Miss(ing) Saigon

After a ten hour sleeper journey (during the day!) from Kep, Cambodia, in a fully reclined chair at the back of the bus…

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, otherwise known as Saigon. I stepped off the bus in complete bewilderment. I thought Bangkok’s roads were bad! Saigon permanently looks like the start of a Motocross GP with thousands (literally) of bikes bombing past you in any given second. I learnt the rules of the road fast:

1. Buses stop for no one.
2. Cars will slow to a crawl for you but won’t be happy about it.
3. Bikes weave around you so it is better to move slowly across the road as they will try to predict your movements.

They are crazy about tooting their horns, generally just to let you know that they are there but seriously, it’s more likely to cause an accident than not! If I’m crossing the road, especially in central Ho Chi Minh, you can guarantee I’ve quadruple checked that I’m okay to go and there for know you are there Mr Biker. You tooting at me and making me jump out of my skin is going to make me leap out of the way and into another oncoming vehicle. There is literally never an entirely clear path to cross in so you have to creep your way across. I am bad at road crossing in Bristol so you can only imagine!

I arrived at my hostel at 11pm and decided to check out “bar street”. A friend I had met down on Koh Rong was also in Saigon so we headed out for a night on the town.

The next day we went to the Cuchi tunnels which is where the Viet Cong used to hide out from the American soldiers during the Vietnam war. It’s a whole network of underground tunnels complete with a hospital, dining room, kitchen and meeting house. We got the chance to crawl around in some of the tunnels – which, according to our guide, had been enlarged for “tourist sizes” – and really get a feel for what it must have felt like (claustrophobic!). We also saw some of the traps the Viet Cong set for the American soldiers in the jungle and had the chance to shoot a gun as well. My friend opted for the AK47, I opted to hold onto my pennies.

An early rise the next day meant that I could head out and squeeze in all the touristy hotspots the next day. I went to the War Remnants Museum which made me lose faith in humanity a little bit. I found the room about Agent Orange victims particularly harrowing as well as some of the documentary photography in the top room. As with the Killing Fields in Cambodia though, I believe you have to visit these places and educate yourself about a country’s past if you are to travel through it.

When the War Museum kicked out at 12pm for lunch I wandered round to the Notre Dame Cathedral – not as spectacular as it’s French cousin but impressive nonetheless – and then went to the old French Colonial post office which is still in operation today. I sent a post card to my parents and then wandered back via the markets.

Best find: this awesome shop full of geekery! If I wasn’t travelling for so long I definitely would have thrown some dong at this place!

Last night we had a very pricey evening but it was well worth it. We ate food at SoulBurger; that chef knows his way around a burger! And then went up to Chill SkyBar. Towering over the Saigon skyline is Chill, 50 stories high with stunning views of the city, I loved this place. One drink cost 300,000 doing which is the equivalent of £10 or $15 but, you have to treat yourself once in a while eh?! Be warned if you go though, there is a dress code; shorts must be below the knee for men and women must wear closed toed shoes, i.e. no flipflops!

I left this morning for Mui Ne, somehow managing to avoid being splatted by a vehicle during my time there, opting instead to just do a whistle-stop tour of Saigon because there’s so much I want to see in the North.

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