11.09.2009 - 18.09.2009 30 °C
We arrived in Vietnam on Friday 11th September (I'm trying hard to remember what we did, should really update this more often!).
We spent most of our time in Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) which is a really nice city to stay in (this came as a bit of a surprise to us). The first thing we had to endure was crossing the road! The traffic is completely chaotic and busy and basically the rules of the road are that you have to walk out in the busy road and assume that the mopeds and cars stop for you or that you can dodge around them. This is quite simple on small streets but not when you are crossing lots of lanes with lots of traffic! The second thing you have to endure is the touts offering motorbikes, cyclo's, massage, food, marijuana etc, but eventually you get used to it. Phil did some exploring on the first afternoon while I tried to recover from not being very well. Then we headed out to the market which was a bit scary but okay when you got used to it. Lots of Vietnamese women grab you by the arm and try and get you to come into their shop and buy things. They hold your arm so tight that they leave you with a mark! But we survived this okay and bought a few bits and bobs which we got for good prices! We ate at a delicious Indian restaurant (I know but it was recommended and it was close by) before heading back for some much needed sleep after the early start.
On Saturday we visited the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace. Both were very interesting but hard work as it was so hot! There is quite a bit of propaganda in both places and they are obviously quite biased in their perspective about the war, so you have to take everything they say with a pinch of salt. All the same it was terrible to see so many images of the consequences of the war, especially when it all seemed to be so pointless given that the Americas lost anyway. The defoliant and the use of agent orange have left Vietnam with quite a painful legacy from the war, with lots of pollution and deformities caused by the chemicals used.
On the way to the museums we stopped at a silk shop where I managed to buy a lovely silk dress that was made in the shop. They alter it to fit you in no time! I was very impressed. I now just need to find a nice place and time to where it.....
Then we went on a two day tour to the Mekong Delta which sounded like a great trip in the brochure. But actually it wasn't that great and I certainly wouldn't recommend it. The best bit was the boat trip there, where you got to see a good glimpse of typical Vietnamese riverside life, but then it kind of went down hill. They basically usher lots of tour groups around different things, you're not really getting to see how the Vietnamese really live, it felt like a bit of a show really, probably the funniest thing was the trip to the honey bee farm; we were given free honey tea and honey to try, all in the surroundings of thousands of bees which are attracted to all the food and drink, which caused quite a bit of panic! We did get to cycle around a village on our own but not for long. The second day was a bit of a nightmare. It started by going to some rubbish floating market (apparently the biggest and best on the Mekong Delta, I hate to think what the others are like!) where we got some money nicked! Phil left the wallet on a rowing boat and luckily realised so it was returned to us with all the cash gone. It really annoyed us especially as we had found 230 pound on the street before we left and had handed it in to the police. Unfortunately not everyone has the same attitude... We're not sure how much was in the wallet, proabably around 30 pound and it sounded like it would have been a lot of hassle to report it to the police so that we could claim on our insurance so we left it. After that we visited a rice factory which was a completely pointless and boring trip as all you got to see was a big machine and stacks of rice! Might have been exciting had we never seen any machines before. Then we had a long trip back on the bus after lunch. All in all a trip to be missed in my eyes!
The next day we went on another trip (with the same company so we were a bit worried) to the Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels. Luckily this trip was much better, it was helped along by the rather amusing guide who told pretty funny and weird stories! The temple was beautiful, it was really colourful and peaceful even though there were quite a few tourists in there. We were able to watch the noon time prayers which were well attended and it was all very orderly and reverential. The Cao Dai religion is basically made up of 7 other religions (think someone tried to fit all their favourite bits from other religions together), mainly buddhist, taoism, confucianism and protestantism, with some islam and other bits and bobs thrown in. We headed to the tunnels after lunch and luckily packed our rain coats as it poured down! The tunnels were amazing but pretty scary (well I found them scary). They are where the Viet Cong fought the guerilla war against the Americans. They basically lived under the ground and set up loads of traps to kill the enemy. The Americans must have had no chance of ever fitting down any of the tunnels as they have been widened twice since then (for Western tourists!) and they are still pretty narrow! We headed back to Ho Chi Minh in the rain after a good trip.
Spent our last day in Vietnam wandering about, swimming, a little bit of shopping (Phil bought a harmonica much to my annoyance!) and people watching. The parks are full of people in the mornings and evenings - they do all sorts like playing badminton, dancing, tai chi, P.E. lessons and play some sort of funny shuttlecock on a spring game using all parts of their bodies and they even do Thai Chi with swords. It was fun to go for a walk through the park and look at what was happening.