- Travel Topics
After three weeks in Vietnam Vicky and I arrived in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh/HCMC to finish up what had been a lovely start to South East Asia. To our surprise, most of the foreigners we ran into were starting in South Vietnam and heading up North, which in a way made us somewhat “in the know”. It was actually fun as I was able to help a girl haggle sunglasses down from $11 to $3. I didn’t charge her for the service.
At first we weren’t quite as thrilled with Saigon as we had been with Hanoi. Sure, it was still the same Vietnam but there was something a bit off. Sellers were a bit more aggressive (perhaps in part because so many tourists were straight off the boat, so to speak). Also, the temperature was dreadfully hot, and the fact that I was going on 30 days straight in the same t shirt (not an exaggeration) was not helping my hygiene. After 6 days, however, we came to love it like all things Vietnamese. It was great to settle down for once and plan our upcoming travel to Myanmar. Here are a few of the highlights.
Cu Chi Tunnels
We purchased another tour through our hostel to take us to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is another one of those tours that is dirt cheap but you pay the price of everything being late and terribly disorganized. You spend more time on the bus and being taken around on pit stops than actually at the tunnels. You’re better off renting a motorbike and driving yourself there (if you can find your way and feel comfortable, which we didn’t).
The Cu Chi tunnels are tunnels that local Vietnamese dug underground during the French war to be further used during the Vietnam war as part of their guerilla warfare. They’re pretty incredible, and also incredibly small. Vicky and I were able to make it through but often on our hands and knees (and we heard that the tunnels have been widened from their original state to accommodate tourists). The tour guide takes you around and explains the history of the tunnels and traps used in the Vietnam War – pretty gruesome. The Americans had an impossible time trying to fight under these conditions (as the tunnels were not far from the Americans’ base) and basically tried to bomb them without much luck.
We set aside a few days to do a side trip to the Mekong Delta in the very South of Vietnam. We will be discussing this more in depth in a separate, upcoming post. For now, it will suffice to say that the tour, while somewhat poorly organized (as is expected) was genuinely very interesting and showcases a lot of local production techniques such as rice factories and coconut milk/candy.
A Stroll In The Park
The park located right behind the backpacker district tends to be pretty lively at all times of day. Perhaps it’s just because this was around News Years but there was a lot of music, small restaurants/stands, and even a fashion show!
Vietnam War Remnants Museum
This is the most famous war museum in Vietnam and in my opinion a must see. As is the case with most of the museums Vicky and I went to in Vietnam it’s purely photographic with captions in English and Vietnamese. This isn’t really how I like it (I like a little intro to each room to set the context). Still it contains a wealth of images from the Vietnam War. The section concerning Agent Orange is incredibly graphic and heart wrenching, perhaps more so than the peace memorial in Hiroshima. I’m not exaggerating when I say that people literally walked out as they couldn’t quite stomach it. If that sounds like you, I don’t recommend that particular exhibit. More so, pictures of Agent Orange victims are sprinkled throughout the entire museum, so it’s difficult to not see it.
A University Tour
Through a couple we met on our free tour in Hoi An, we heard about Saigon Hot Pot - free university student led tours around HCM and signed up. They really do a solid job and let’s face it, the price is right. In some ways it’s a bit puzzling that, while we Couchsurfed the least in Vietnam it was where we interacted with the most locals. This is partly due to there being less of an English barrier, but also because of the availability of these tours. We certainly encourage you to look into them as there is great value in not just the tour itself, but also in having a local to ask questions to for several hours straight.
The Reunification Palace
Our first stop on the tour was the Reunification Palace and I can say this was one of those places where it REALLY benefited to have a guide. It’s exactly the type of place that Vicky and I would go to and, frankly have gone to, and basically looked at the pretty rooms without any idea of what they were for. There’s practically no signage and without a guide or any reading material you’ll have a difficult time picking up any of the nuances (and trust me, there are many, such as the dining room being painted yellow because that is supposed to be a good color for eating). The palace also displays the original tanks that came barreling through to claim victory for the North (woohoo..?).
The Post Office
Also part of the tour. It’s…a really nice post office.
I’m not really one for churches and frankly this one can only be seen from the outside, but it was good for a photo, at least. It was also part of the tour we took, so why not!
Examine the Architecture and Eccentricities
HCMC and Hanoi have a very different feel and architecture. We both felt that HCMC is more European; wider avenues like boulevards, open squares, etc. However, if there was one thing they had in common it was ridiculous telephone wires! Was Spiderman here shooting telephone wires instead of webs..?
Couchsurfing Meet Up
We did a more organized meet up in Hanoi, where there is a very large community. Still, if you check out the HCMC forums on CS you’ll find plenty of activity. We had dinner and drinks with a small group and celebrated New Years with a much larger one.
The free tour we took can be found here and took us around the palace, the Notre Dame, and the Post Office (though the history museum and War Remnants museum can also be included if you like)
The Cu Chi tunnels was a tour organized by the hostel for about $7 but also has an additional $4 entry fee
The Mekong Delta was through a tour agency that cost about $28 for the two days and one night of accommodation