Christmas in Saigon!!

Trip Start Jul 05, 2012
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Trip End Jun 19, 2013


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, December 23, 2012

Highlights.

Border Crossing.
We left Kep at 7am in the hope of catching an early bus to HCMC. Our tuk tuk man was on time and it took an hour to get to the border crossing. The view on the way was once again stunning, passing through rice paddies and farm land, tuk tuks are definitely the way forward! Once arrived our tuk tuk driver helped us find 2 moto drivers (motorbikes) so we could cross the border. There were many locals around but no other tourists what so ever. Our drivers stunk of alcohol but we safely made it, firstly getting stamped out of Cambodia and then getting our visa checked in Vietnam. In no mans land were a few casinos for the Vietnamese as its illegal here. In Vietnam our moto drivers magically appeared some helmets for us. Legally passengers must wear them, funny how we didn't get the option in Cambodia. Our moto drivers were very friendly and it was pretty exciting driving amongst the crazy moto drivers of Vietnam. We asked to be dropped off at the bus station but we ended up at some innocuous road side cafe with another friendly man who explained bus times, prices, where to go, offered us a lift and a cup of tea while we waited. Our first impressions of Vietnam are very good. We got another moto to the bus station when it was time and were pleased to find an awesome sleeper bus. Fully reclining seats that were so good we had to remove our shoes on entry. 9 hours later we arrived in HCMC. We arrived at one of the many bus stations and had no clue where we were, but luckily we met a nice local family who were heading to the same area as our guesthouse. They shared a taxi with us and we got dropped off right outside, much easier than doing it yourself. 

The Craziness!
Once dropped off by the taxi we faced the one small problem of crossing the road. We faced a constant stream of motorbikes all whizzing past with no traffic lights to break the traffic up. There are zebra crossings but were not sure why, just to mock us maybe! We've learnt a nice slow 'confident' (ish) pace and the bikes will just flow around you like water. As I'm still writing this clearly it works. We took a few moto rides around the city as there's no tuk tuks here only taxis (too expensive for us). This is definitely the best way to see the city and so much fun, if slightly dangerous. Waiting at the traffic lights was good when we had another hundred bikes all surrounding us. Mum, dad, baby, teenager, gran all on one bike all staring at me while I look petrified. 
The best thing we did in HCMC was free, a walk through the city. Daily life here seems so exciting, early evening we watched so many people head to the park. Groups of women playing badminton, men playing keepy-upy and the older generation using the free exercise equipment. Walking down the back alleys we saw shops, cafes and homes all rolled into one small room. The local butcher chopping up meat on a tiny plastic table trying to get out of the way of mopeds, even though there's barely enough room. Even at midnight the city just seems to get busier, noisier and more exciting, it's certainly a city that never sleeps.

Food.
For breakfast we found one of many food stalls on the corner of a street and sat down on the small metal stools watching the world go by. The noodle soups with beef, meatballs and pork were delicious. So much flavour and so cheap. In the day time everyone is sat around on the street eating noodles and drinking iced coffee. For dinner we tried a Vietnamese BBQ. Each table has its own gas cylinder and hot plate. We ordered deer with 5 spices and beef with honey. At first we had no idea what we were doing, pretty sure the Vietnamese next to us we're laughing at us but we got the hang of it. Bit of oil on the plate, chuck your veg and meat on, wait a bit (no idea how long deer takes to cook), turn, wait some more and there we go. The food was so nice and we had some crab rice aswell. All washed down with some cheap Japanese beer. It was good fun but part of me isn't sure of the idea of going out to a restaurant and then having to cook your own food!?

Christmas.
We spent our Christmas eve sat on some plastic chairs on a busy road drinking beer with lots of people. We chatted to a Swedish couple, Irish and a Singaporean men till 2am. Vietnamese rode by with the kids wearing Santa outfits all of them watching us, while we all watched them. When the bar got full out came more plastic chairs this time starting a row on the road. Although there was a lot of decorations and flashing lights, it didn't really feel like Xmas with it being warm weather and having a pizza hut for Christmas dinner as we couldn't find any proper Christmas lunch was a bit disappointing.

War museum and Independence Palace.
We spent our Christmas day sight seeing. First we walked to the independence palace which is where the president residence when Vietnam was separated into 2 countries. We spent a few hours walking through the endless function rooms, bedrooms and dinning rooms. There is still a chopper on the roof which hasn't been used since the south surrendered in the mid 70s. Underneath there's a bunker where the intelligence staff worked and where the president went in case of a bomb risk.
Around the corner is a museum explaining the devastating American War that took place in the 60s/70s and is very anti American. We have never seen such graphic photographs displayed to the public before and was a very depressing way to spend Christmas. The horrible thing is is that it is all true and even now the Vietnamese are still suffering badly from the Agent Orange gas that infiltrated soil and fresh water supplies. We are glad we took time to learn about the history of Vietnam as it has shaped the country to what it is today.

Lowlights.

Tunnels.
One of the highlights to see outside Saigon is the Cu Chi tunnels so we paid only $6 each to do a tour. Our guide was actually a Veteran who fought alongside the Americans during the war. He was a very passionate, animated man who told his story very well and helped us understand what life must have been like during the war. We learnt specifically about the guerrillas of Cu Chi and how they lived and fought during the war. They dug around 250km of tunnels underground to hide from American soldiers. Built kitchens underground and made tunnels for the smoke to escape further away so they fooled the Americans, set traps within the jungle and made the tunnels so small so the Americans couldn't fit. At night time the women would go above ground to farm land for food and the men would go to ambush the yanks then go back underground at sunrise. They would turn their sandals the opposite way to fool the army so they couldn't re trace their steps. We got to go down some 'tourists tunnels' made wider, which were pretty claustrophobic. Quite amazing to think upto 60000 people lived in the tunnels. 
The main reason for this tour being a lowlight for us was because we were with 100 other tourists (on the same tour with one guide??) we couldnt see anything until the crowd had moved so we couldnt see what the guy was talking about. Also it was very rushed, it took 2 and half hours to get there and we only spent about 1 hour 30 actually at the sight. The guide although he was passionate he said he hated his job over and over again saying there is no money for him and he should have claimed his pension from the Americans but would never go back there as he hates the food and they use a lazy mans toilet. Quite humorous but not when its all he speaks about. 
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Comments

Diana on

Love to read your stories! Must be such a wonderfull and a complete different country. Can't wait to see the pictures and read your next blog.

I am going to write You a long email with my updates very soon!! At the moment I am very busy with my photobook. Take such a long time to make it. So hard to choose wich Photos I am going to use. Hihihihi.... Can't wait to see the album

Ksss Diana

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