Saigon Stories and Tips

Saigon is Fassssst!

Cyclo is very good means for travelling  Photo, Saigon, Vietnam

Vietnam has never had more foreign tourists running about than now, and the tourism department expects more than two million to come this year - a sizeable increase from last year's already high numbers.

Arrived in Sai Gon on a cheap flight from Hanoi with a rush visa booked through, I am also at the end of my trip and rewarding myself for good budgeting over the whole of my trip. Want to get home and make sure i also feel like i have had a holiday as travelling is VERY hard!!!

Saigon is fassssst! Motorcycle everywhere, same busy horns on vehciles and same crazy road rules apply where you have to cover everyone elses risks and they cover yours. It does seem to work though. I have acustomed myself to the local traffic and now find myslef very confident at crossign roads whislt surrounded by cars, bike and cyclos (rickshaws).

I see lots - looking out tour bus windows, browsing at lacquerware shops on Dong Khoi Street, hanging out open-front travelers cafes in the backpacker area, waving off requests from Honda taxi offers. Some foreigners are here on business too.

In the afternoon I went to the War Museum... all I can say is WHOOOOOOAAAHHH!!! Man that place freaks you out, so graphic about the 'war crimes' from the USA. I walked out feeling really flat after going through and reading most of the material in the museum. So anti USA, i would love to hear the US version though before making anh judgement, but serioulsy looks like Vietnam was a practice ground for new weapons and gases experimentation. Some of the picture of the way the GI's treated people was atrocious. Children, babies and preganant women being killed at point blank range..... not a happy place...

Got out of that sad place, I took a cyclo ride to Reunification Palace which was originally a French palace built in the late 1800s, and refashioned as 'Independence Palace' for the South Vietnamese government. It was here that VC tanks knocked down the gates and flew the North Vietnamese flag in 1975. Surprisingly, the government has never changed the very-1960s interiors. Guides in traditional dress lead you through on an hour-long tour past the former South Vietnamese presidents' desk and reception area, as well as military radio equipment from the bomb-shelter basement. You can forgive the tired jokes for all the insight. I liked that the government's palace had no doors - the downstairs is completely open, with only pillars keeping out the lizards. Watch out for the Cyclos they will try to rip you off. My guy agreed to 15,000 as the price and then tried to say he said 50,000 (as it sounds the same when they speak). Needless to say I told him he was crazy, gave him the 15,000 and walked away. Warning! Next morning, got ready for the trip to the CU CHI TUNNELS (30 miles northwest of Saigon, a 100-minute drive) - an interesting, but time-taking foray into the recreated world where northern troops (Viet Minh, and later Viet Cong) lived and hid from the French and US troops in back-to-back 20th-century wars. Trips of Cu Chi's principal site (Ben Dinh tunnel) start with a charmingly ancient film - supposedly 1967, though my guide (a former South Vietnamese soldier!) scoffed at the idea ('it was made after the war... you can see the rich terrain and jungle... in 1967 it would have been bare from all the chemicals and bombs the US used.' Supposedly the terrain was bare until about 1980.) The grainy black-and-white film, nevertheless, is a fascinating glimpse at a time when the government was more pointed in describing its enemy ('the devils') and celebrating VC 'American-killer heroes.' The tour follows a short looping path past many Cu Chi 'tunnel' sites - some are built into the ground, with canvas tops - recreations of weapons, kitchens - to show how life was carried out underground, but without having to crawl underground to see. In one, guides show how smoke was detoured through mini-tunnels to escape far away from the real tunnel in itself. You also see bomb craters - now ponds - and a wrecked US tank you can climb on. In areas, goofy pop music is inexplicably played on hidden speakers. The claim to fame is a claustrophobic crawl through the 'tunnel' itself - a recreated one, built wider so that 'fat Americans' can go through. Once is enough for me. Many visitors like to shoot AK-47s and M-16s at the (loud) shooting range - it's $1.50 per bullet. Entrance to the site is $5 (80,000D). Cheaper group tours don't include this charge. My third day in Sai Gon, I joined a group to Mekong Delta - My Tho and Ben Tre which is 75km southwest of Saigon, on the northern lip of a Mekong splinter river, the Tien Giang - is all anyone reaches. My Tho's river promenade is an appealing place, with crumbling French villas now home to storefronts and blow-up animals and candies for sale on the kept-clean brick river front. It gets flooded with daytrippers from Saigon daily. Taking boat trips to quirky islands and canals across on Ben Tre island to see coconut candy be made and bee farms. These palm-lined, chocolate-colored canals are lined with homes. I had chance to listen to Mekong's traditional music - tai tu music while enjoying seasonal fruits, tasting rice wine with honey. Woww it was incredibile!! Back to Sai Gon after 2 hour driving, I planed to leave Saigon next day for the beaches......

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