Time to Rock-it from the Delta to the DMZ

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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City
February 10th 2016
Published: February 22nd 2016
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Watch small clip first please

Tina Writes

This blog is littered with movie quotes, in case you think I’m not making sense.

We had planned on going to Thailand next as it was enroute but it was proving rather expensive to fly and a pain the neck to overland. After a quick search on Skyscanner of some of the places we intended on visiting, Ho Chi Minh was the cheapest to fly to at about £60 each. We got a taxi to the airport in Penang and were on our way. Another easy and quick flight and we had arrived in Viet’fuckin’nam!

Viet’fuckin’nam was to be the highlight of this trip for me. I have always wanted to come, for many reasons. Some being from watching Vietnam war movies like Good Morning Vietnam and Full Metal Jacket. Also, I have a fascination with certain wars, this being one and from reading countless travel blogs. The cheapness of everything seemed amazing.

Because we booked to come here so last minute we did not have time to arrange for a visa. As of July last year, people from the UK get a 15 day free entry stamp, so no visa required. We had wanted to spend 3 weeks here and had read once you were in you could go to a travel agency and get the 15 days extended by another 15 days for about £40 each. We had also read that it was quite common to be asked for onward travel out of the country at immigration so we booked a bus ticket to Cambodia for 14 days time, as cheap as we could find as we had no intention of using it, but it may be needed to get in. Thank God we did this as we were indeed asked for this evidence. Once I showed this we were stamped through no problem. I had high hopes things would improve a bit here as Chinese New Year had had such a big impact on everything so far but nope, we flew into Viet’fuckin’nam just as TET began, their new year! Anyway, we got the public bus into the city centre. This cost about 30p (15p for me and 15p for my bag). So Rob got his dong out and gave it to the man. We got off the bus and had to cross some roads to get to the hotel. This was the first big thing about Viet’fuckin’nam that I think is fairly unique. We thought Malyasia was bad but oh Jeebus Christ, this is something else. Crazy, crazy busy with a sea of mopeds. Absolute chaos with horns blaring constantly from every single bike, car and bus. That’s how they alert one another to their presence, by blasting the horn but as there is always someone there it’s just constant beeping. Sometimes, on a quieter street there wouldn’t be anyone to beep at but they still did! They don’t stop either, not even for red lights or the green man. Crossing was petrifying. At first we would wait for FOREVER because there was no break in the traffic, then we would follow a local as they crossed but over the few days we were there, not only did we learn that confidence and calmness is key and you just have to go and trust that they WILL drive around you but also that what seems like pure chaos becomes so fluid. It’s like those flocks of starlings in the sky, you know the huge flocks that look like a swarm and they all move at the same time in a mesmerizing dance.

Eventually we arrived at our hotel . I had booked a slightly more expensive hotel in the hopes it would be really good. Unfortunately it was not. Don’t get me wrong it looked good but no bells and whistles such as sound proofing. We had to move room as it sounded like we were on the street. Thank god we did because if the beeping wasn’t enough the cafe downstairs starts blaring music out from 8 til late. Even 5 floors further up and at the back of the building it was still really loud.

We went straight out to a travel agency to arrange our extra 15 day entry but it turns out that because of the New Year, surprise, surprise, everything is shut and they can’t do it in time before we leave Ho Chi Mihn. So we looked for somewhere to eat and sat down to have our first proper Pho (noodley soup). The waiter didn’t understand ‘not spicy’ so I had to mime it by sticking out my tongue and fanning it with my hand. It was very nice.

Next day was for the museums. A ‘must-do’ in Ho Chi Mihn. We had planned on getting up at 0600, what’s the ‘0’ stand for? Oh my God , it’s early! We wanted to be at the Reunification Palace for opening at 7.30am to beat the crowds but we slept through several alarms. We finally got there though. This is the building the South government were based. You may have seen the famous photo of the north breaking through the gates with a tank brandishing the north flag, this was here. Many of the tanks are on display in the grounds. The palace has been persevered as it was then. It has a very 60’s/70’s look about it. Quite a lot of it was blown up though so some of it has been restored but that happened very shortly after the north took residence. The bunkers were the most interesting bit with all the communication equipment in lots of little rooms. There was also living quarters for the president as the bunkers were reinforced to withstand air raids. After this we walked round to the war remnants museum. On the way a man selling coconut drinks showed us the way and asked us where we were from. Then he gave Rob a shot of his carry pole and we took some photos. As we waved him goodbye we thought what a good start to Vietnam this was as he was so friendly, that is until he thrust 2 coconuts in our hands and demanded £4. We paid it and stomped off. He had played us and we felt played! We walked the rest of the way to the museum, sucking on our coconuts, raging. We hate when this happens as we immediately stop trusting everyone.

After a stop for a coffee, as the museum was shut for lunch, we headed in. We followed the recommended path and started at the top. This museum was mainly photos. The first room was of photos from both sides depicting the soldiers as they lived and fought. I read every description and found myself not even half way round before Rob was finished. Having started at 2pm and the museum shutting at 5pm I thought I had plenty time to get through the whole museum but it was closing just as I finished the first bit. It meant we had to come back tomorrow. On the way out we stopped at the gift shop. It didn’t sell anything to do with the war though, just the usual tat you could get at any of the millions of souvenir stalls throughout the city but they did have A4 size canvas’ depicting movies. I love this sort of thing, so we bought a bunch. Next stop was the Post Office, it’s one of the major tourist attractions here. It’s a proper old post office. Turns out Notre Dame church is located right next to the post office so we got two attractions in one. Notre Dame is not something I would have gone out my way to see, it’s just a big church but it does look out of place in the middle of Saigon. I think it was built by the French when they were the bullies. We headed over to the P.O and as we went to walk in we were turned away as it shut at 5.30pm due to TET! It was meant to be open til 7pm. Another thing we would have to do tomorrow as well. A refreshment was needed and low and behold there was a McDonalds right next to the P.O. I didn’t think there were any in Viet’fuckin’nam but turns out this is the one and only, opened only a year ago. We then had a wonder around the city and had some cake.

We were up early next day to go on a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels. The tour guide explained on the way about the tunnels and how they were originally built in the 30’s when they were fighting the French. They were used again and expanded when the Americans came. They went on for hundreds of Kilometres. The tunnels weren’t built by the soldiers, they were built by the local people, the farmers. They knew the land. The soldiers were from the North and knew very little of the land here. They lived in these tunnels for years and even had several levels, kitchens and living spaces. They built special chimneys that released the smoke from cooking a mile away, so as not to give away their position. When we arrived we were shown the tiny holes in the ground used to enter the tunnels that when covered with leaves were undetectable. Everyone was encouraged to try it except me as my ‘clothes were too nice and clean’. This is code for ‘you are too fat to fit’. So Rob got in and gave it a go. We then were shown lots of different types of traps. They all involved big spikes. One of the things you can do here is shoot guns such as AK47’s. We could hear this going on in the background which added a lot to the atmosphere and you could imagine what it was like. We eventually reached the tunnel that we could go through ourselves. They had been expanded in width for the Europeans and to fit through. There was different lengths you could get out at. 20 meters, 40 meters, 60 meters, 80 meters and 100. Apparently not many tourists complete the 100 meters as the tunnels get smaller the further you go, so we were determined to do the full length. You had to bend over and bend your knees to get through. Rob actually had to crawl on his knees the whole way, ouch! At one point we had to go on our belly and slide through the tiny gap. It was very hot. We made it to the end. It was good fun but we were both pretty dirty now. So much for my nice clean clothes.

We headed back to the city and back to the museum to finish it. We moved to the next section which was about the war journalists, the people that had taken the photos. We were looking at their own personal journey. Most of them died in the war and this was detailed along with their final photograph. Some even had photos taken of them as they lay dying. The next section was the hardest. It depicted the atrocities committed. Walls of photographs of the local people being shot or tortured. Many, many children. It was horrific. I cried my way round. At this point I realised how utterly pointless war is. I mean I know that’s kind of obvious and I already thought it but this was a proper realisation. I mean it really is complete insanity. Every politician that decides to go to war should have to fight, front line! I am pretty sure this is solution to world peace. It is nothing more than grown-ups playing ‘cops and robbers’. We clearly have a natural instinct to want to kill each other but we have evolved, we should be capable of rising above this total nonsense. In the grounds there were lots of tanks and fighter jets liberated from the Americans once the war was won. A very interesting place.

Once we finished the museum we headed back to the post office. It was a good 20 minute walk so we decided to take one of the moto taxis to it. Both of us got on the back of this wee bike with the driver and off we went. It was terrifying and thrilling at the same time. We had decided to post the canvas’ we bought the day before back home instead of carrying them around for months. There was a man that packaged it up for you and then you went to the post clerk. I was quite surprised that it would cost £10 to send home. They don’t send things that are less then 2kg by boat so it had to go airmail. We walked back to the hotel and I had a foot massage at the spa next door. Standing in the museum for so long had killed my feet. We booked a flight to Hoi An the next day, choosing to miss out Nah Trang as we had read it was just a party town. So mainly just people that wanted to boogalloo til they puked.

By the end of our time in Ho Chi Minh I had grown to love it. We started off hating it as it was so busy but once you accept it for what it is there is something really cool about it. Not the weather though, fool it’s hot I told you. Damn, were you born on the sun. Hot and wet, that’s nice if you’re with a lady but it ain’t no good if you’re in the jungle!

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