Saigon

Trip Start Mar 31, 2010
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28
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Trip End Mar 31, 2011


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Flag of Vietnam  , Hồ Chí Minh,
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saigon is a remarkable change after Bangkok.  Upon arrival, the airport and roads are far less modern, and the traffic is notably complete chaos.  There seem to be lots of traffic lights and roundabouts, whose existence only serves to highlight the turmoil because no attention is paid to any of them.  It seems perfectly legitimate for any of the 5m scooters in the city to ride on any side of the road they like, or the pavement, and going through a red light is perfectly fine as long as you are turning left or right, or are on the wrong side of the road.
Getting into the middle of town, we realise what has been missing from the other cities we've been to that we are used to from cities in Europe - from the French colonial period there are statues and fountains everywhere, the middle of the road is often divided by a strip of grass and trees, there are trees planted on the pavements.  It feels very European, especially when we find a thoroughly authentic French restaurant with French men sitting at the bar smoking and drinking pastis.  We go there twice and fill ourselves up on steak and excellent cheese and wine.
Aside from the city being aesthetically pleasing, the other attractions are terrible.  Considering how interesting the country's history is, the museums are utterly useless.  One main attraction seems to the the 'Reunification Palace' which appears unchanged from the 1970s and is full of huge depressing boardrooms with lots of cheap furniture and old telephones where terrible communist briefings must have taken place.
One good exhibit was a visit to the 'Cu Chi' tunnels on the outskirts of Saigon (which in very Asian-city style spreads interminably in all directions) a network of hundreds of miles of tunnels where people lived and fought during the American war.  We crawled through one of them in the photo below - and this one had been enlarged for lardy tourists like us - and it was unbearably hot and claustrophobic after just a couple of minutes.  Some of the most interesting features were the breathing holes disguised as termite mounds; and smoke from cooking (how hot must the kitchen have been?) being dissipated by a series of chambers lined with cotton so it would not visibly exit the tunnel network.
Back in town, the local market is extremely colourful, full of produce, food stalls, clothes and tourist tat.  There are lots of locals who are trying to do their shopping, having their progress impeded by lumbering Western tourists wandering aimlessly and taking photos.  In certain section sections we are presented with a new sales technique where the stall owner actually grabs you by the arm and pulls you towards their merchanise; getting out is like running a gauntlet.
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