Saigon now called Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to really see Vietnam for the first time. We travelled from Cambodia to Saigon via bus. The first thing you notice is the amount of motorbikes in this city…it’s chaos (but it’s an organised type). During our visit, we visited:
Cu Chi Tunnels – This extensive network of over 220km of tunnels became legendary when they played a vital role in the war against the Americans. Back then they served as functioning underground cities with kitchens, sleeping areas, fighting zones, trap doors, weapon storage rooms etc. The system is very extensive. They never got flooded because there was always one tunnel that drained into the Mekong Delta. They were also free of disease. The Vietnamese are so innovative – they had trap doors – armpit spike, souvenir trap, rolling trap, window trap – there are so many traps and all made by either using the remains of a bomb or from bamboo. It was so interesting – they even had shoes dubbed ‘Ho Chi Minh shoes’ which confused the enemy because you could not tell which direction the Viet Cong went when worn. Really interesting. You also get to go into the tunnel – only 100m is available for tourists to climb through and see what it feels like. At the end there is a shooting range where you can have a try at firing an AK47, machine gun and some others I cannot remember. 10 bullets is only around £10. It’s all controlled but man it was loud, I’m not sure earmuffs were enough.
Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office – Both which were built by French colonists. The red bricks of the cathedral were all all imported from France.
Reunification Palace – This Palace has a lot of history to it and the place is still used as an office.
War Remnants Museum – Fascinating to go and understand more about the Vietnamese War with the Americans. Transcripts, exhibitions, stories and artifacts are all over the museum. Even though I may have learnt about the Vietnamese war briefly back at school, it’s not the same as being here and reading about it and seeing it yourself.
Ho Chi Minh – The city is really modern which surprised me as we came from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they were still building their main road into the city! The most striking thing about this city is the amount of motorbikes. Some say there are more motorbikes than people. It’s just crazy the amount of traffic and then you have to think about the cars and exactly how do they weave in and out of this mad crowd. It’s more of a organised mad chaos! Crossing the streets you just have to go for it and put your first step out there. Doing it the Western way and waiting for a gap is not going to work. So you just walk about and the motorbikes will start weaving around you. They may beep their horn but they do this all the time. There isn’t a minute in this city where is there no beeping car, bus or motorbike horns.
Transport – The bus system is also good to get around the city. We went to Chinatown and Japantown and both times we got the bus. Getting a SIM card is the first thing we always do when we enter a new city as this lets us check our position and how to get to our hostel and plan our routes around town. Most times we may well get a tour however sometimes we just go off and do it ourselves. Google maps is okay but sometimes we went to the location indicated but couldn’t find what we were looking for. It also tells you what bus numbers you can take to your destination and then when you get on the bus you keep looking at your GPS and then press the buzzer when you want to get off. Relying on the ticket seller is no use as most do not speak English. They are also incredibly cheap with journeys costing around 5000 – 7000VND per journey (18p-21p).
Food – The food is also great in this part of the city. Home to the many different types of soup noodles and then there is a mixture of Chinese foods in there it was really good. It’s so cheap as well. If you eat out on the stalls, which we did most times, it costs around 70p upwards.
The people are really friendly too. As we stayed a few nights near the Backpackers District there was a nearby park which was always full of people. We had loads of students coming upto us so they could practice their English, which is really good to see. They said lots of grammar is taught at school but the speaking and listening abilities they had were lacking so they tend to go to private sessions outside of class to do this. It might seem intimidating but all they want to do is ask questions and have a conversation.
Next time we will be on the boat floating along Halong Bay!