Saigon

Trip Start Jan 23, 2006
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Trip End Feb 05, 2006


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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Lloyd and I flew back to Saigon on the 28th, just in time for Lunar New Years Eve. It was a crazy crush of loud music and various shows vying for people's attention. There was an elaborate stage set out in front of the theatre where what I can only assume were Vietnamese pop acts performed. The Chinese and Vietnese have the similar traditions of time during Lunar New Year devoted to family. Entire families wandered the New Year's displays in central Saigon, posing the children here and there for the professional photographers stationed everywhere.

To escape the throngs and ear-shattering music below, we ascended, once again, to the Saigon Saigon Bar where we could look down on (literally) the circus below. As the clock approached midnight, we headed back to Gusthouse 70, where the family who own the hotel had promised to walk the hotel guests to a good viewing location for the fireworks. We were a mixed bag of various nationalities vying with locals for good views from a local park. On our return, we were met with spring rolls and other tasty snacks and bottles of Vietnamese wine from the central hill region of Da Lat. It was really cool to be included in their family celebration.

The next day was a lazy one with many businesses closed for the coming week. We got up late, checked email, and tried booking tickets back to Phu Quoc for Karen, Nate, myself and our friends Ben, Nancy, Noah and Sam. I managed to get some tickets by the miracle of an added flight. As I was sitting in the agent's office, a seemingly spontaneous lion dance erupted just a couple of shops down. Businesses often commission lion dances for new year to bring luck and prosperity for the coming year.

The rest of the gang arrived that evening and we all moved over to the Indochine Hotel in the center of town to what I hoped would be a quieter location.

The next day, we signed up for one of the package tours to the Cao Dai Temple complex and the Cu Chi tunnels. The Cao Daists practice an amalgamation of various eastern religions and have peculiar rituals and ceremonies and an elaborate temple, where a slightly disturbing eye with a big bushy eyebrow is featured prominently.

From there, we drove back toward Saigon and stopped in Cu Chi to investigate an elaborate tunnel system constructed by communist guerillas during the French and American occupations of the 50's and 60's. There were some 250 kilometers of tunnels below ground with elaborate living quarters, kitchens, medical clinics and other necessities. On our tour we were shown all of the horrible booby-traps designed to prevent infiltration of the tunnel system. The tunnels even extended below and American military base and were used during the Tet offensive in 1968. At one point in the tour, we got to experience the tunnels first-hand. When the guide warned us before entering that the tunnel was quite dark and only 70 cm in height in places, I didn't really take him seriously. I am not a particularly claustrophobic person, but when you are in a dark and sweaty hole 10 feet underground with a person's derriere directly in front of your face and a person's face directly behind your derriere, you begin to understand the fear of claustrophobes. It doesn't seem that irrational.

At the end of the tour we were offered the opportunity either to relax or to operate large caliber weapons in the immediate vicinity of those who were meant to be relaxing. This was a tea house -slash- shooting range. It was a little incongruous. Bullets could be bought in the gift shop for about $1 each. It's amazing how loud M-16's and AK-47's are. On a related note, I read that in Cambodia, you can buy a water buffalo and shoot it or blow it up with a rocket launcher, depending on your personal preference.

We hightailed it back to Saigon where most got to bed early in anticipation of our flight to Phu Quoc. Lloyd and I tucked into the local brothel/pool hall for a game of pool and a couple of beers before saying goodbye. He'd be on his way to the Mekong delta while I led my tour group back to Phu Quoc - I know - poor me.
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