12.01.2009 - 14.01.2009
Hello family and friends, we hope this blog finds you all very well.
Just thought I would update you on our 3 wild days in Saigon. We sadly left Phu Quoc (a beautiful place, you must go!) and caught a painless flight (our last until Europe - it's all overland now...) back into the madness. We checked into a cheaper, but still very nice hotel (the average price for a very decent room is about US$15-20), then to the markets. Ben Thanh market is a huge, bustling, cramped and packed place, the volume of stuff on offer is amazing. Eveything from clothes to dried fruit, souvenirs, vases etc etc. Definitely a great place to deck out your entire house. But with the huge market comes the incredibly aggressive stall owners. It is literally like running a gauntley, every aisle you go down you are grabbed, herded in to shops, yelled at. If you even hesistate for a second for a quick look, then they are all over you! The best part is if you have a look at their stuff, which seems to imply you will definitely be buying something, they are terribly insulted when you walk away - personal insults were hurled in our direction...All in all it was a very interesting experience, and some really good cheap food (US$1.50 each for lunch). We managed to walk out of there with just two t-shirts.
Another icon of Vietnam, and HCMC in particular, is the cyclo drivers. These guys are usually South Vietnamese war veterans, out of work, and often residing illegally in the city, who make the money by pedalling around tourists on these three wheeled bicycle contraptions. It's like a taxi service, except they will tell you about the city and take you on a full tour if you want. We decided to take one to the China Town (Cholon) in HCMC. We were a bit wary, having heard stories of rip offs at the hand of cyclo drivers, but we found a good guy and hopped on. You have to admire what they do - pedalling two 6 foot Australians through Saigon traffic can't be easy, and it was really interesting to be amongst the hustle and bustle, dodging crazy scooters and cars. He took us to another huge market and an impressive big Pagoda. All in all about 3 hours, which we had agreed to pay him 200'000d for. Or so we thought. When he dropped us off, I went to pay him, and then the tantrum started (apparently we are by no means the first people that this has happened to). He insisted we had agreed 400'000d. There would be no negotiating this fact, and he got quite stroppy, so we paid up and left. An uneasy ending to a good trip.
Next day we attempted a grand walking tour of Saigon. This included a pho restaurant (Vietnamese noodle soup) where Bill Clinton once ate, an art museum, the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants museum and the city centre with all it's grand hotels and richy mc-rich shops (A huge contrast to our most Vietnamese people live). Highlights were definitely the Palace and War museum. The Palace is a Parliament House type place, famous as the place where North Vietnamese troops crashed through the gates in tanks to pretty much end the war in 1975. It is really well preserved and quite opulent inside. The War Remnants museum used to be called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, so you can get a feeling for what it was like. It was quite shocking, there were no punches pulled in the photos and exhibits they displayed, and basically the general tone was Americans are evil, Vietnamese people are heroic. A very sad place that saps you completely by the time you are done, but very interesting none the less. We finished the night with a drink on a rooftop bar at dusk, then dinner at a good vego restaurant - the food keeps improving the more we explore.
Our final day in Saigon we took a day bus tour to the Cu Chi war tunnels and a Cao Dai temple. The temple was the first stop, and was a huge, colourful place. Cao Dai-ism is a recently founded religion that seeks to be the 'perfect religion' by blending all the good bits of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. They are pretty weird, a bit cultish, but it was interesting to see the worshippers in action. The Cu Chi tunnels are famous as the site where rebel peasants, Cu Chi Guerillas, resisted the US and South Vietnamese army by building a huge network of tunnels to evade air attacks and mount ambushes. It was an eerie place, especially because there is a shooting range on site where you can fire AK47's and M16's. The original tunnels were tiny, and it amazing that these people existed in such an environment for so long. We crawled through on section that had been doubled in size for tourists, and that was still really small. It was a good day trip, a little rushed an touristy. We did have the best tour guide ever - Slim Jim was what he called himself, and he was hilarious. A few years ago one of his customers has given him an Australian phrase book, so he could churn out this amazing variety of Australian slang, it was so funny.
We ended our Saigon adventure with one more trip to the Bia Hoi place. Nothing can beat 5000d beer.
Next stop Dalat, in the central highlands. Vietnam just keeps getting more and more exciting and interesting!