At the urging of my old friend Morris Harris, I have added a bit more on this incredible city.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Vietnam is incredible, in particular Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). The place is rundown, dirty, busy and noisy. Yet there are signs of growth emerging around the city. There are a great number of new buildings going up, offices and apartments. The traffic is something that takes getting used to though; I have never seen so many mopeds and motor bikes in my life. One of our tour guides told us during a city tour; if a young man wants a girlfriend in Vietnam all he has to do is buy a motor bike, otherwise he’ll stay a virgin.
One afternoon I was making my way to meet Irene and Evan who were out shopping, when I tried to cross over a busy road. I waited at a pedestrian crossing trying to get a gap to cross (they take no notice of pedestrian crossings in Vietnam). There were literally thousands of mopeds, motorbikes and taxis moving in both directions. I thought I would never get across when after ten to fifteen minutes a young guy pulled up on his moped, got off, grabbed my arm and proceeded to walk me over the road. After reaching the other side, he told me in broken English that the only way to cross busy roads in Saigon was to look straight ahead and just walk across slowly. He said that the traffic would move around me like a flow of a river, and that is exactly what happened. I never had trouble crossing again.
We did a lot of walking in Saigon, and were fortunate enough to stay in District 1 of the city. District 1 is the so-called “fun centre” of Saigon with its thousands of pubs, restaurants and clubs around a central park. It is also within walking distance of many of the tourist places of interest like the main market and night market, war museum, Reunification Palace and of course the famous Saigon River (which by the way is fucking filthy). In the evenings, you can see hundreds of young guys with their moped/motor bikes parked on the sidewalks next to the central park with their girl friends and themselves draped over the bike making out, very cute. How they manage to stay on the bikes is beyond me but I suppose when the pheromones are flying anything is possible.
For me the Highlight or should I say the Lowlight of the city tour was the war museum, not because it was bad or boring but because it was so touching. By the time I came out, I was in tears; the poor people of Vietnam have gone through such hell. America has a lot to answer for with their use of Agent Orange and napalm. Absolutely heartbreaking, and yet they bear no malice. Vietnamese people are friendly, always smiling and very welcoming and hospitable, they are fiercely proud, patriotic, and tough; one cannot help but fall in love with them.
Street food is the way to eat not only in Vietnam but also in most countries in Asia. The local population do not seem to cook at home, so buying food from street vendors is the way to go, and the food is delicious if one can get past the hygiene. The best food we had in Asia, i.e. China, Vietnam and Thailand was from street vendors and street side restaurants. A street side restaurant is an informal restaurant set up on the sidewalks. They put up a tarpaulin and bring out a few plastic tables and chairs. They cook the food on LPG cookers on the pavement right in front of the patrons. In addition, they don’t have anything like liquor licenses, (What’s that? They ask) they serve a variety of different local beers with your meal. It is wonderful. Moreover, there are hundreds of these street side restaurants all over to choose from all specializing in one type of meal or another.
The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.
The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, through which they secured an American withdrawal from Vietnam and ultimate military success. (ex Google)
Right next door to the tunnel area where we visited is a shooting range where one can try out all the old war weapons, such as AK47’s MMG’s as well as throw hand grenades. The noise was deafening, with the rat-a-tat of machine gunfire and the explosion of hand grenades adding to the atmosphere. It reminded me so much of my stint in Angola in 1976. I went into one of the tunnels, crawled about 50 metres before I got claustrophobic, and had to get out quick. The smell of the cordite and explosives was pretty eerie, again the experience brought a huge lump to my throat. The Vietnamese people as well as the young American soldiers must have had it hard in those days.
We also went up the Mekong Delta, which was very interesting and very beautiful. The Mekong is a subsidiary of the Saigon River. It is hard to believe that only 40 years ago they were in the middle of one of the bloodiest wars in history and have no bitterness towards the Yanks.
Another place of interest, which we visited, was a place called Mui Ne. Mui Ne is a seaside resort and quite amazing, with beautiful white beaches and hundreds of fancy resort hotels and hostels, a real holiday paradise attracting thousands of young yuppies from the UK and Europe. It is supposed to be the Kite Surfing capital of the world. We spent two day there and enjoyed it a lot but preferred the authentic Vietnamese culture in Ho Chi Min. I suppose that that kind of resort town is good for Vietnam as it attracts a lot of Western tourist who have money so it helps build up their poor economy.
Anyway, friends, that is about it, I highly recommend Asia as a tourist destination, generally most of Asia is cheap, with the exception of Japan, which I believe is a bit pricey.
Many people asked me if I liked Saigon and Vietnam, my answer has to be…
I FUCKING LOVED Saigon and Vietnam.
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