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Published: February 1st 2010
Note to self, if you plan on catching the 1am bus between Mui Ne and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) don’t overlook the day before confirmation process like we did otherwise you will also have the bus company laugh at you when you arrived at 10am the morning of the bus departure expecting to get a couple of seats. Initially we were a bit annoyed at our stupidity cause it did mean we could only get on the 8:30am bus the following morning resulting in is having to pay for an additional nights accommodation and it meant we would be traveling on the bus during the day but in hindsight we were grateful we didn’t have to lurk with our bags on the dark Mui Ne streets or sit in a less than happening bar between 10:30, when the hotel reception locks up and 1am when the bus arrives to fetch passengers! Up till now we had done most of our overland trips at night resulting in us missing a fare amount of the general country side scenery it did aid our following days 6 hour bus trip since looking out of the window was quite a novelty!
Saigon: One Vietnamese,
If you are present you are working
one helmet, one handphone and one motorbike in a sticky rice bowl of traffic, never has a description been truer. There is something fascinating about watching Saigon’s 9 million residents in action, in fact, it’s an art form the way so many people manage to cohabit. Along with the traffic and people the next most striking thing about Saigon is its power lines yet another “art form” inadvertently created by the third world. I was fascinated by the power lines in Bangkok but let me tell you even Bangkok has nothing on Saigon where power lines are concerned.
Along with the power lines Saigon bears a striking resemblance to Bangkok’s Khaosan Road area, the backpackers district that is. We arrived just off Bieu Vien street at around about 2pm, left our luggage at the travel agent and headed off in pursuit of some accommodation. In true backpackers district style there is a cheap hotel every meter but cheap means touch and go and the hotel management are all too eager to let you see the room before you commit but invariably the room they show you is on the 6th floor so most unsuspecting and lazy travelers get to
the top of the exceptionally steep steps after lugging their bags and just commit to the dodgy option because the thought of doing the same thing at the next hotel is just not a desirable option, not quite the way us two Jo’burgers roll however.
After inquiring at a couple of places and only finding spots that were fairly pricey (or alternatively hella dodgy) we finally stumbled on a spot offering a room for $10 a night, worried about the state of the accommodation given that this price was somewhat less than the others were charging we opted to see the room first. The very obliging motel concierge proceeded to drag us up a super steep flight of 100 steps where we were greeted by a musky pink room without a window. I will usually sleep anywhere as long as the sheets and floor and the loo are clean but the thought of dragging my luggage up the 100 steps was more than my hot and exhausted self could bear so we collectively vetoed that idea and sucked up the slight bit extra to stay at the Yellow House rather. As luck would have it we ended up with
a huge room that even had a window overlooking the street and a great outside courtyard, no too shabby oh and it was only on the 3rd floor even bigger bonus!
Once we had dumped our stuff and showered off the stinking heat we headed out to explore Saigon and what an education. Thankfully our time in Hanoi had conditioned us for Saigon but I still found myself bewildered, Saigon really is a chaotic place where man and machine exist in an unfathomable cloud of pollution and in an unrelenting state of flux at that! I think for many, Saigon can be too much but I found it to be a fascinating place and I take my hat off to the Vietnamese because they have truthfully perfected the art of transporting anything and everything on a motorbike. I mean why on earth would do you need to go to the expense of buying furniture delivery trucks when you can just as easily transport a TV cabinet on the back of your motorbike :-).
Ken and I spent the most of our first day and a half just checking out Saigon, its markets, the horribly depressing war museum and
an interesting Chinese temple as well as getting very well acquainted with the buzzing restaurants and bars in Beiu Vien Street. We also managed to catch up with some of our Halong Crew which was great. Happy that we had seen most of what is Saigon City we booked ourselves on a trip to see Cao Dai temple and the Cuchi tunnels which we had both really been looking forward to!
Cao Dai temple is really great, especially if you get there at one of the four worship times. We were lucky enough to get there for noon prayer and it was a truthfully fabulous experience. Cao Daoism is possibly one of the most interesting religions that I am yet to come across. I mean who says that Confucianism, Buddhism and Catholicism can’t be amalgamated into one faith and under a colourful roof of opulent kitsch at that. It was really special to stand on the mezzanine level and watch the Cao Daoists prostrate their white and colourfully donned backs in time with the melodic tunes stemming from the elaborate hat-wearing musicians.
After taking in the idea that Victor Hugo, Sun Yat Sen and Nguyen Binh Khiem could collectively
be worshiped as Saints we left the buzz of worshipers behind and headed out towards Cuchi to go and marvel at the ingenuity and stealth of the Vietcong!
If you only have a short time in Saigon forget everything and head straight for the Cuchi tunnels because they are absolutely astounding. While you only get to crouch through a 100 meter stretch of the slightly widened tunnels it’s still really awesome to get a sense of the underground marvel created by the Vietcong to navigate between cities and ambush their attackers. I absolutely loved being in the tunnels and I was astounded at the ingenuity and the creative manner in which the entrances of these tunnels were disguised with the landscape. Equally as ingenious was the handmade weaponry, traps and visually understanding how Vietnamese survived the brutal war by navigating their way 100’s of kilometres and up to 8 meters below their enemy’s feet was absolutely mesmerizing!
We left Cuchi suitably in owe of the Vietnamese and just to make sure we had a true taste of Saigon we were treated to some time in the late afternoon Saigon traffic before being deposited back on Beiu Vien road
to get some unbelievable dinner at LAM a Viet/Thai spot at the end of Beiu Vien road (an absolute must visit if you find yourself in the area) after which we met up with some more of our crew for a couple of drinks before heading back to our apartment to socialise on our patio and finally retreating to the sack in anticipation of the following days very very exciting adventure, three days in the Mekong Delta!
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