets). We also learnt that as the puppeteers can't see the puppets themselves, the musicians have code wods which they will use to instruct the puppeteers should a puppet be in the wrong place! As far as the 'story' is concerned, we are still trying to work out what it was about. In keeping with tradition the show is performed completely in Vietnamese and is an enactment of various rural traditions. Every show around the
country is different and scenes we watched included 'On a buffalo with a flute', 'Catching frogs' and 'Children playing with water'. It truly was one of the most bizaare shows we have ever seen. We're both glad we went to see it on a cultural basis as it is rooted in their history, however it is 50 minutes we will never get back and are still trying to work out what it was all about.
After the show we decided to head by to the hotel. On our way we had managed to get a taxi easily for the amount our hotel had advised it should cost. However to return to the hotel prices seemed to have quadrupled. We were contemplating the long walk back when we were approached by a man asking us if we wanted to ride on his cyclo. Having never ridden a cyclo we didn't know what to expect. In front of us was what can only be described as a back to front tuk-tuk. It was a bicycle with a form of bucket as a seat on the front, big enough for one person. This doens't seem to bother the Vietnamese though as just
like the motorbikes in Thailand they try to fit as many people into the seat as possible, so on we got. We have already realised during our time in South East Asia that there don't seem to be any rules on the road. Motorbikes, tuk-tuks and cyclos all seem to be able to go whichever way they want and don't necessarily have to follow road/traffic signals. We put our trust into this new form of transport and made themost of our adventure. Rachel attempted to video our trip home for a few reasons, to remember what it was like (not that we could forget), to give you an insight, and also as evidence in case we didn't make it back which seemed very likely at the time.
The following day was our last in Saigon. We spent the day wandering around the shops sorting a few bits out on the internet before we took our 7pm overnight train to Hoi An. In the next blog we'll tell you all about our time in Hoi An, the suits we got made and how quickly someone can turn from being extremely friendly to crazy and erratic.
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