Weekend in Saigon


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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District 1
October 30th 2010
Published: October 30th 2010
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So, I'm a month behind on the ol' blog and my only excuse is that I have been in the best country of my trip thus far; Vietnam. (I think anyway. I do change my mind between here and Thailand.) When I first set out for my trip, I knew that it was going to be a cool country to visit. I expected a culture shock and as the history of the war is still relatively recent, expected the country to display a strong sense of patriotism and exhibit various interpretations of the historical events. I couldn't really be prepared for how much I would enjoy being here though. I admittedly knew little about the war before entering the country but with the help of various sources (many which have to be taken with a huge pinch of biased salt) I'm really quite fascinated by it now.

When I first got to 'Nam, I took a trip to see Theo (one of the original Thailand crew) before he set off back to NY. Although I am but a little country mouse by birth, I really loved the vibe of the Saigon as soon as I got there. Luckily I had been warned about the craziness that is crossing the road in Vietnam. You can tell when someone has just arrived here as they will wait aimlessly for 20 minutes or so to try and find a gap in the traffic. They won't! You basically have to walk slowly, looking at the cars and bikes all the time but realise that they are actually driving quite slowly and although will gratuitously beep, they will eventually move out of your way. The hostel I booked in to was (excuse my swearing Mum) the biggest shit-hole I have had the displeasure of seeing. The only reason I booked in to the place was that it was about 10 floors high so by the time I had walked up all the stairs, I was too lazy to go back down with my stuff. I took a 'shower' which consisted of a tap over a big paint tub, no light and of course, the water was cold. I was not deterred though and went out to the city to drink beer and eat pizza. (At least the beer was local!)

At this point Theo had been in the city a while so he knew the places to go (and avoid). He also warned me of the bias to expect from the 'War Remnants Museum' (which I'll go in to later) and showed me the ares of town to stay. I am for most of my travels a bonafide backpacker but when I was shown the delights of a clean room with hot water, air con, a mini-fridge and an array of channels, I decide to splash out and treat myself to a swanky room. (It still only cost about 8 gbp a night) Honestly, friends from home know that I don't even have a remote control for my TV and if I'm lucky, at most can get all 5 terrestrial channels. I'd forgotten how entertaining watching shit TV could be. So although I started my experience of Vietnam in the busiest city, I actually had the most relaxing weekend ever. After Theo left I had 2 days to myself and for the first time in a month had the luxury of listening to my own music at the highest volume (there may have been a bit of dancing also) and taking long showers without having to worry about using all the hot water or pissing off others who need the bathroom.

A lot of people I've met haven't been so keen on their time in 'Nam but I think it helped that I met the sweetest, local family who were really helpful and gave me my bearings of the place. I managed to wangle a motorbike-ride tour around the city at night and this helped me fall in love. Like any major city, Saigon really does look so much better when it's dark and all the lights are blazing ago go. I was slightly crapping myself as I would never normally go on a bike and Saigon really is a crazy city for a first-timer. If you haven't been you can't comprehend just how many bikes there are. (I'd recommend a cheeky glance at youtube or something.) So, the city tour was great and we ended up at a pudding-parlour where I got to taste a local desert, which although made me want to vomit, made me feel very cultured.

The next day I went to the infamous 'War Remnants Museum'. Although it previously wore the titles 'Museum of American War Crimes' and 'War Crimes Museum', one shouldn't be fooled into thinking that the museum is any less biased just because it now claims a more politically-correct title. I'm not going to get in to the politics of the war etc but I found it really hard to look around and take in some of the exhibitions. It is a must-see though and as I get ready to leave the country, I can say that no other museum compares to this one whilst I was there. I was also told to go to the post office as it is a thing of beauty. It is a pretty cool building and does out-do anything the Royal Mail offers but at the end of the day, I just couldn't get excited about a post office. Also, the Notre Dame was really ugly and a bit of a waste of time. In true indulgent style of a mini-break (which is how I viewed this weekend), instead of wasting 2 days of my life getting a bus to Hanoi in the North of the country, I wasted 2 hours getting a flight instead. It was wonderful!

So, when I got to Hanoi, the partying began again...

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