IndoChina - Saigon & 6 million mopeds

Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
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Trip End May 29, 2011


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Where I stayed
Hoang Hai Long Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, November 8, 2010

Red rain is coming down
Red rain
Red rain is pouring down
Pouring down all over me


Peter Gabriel - Lyrics to 'Red Rain'


A short but bumpy flight brought us from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as it used to be and still is to many people). When we landed we were relieved to see that it wasn't raining altho' the ominous clouds overhead suggested that this would be short lived. And as feared as soon as set-off the heavens opened and only really closed intermittently for the next three nights we spent on HCMC.

HCMC is home to anywhere between 8 to 10 million people. And about 6 millions scooters. And they all seemed to be on the road at all times. We had been warned that the traffic would be worse – heavier and crazier – than Hanoi but that wasn’t the case. People seemed to obey the lights more, so crossing a road felt easier than in Hanoi.

For our first night we were taken to an excellent little restaurant that specialises in Soup – or Pho as it’s called in Vietnam after which we went for a brief walk around the area ending in the Rex Hotel which was used for US Army press briefings during the Vietnam war for a drink. Following the group-avoidance theme from Hoi An we decided to stay on when others in the group decided to go onto somewhere more lively and cheap. Their loss as they missed out on one of the god-awful house bands butchering various 1980’s tunes all in a Latino-style. After a few songs we couldn’t cope anymore and left to return back to the grim hotel that the group was staying in.

For our second day we were taken to the Cu Chi tunnels just outside HCMC. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters.

What I guess could have been a solemn and thought-provoking morning turned into a bit of a farce. We were firstly shown what we had been warned was a 'propaganda’ documentary about the resistance of the village of Cu Chi to the US Army. I’d assumed that it being called 'propaganda’ was just a simple mistranslation from our guide but no. We had to sit there watching a documentary that must have been filmed just after the war had ended 35 years ago. Jaunty, joyful music accompanied images of the peace-loving brave villagers but the Americans – or mad devils as they were referred to at one point - were accompanied by sinister music. The narration was so over the top, so lacking in objectivity, that people stopped taking it seriously and laughed. The ‘peace-loving villagers’, who arguably were aiding and abetting South Vietnam’s enemies (like the Viet Cong guerrillas), became heroes for their resistance to the bombing and for their tunnels and were given titles such as ‘American Killer Hero’ or ‘Great Killer of Americans’. As a memorial Cu Chi failed. As a two-finger salute to the US it works. The guide seemed to revel in the ingenious but primitive ways the VC managed to kill or maim the US Army. It all became a bit dull, which is sad as it could have been so interesting, and culminated in an invitation to fire, with live rounds, a variety of guns. Some memorial to war...

An early start the following day took us to the Mekong Delta. We drove thru’ a waterlogged Vietnam until we made it to wherever it was we were heading – can’t remember where as none of us could understand the guide. Anyway we were dragged around a honey shop, where we were shown some bees and then we were expected to purchase some honey and some royal jelly. Following this fascinating little pit-stop we followed it with two others, neither of which were of any interest.

Back on the boat we sailed straight thru’ the floating market without realising it (and our guide didn’t bother to mention it) and then we went for lunch. Where I had cobra, not the beer, the snake. Apparently it tastes like chicken or it does if the snake you’re given is skinned and has some meat on it. Ours didn’t and it was like eating gristle. Not nice and it won’t be revisited altho’ I was impressed that Claire braved a snake-blood and rice wine cocktail which is more than I could stomach. We then had a performance by a local band. It was like listening to a couple of wailing cats.

Ear drums shattered and back on the boat we sailed back to the dock where the coach was and drove back to Saigon for one final night in our smelly hotel. Early to bed as we had a v. early start the following morning for a bus ride to Cambodia.

Saigon was a disappointment. That it rained pretty solidly, and heavily, for 3 days obviously put a dampener on the stay. It’s a busy commercial town that seemed to lack some of the charm and madness of Hanoi. The trips that had been arranged were also a disappointment – the glee with which our local guide described how Americans were killed during the war was distasteful and the trip on the Mekong Delta was largely a waste of time. As grim as the bus journey to the boarder promised to be we weren’t sad to be leaving Vietnam.












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