16.01.2009 - 18.01.2009 32 °C
After my experience in Hanoi, I had minimized the time I was gonna spend in Saigon. (The official name these days is actually Ho Chi Minh City, but it is still often called as Saigon, and I will use that one as I like it better.) I enjoyed the peaceful days I had in Mui Ne, and I wasn't overly keen on returning to the madness. However, there were a couple of things I wanted to see and do in Saigon.
I took my final sleeper bus from Mui Ne to Saigon, and luckily I was able to make my way straight to the hotel as Kerry had arrived before and kindly booked us in. It's always a small luxury not having to do the accommodation search. Especially at that moment when the Vietnamese New Year was coming closer and the places were filling up and the prices going up the roof.
I didn't take many pictures in Saigon, as it's so crazy on the streets that it's enough just to stay alive and stay out of the motorbikes' way! Basically Saigon was just like Hanoi, only whereas Hanoi was mad and cold, Saigon was mad and hot and humid. You guess which one is better...
It seems that in Vietnam nobody walks anywhere. I was going to walk to the War Remnants Museum, and as I was studying my map I asked the receptionist at our hotel how long it would take to walk there. She started to laugh so much that I got all confused, and thought I must have misread my map somehow as I was obviously being ridiculous here. She goes: "Walk??? You want walk?! Loooong way. Looong way!" She's looking at me like I'm the silliest girl she's ever met. I asked how long then. Her answer: "LONG. Maybe 40 minutes." Now, for me 40 minutes walk is just fine, if I'm on a holiday and have all the time in the world. She looked at me like I was crazy as I left. I got to the museum in 20 minutes time, and probably would have been quicker if the streets weren't so confusing!
The War Remnants Museum was as shocking as I had heard it is. The most horrible part of the museum is all the pictures that show how deformed babies are still being born to this day because of all the toxic stuff that the US army dropped in Vietnam during the war.
There was another part of the museum with cells built to look like the cells where the prisoners were kept. There were pictures on the walls showing all the different ways the prisoners were being tortured. It was unbelievable, I was looking at it and thinking how can somebody be disgusting enough to come up with something like that! One way to torture the female prisoners for example was to let snakes loose inside their trousers. Sick! Another form of torture was sticking a hose deep into the prisoner's throat and fill their stomach with water.
Me and Caileigh also took a half day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, which is a massive tunnel network used during the war. I was kind of expecting a long walk underground, so was very disappointed to find out that you can only walk 200 metres in the tunnels. When the guide asked how many of us wanted to do the whole 200 metres leg, everyone's hands went up, but it was quite a different story once we got underground! It was only possible to crawl (which I couldn't do because I was wearing an impossible outfit - the only clothes that I hadn't left at the laundy!) or walk really low, meaning your body's doubled in half. It was hot, dusty and totally claustrophobic! I only lasted until the second little exit point. Oh well, seen it already, no point in staying there?
We're both grinning like we're at the funfair with the soldier boys or something - not sure we remember where we are!
Vietnamese food has been slightly disappointing so far, so I was thrilled to have one fabulous traditional dinner in Saigon. Kerry was telling me and Caileigh about this little Vietnamese place where she had eaten fantastic Vietnamese pancakes, and we decided to give it a go. This humble little restaurant was a good one hour's walk from where we were staying, but turned out it was worth it! We were joined by an Australian girl whom Kerry had met before. We had Vietnamese pancakes stuffed with pork and shrimp. I had never eaten anything like that before: you take small pieces of the pancake, wrap them inside lettuce, and dip the whole thing in peanut sauce. Delicious! We also had the best fresh springrolls I've had - they were beautiful with rice, vegetables and shrimp. Easily one of the most interesting meals of my trip.
Apart from this I spent my time in Saigon running errands, exploring the big supermarkets, doing laundry and getting some last minute cheap stuff before leaving Asia. I scored some super cheap copy Lonely Planets from the street, and some hideous fake sunglasses as I figured it would be my last chance to get dirt-cheap sunglasses for 2 US dollars (I am furiously trying to get rid of the Dolce&Gabbana label on the other pair, the other pair can keep its dodgy Ray Ban label seeing as they're already broken!).
Out of the countries that I've visited on this trip Vietnam was definitely the most interesting. Not as enjoyable as Thailand, nor as relaxed as Laos, but definitely the most interesting, the most exotic. I am still kicking myself for not having enough time in Vietnam - I had to leave out lots of things that I wanted to do, like boat trip to Halong Bay, Sapa, Da Lat and the Central Highlands. I feel like Vietnam is the kind of country I would have liked to see properly at once. I don't think it's a place I would return for a holiday, it's more of a place to tour and experience. Rushing through from north to south is not a good idea.
My last memory of Vietnam will be arguing about the taxi price to the airport, after 10 minutes getting my way, getting off the taxi outside the terminal and watching in astonishment as the taxi driver snapped the money from my hand and threw all my luggage flying to the ground before speeding away like a madman, leaving me to stuff my belongings back to the bags. Bye!