Ho Chi Minh City
On arrival at the train station, we were welcomed by the news that the train was over an hour delayed. Luckily we had our tickets for the sleeper as many tourists seemed to have mistimed their bookings and had to settle for 8 hours sitting. As on our previous overnight experience, the night passed in the blink of an eye and 2 hours later than planned we were met at Saigon Station by our tour rep. The scenery on these legs of the trip are magnificent and many people take motorbikes to get a close up look at them. This isn’t everyone’s idea of fun and many tourists you see are sporting scars or red faces from their adventure.
The last leg of our adventure was to be spent in Saigon and on the Delta River recreating the 5 day trip we were due to do the previous year.
After freshening up at our luxury hotel (well by our usual standards it was ) we were picked up by our Tour Rep from Vietsea for a half day City Tour. Some Cities really can be toured on your own, Saigon is one of them so I would not waste time or money on this. However, it was included in our tour so off we went. To be honest, it wasn’t really a tour more a Air Con transfer to some of the more important buildings in the City, the explanation from our guide was minimal. First stop was Reunification Palace. The history of the place is impressive, the inside less so, but it is cheap to go in so has to be done. The next stops where to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Personally I felt the cathedral was a little run down inside but the Post Office, although sounded a little weird as a tourist hotspot was pretty damn impressive inside, especially as it is still a fully functioning post office to this day. And that was it…not quite what we expected as we missed out City Hall but looking at the map it wasn’t too far from our Hotel so we could and would visit another time. On the evening there are plenty of places to eat and drink. With many places offering Saigon Green Beer at 10000dong (30p) a bottle you can’t really go wrong (its actually a decent beer as well).
The next morning we were up early to go on the trip I was looking forward to the most; Cu Chi Tunnels. To be totally honest, this trip did not disappoint, in fact it was actually better than I imagined. A two hour bus ride could be seen as a pain, but unlike other guides, other went through the history of Vietnam/Saigon and the war in great detail. Once there, you kind of sense what happened there in the Vietnamese War, especially if you have seen the movies, Platoon, Hamburger Hill etc. Hearing the bullets fly through the air at the rifle range brings it even closer to home and makes you wonder what it would have been like here all those years ago for both sides. How the guerrillas survived like they did is remarkable and you can see why the Americans stood no chance of winning this on the ground. You get to go down and travel through one of the tunnels (up to 100m if you can take it, or as little as 20m for those less energetic. If you have bad joints, claustrophobic or over 6ft then this isn’t a bed of roses, and its crazy when you think that a) people lived down here for years and b) they have made the tunnels considerably bigger for tourism purposes. Do not miss this trip if you are in Saigon, definitely an educational experience even though a little sombre at times.
With 2 full days left I’m very glad that they were out of Saigon as there isn’t really that much to do in the city. Our 2 day Mekong River adventure saw us visit lots of different places on the way to our home stay for the evening. We experienced the local Buddha’s at one of the local temples, visited bee keeping farms, visit coconut candy making whilst experiencing the lovely scenery on offer. A distinct lack of wildlife is one thing I noticed, especially after recent visits to the Amazon in Peru and over in Borneo.
This was to be my third home stay, my first in Peru was excellent, our first together and my second in Myanmar was pretty poor so we were unsure of what to expect here. We were lucky that we had a good group staying with us in the bungalows, Dutch, Irish, Swedish, and all liked a beer so over a good chat we polished off a fair few cans of 333 lager. There was very little interaction with anyone from the household except the main man, but to be honest it could get quite tedious for them if this happens every evening (although I’m sure the money they receive makes up for the inconvenience caused!). After finding a giant frog in our room on our return we quickly fell asleep knowing our Vietnamese adventures where soon to be over.
After breakfast at 7am (no lie in’s on our holidays!!) we headed to the local food market where I’m pretty sure none of us expected to see what we saw. Frogs being skinned in front of us, chickens being plucked, just another day for them in front of sorry looking tourists who didn’t want to see, but just couldn’t turn away. The next 15 minutes on the boat where rather quiet as we all wondered why we aren’t all vegetarians. Watching the floating markets on the Mekong River is a great experience, really makes you appreciate how hard they all work mostly whilst we are all tucked up in bed.
A quick visit to a local village which makes rice paper and rice noodles and a bike ride through the countryside was followed by lunch at a local restaurant. This was a little different as on the menu was frog, snake and rat!! Now we had seen some of the locals with rats on sticks earlier, but we thought they were just catching them as they were pests rather than to serve them for us later. Obviously this isn’t a-la-carte you get to experience every day so I decided that I would sample all three delicacies. Aida had a bit of snake but passed on the other two options. First up for me was snake. Not sure why after the first taste of snake you would want it again. There is little taste and it is like chewing rubber with bone in the middle. Next up was frog. I was a little reluctant at first after watching them getting skinned and gutted earlier, but once they were barbecued there was no way back for them so if I wasn’t to eat it then somebody else would. It was actually very nice and you can see why they continue to eat after the french left. Not sure they will overtake chicken wings in Nando’s or Hooters but with blue cheese sauce they could be good. Finally the chance to smile rat. Now when it is cooked and cut, it just looked like any piece of chicken, there certainly wasn’t and rats head looking at you as you ate. Little taste to be honest, reminded me of guinea pig which we had in Peru. A 4 hour bus trip was ahead however this time the bus felt as though it had been squashed as the seats we had to endure where obviously designed for small children so anyone over 5ft was going to find this quite uncomfortable and as it was pretty full we were unable to spread out and have a seat each.
I booked a late afternoon flight back to KL so that we where not rushed either side. Nothing worse than getting up ridiculously early to catch a flight or returning back so late that you miss the bus and LRT home. It also allowed us some time to visit City Hall after sampling the local market Cho Ben Thanh for some last minute souvenirs. We both wanted a vest/singlet with Saigon or Vietnam on but the experience in the market is not pleasant. Getting grabbed by the sellers as you walk past is rather annoying as is the constant haggling. I hate haggling! I prefer a set price especially as most times you are haggling over 10/20p!! Anyway, we found a singlet each and headed back to catch the taxi to take us to the airport and our flight back to Malaysia having had an excellent adventure throughout the whole of Vietnam.