Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Trip Start Jan 16, 2008
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23
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Trip End Jul 28, 2008


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Where I stayed
Nga Hoang

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Waiting patiently for our 11pm bus to Saigon, we were tucking into out sixth or seventh pastry, a throwback to the era of French colonialism though certainly without the Parisian flair, when an AVC Mercedes people-carrier rocked up. "Bus to Saigon" called the driver. We were struck with confusion and excitement, but it was unfortunately very short-lived. By the time it took Kim to fiddle with her seat belt we cruised down the hill and turned the corner to see the usual mayhem of the bus departure. It had been the hotel pick-up shuttle.

Rudely awaken by some suspect Vietnamese tunes and the firm nudge of the bus conductor, she proclaimed "Saigon". My watch indicated 4.25am. A Vietnamese bus arriving 1 hour 35 minutes early - it felt unnervingly surreal. Zombie-like we descended the bus steps to a barrage of eager-eyed touts and an incredible wall of heat and humidity. Were we still in Vietnam?

Having eventually found a hotel that was open and better still perhaps offering the opportunity of a bed (although trying to operate the broken tap in the sink felt like you were competing on the Crystal Maze), we crashed out enjoying the artificial comfort of a packet of marshmallow "Choco Pies". Nothing like a spot of luxury.

Daylight in Saigon and the racetrack of roads was alive with highspeed maneouvres converging from all angles, often using the pavement as an alternative slipway. I often find driving on the "correct" side of the road overrated!

However, the streets of Saigon seemed a long way away as we stepped into the War Remants Museum. Without doubt the most horrifying and harrowing visual experience of our lives, the museum told the story of the Vietnam people through the recent conflict. The photographs were taken by courageous journalists, who perhaps more than anyone helped swell the anti-War movement in America that eventually led to US withdrawal. It was a display of inhumane, if not insane, brutality. It is almost incomprehensible to think that human life is attached such a value. Never will we forget turning the corner to see a pair of glass jars containing the foetuses of a generation savagely decimated by chemical warfare. It was difficult to hold back one's emotions. All the while you were somehow haunted by the reflections of US Defense Secretary, Robert S McNamara's In Retrospect - it was all a seemingly unbelievable mistake. Full stop.

A visit to Reunification / Independence Palace was a natural completion of the story. With a modernist architectural style throughout it left a lot to the imagination. Essentially meeting and reception rooms filled with collections of chairs and tables, one had to appreciate the palace's place in Vietnamese history rather than marvel at its beauty.

Hot and rather sweaty (sorry Kim!), we wandered to the Notre Dame Cathedral and on to the central market for another delightful nasal experience. Nothing like a bit of dried fish in 30+ degree heat!

In the evening we sampled the delights of Quan An Ngon. A Saigon institution, patrons were spilling onto the streets waiting for a table. Around the courtyard are around a dozen small kitchens each cooking up a particular specialism. The Hue-style pork compacted as if a loaf of spam and diced into cubes was a little interesting. Fortunately, no "loose bowel movements" to report.

With our departure from Singapore in less than 6 weeks we managed to buy the "last 2" seats on the bus to Cambodia. A brief, but fascinating stay in Saigon ended as did Vietnam. As always wishing we had another week to explore, we can't really complain... 
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Comments

mdhd
mdhd on

Travel on!
Thank you for the wonderful surprise telephone call this afternoon. Trust your bus journey into Cambodia and on to Phnom Penh tomorrow meets with expectations! Lol MDHD x

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