14.07.2010 - 18.07.2010 30 °C
Viet Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh – formerly Saigon, is a city of neon lights and an overwhelming intensity of scooters, people and noise.
We picked a cute little cheap hotel on the main tourist street. Saigon Mini Hotel 102/1A Cong Quynh Street - District 1. It scored highly in Tripadvisor and it was not bad at all. Clean and convenient. The street itself was very really hectic "Conh Quynh Street" - proper backpacker central. Gap year students and sex tourists falling drunk out of the westernised bars. Nice. We had a room on the 9th floor so quite a way from any street noises, but after the first night's sleep we were awoken by the earbleeding loud ceremonial drumming at 6am. It turned out to be celebratory/ a blessing for the opening of a new shop. It went on for 4 hours.
I have seen images of Viet Nam through the eyes of hollywood (I have listed all movies relating to the country at the end from wiki) notably the glut of harcore messed up war movies from the 70s and 80s :
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
So I was quite surprising to see so many american tourists and also consequently so many items and services on sale in $s. Viet Nam has had quite tumultuous history with a number of occupations including 1000 years rule by china and then western colonialism through the French traders and missionaries and consequent revolts and then of course the rise to power of Ho Chi Minh and the Communist party and the American attacks and eventual withdrawals. It was only in the early 1990s, the government encouraged foreign investment and sought to improve relations with the United States.
To find out more -
Brief History : http://www.vietventures.com/Vietnam/history_vietnam.asp
Ho Chi Minh : http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/ho-chi-minh/biography.htm
Another whirlwind tour didn't leave us with much time to explore the city in great detail and instead we opted on hiring a taxi for the day to check out a couple of sites just outside of Viet Nam.
Cui Chu tunnels
Because we were doing things in our own time, as we started this trip, most of the tour groups were leaving, this meant we shared our guide with just another couple (americans who lived in australia).
A bit of background
"The Cu Chi Tunnels were pivotal to the Communist's victory over the Americans and the South Vietnamese Armies as they allowed the Viet Cong to control a large rural area around Saigon. At its height, the tunnel system, parts of which were several levels deep, stretched over 200kms from Saigon to the Cambodian border.
The area of Cu Chi was one of the most pro-communist districts in the far south; indeed the VC used the tunnels to organize the 1968 Tet Offensive. During the American War the entire area of Cu Chi was designated a free fire zone and was heavily bombarded: you can still see numerous craters caused by 500 pound B52bombs.
It was this persistent bombing campaign that drove many of the residents of Cu Chi together with the Viet Cong underground. Originally the tunnels had been created as far back as 1948 to help combat the French."
The tour started with a 20minute 'orientation' or propoganda movie. I wasn't sure if it was pure documentary to set the scene or actual double bluffing a bit of brainwashing while we were chuckling at the irony of it.
With a childlike innocent nursery tune score, the narrator would chirp gems like, "... is only 13 and she has killed 5 Americans, she has gained a prize for being an American Killer" as it showed a pretty young girl who looked a lot younger than 13 crawling on the ground with a gun against a backdrop of b52s explosions.
There was the opportunithy to shoot with an old AK 47 for $30 ten bullets – now that was war as entertainment gone too far.
We were lead around the complex by our guide who would periodically twist quotes from aforementionned American war movies. When he showed us the war traps made out of sharpened bamboos and recycled american artillery, he shouted "Good morning America". I am a total pacifist but I like to get insights into realities because as with this tour, it just reinforced my sentiments about war.
Not to say I wasn't impressed. I must say looking at the tunnels, and the weapons, and traps I was taken aback by the sheer ingeniusness and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese.
We even got to eat boiled Taro root – a staple of the time and also scuttle through the tunnels.
The Americans we were with seemed to love the tour, though they said that it was kind of strange to be villified so much but at the same time they had come on the trip to get the other side of the story. They chuckled that there are a lot of Americans who still believe America won the Viet Nam war.
Next stop Cao Dai Temple
"Cao Dai (a.k.a. Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism) is a syncretist Vietnamese religious movement with a strongly nationalist political character. Cao Dai draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from Taoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and a hierarchical organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism. Its pantheon of saints includes such diverse figures as the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and Sun Yat-sen.
Cao Dai beliefs about the afterlife are derived from Buddhism. Those who have gathered too much bad karma during their lifetime will be reincarnated in negative circumstances, which may include rebirth on a darker, colder planet than this one. Good karma leads to rebirth to a better life on earth."
As we approached the temple we figured it was going to be dark and dreary as the stormy pissy weather outside; but as we stepped into the building, like a divine event, natural light bounced off the amazingly brightly coloured kitsch walls, ceiling and pillars. Julian commented the effect was from "Highly polished floors".
Check out the pictures.
It was a very uplifting experience. Again we had turned up when all the tour groups had gone, so we had the whole place to ourselves. A couple of elderly keepers with sparkly eyes and charismatic smiles showed us where to stand to get the best photos. They seemed so content. I totally believe that trully spiritual people have x-ray soul vision and can see right into your true being and I totally felt that.
The next day, we flew from Ho Chi Minh to Danang and then had lunch in Hoi An – the absolutely delicious Mermaid Restaurant. It was raining cats and dogs. Still we decided to make the most of it, I bought a rather fetching condom coloured poncho and my hubby decided he didn't need any rain covering so got completely drenched. We spent a couple of hours walking around this quaint village with many traditional Vietnamese buildings. We also walked around a market next to the river. It was like a mudbath – and I nearly lost a flipflop. Fascinating all the same.
Then onto a tourist bus to Hue – spent the first hour driving to every hotel in town and tour agency twice to try and fill up the bus.Very irritating. The bus itself was ok. Once we got to Hue, all the local passengers got off and a few touts came onto the bus to try and sell the tourists hotel nights. We were actually quite near to our already booked hotel, so we tried to get off the bus with the locals. There was some argy bargy about letting us off and they wanted to make us stay on the bus to the other side of the town. I didn't mean to, but had a right go at the driver until he openned the doors. I really was not going to wait on the bus to be touted for the next god knows how long to be further away from our hotel and then get a taxi back. It was late and we were wet, tired and hungry.
Anyway, we walked in the torrential rain up the Le Loy the main road overlooking the Perfume river and found our hotel. It was a 6mth old Mercure, totally brand new, empty with a very good price. They gave us a great room with a balcony overlooking the river. Finally we could have a hot bath and chill out.
The next day, the rain had ceded a little and we headed over across the river to the Citadel or Imperial Palace. Hue was the political, cultural and religious capital of unified Vietnam between 1802 and 1945 when the Nguyen Emperors ruled the country and a lot of important sites.
Surrounded by a wall and a moat, the Citadel can be entered via one of 10 gates. The citadel contains the Nine Holy Cannons that used to defend the palace, the Imperial Enclosure where the Emperor carried out his official business, the Palace of Supreme Harmony and the Hall of the Mandarins. It was also home to the Purple Forbidden Palace which was reserved for use by the Emperor himself; this was almost entirely destroyed during the Vietnam War, however.
Next and last stop Hanoi for 2 nights.
Again we booked a Mercure based on our experience of the one before. This one was a hell of a lot inferior for more money. That's big cities for you I guess. We had heard early on in the week Hanoi had been flooded but it seemed ok when we got there.
The first night, we ate at a Japanese called ''Ky Y". It was one of the best I have ever been to. Rather ceremonious in a fun way. The waitress even grated the wasabi infront of us. Everything was slightly french, dishes infused with garlic and in fact we ordered garlic tempura. Just the perfect cuisine for my palate. We had 2 waitresses look after us the whole time making sure we had enough green tea etc Also noticed the shelves of bottles of booze with clients names on. Now that is what I call a personal touch. And all this for £20 a head.
We were planning to get a driver to take us to Halong Bay (6 hrs round trip) but with the potential storms we decided to stay in Hanoi and follow a lonely planet walking tour through the city. We probably needed a couple of days to just hang out before our trip to KL and the rainforest.
We followed the tour in the lonely planet. An old Aussie couple looked a bit lost and the guy said "Follow them they have the same book" and they did ! Our walk took us to the lake, the bridge and the communist monuments.
We walked past steamy street cafes with low seated locals drinking and eating peanuts. There were whole streets with just one theme such as 'Celebration'. The most memorable were the meat streets, where there were snails piled up high ready for the boil and frogs splayed on top of eachother with a woman slicing them with a huge bloody axe just enough to stop them from jumping but not enough to kill them.
We ended our last night in Viet Nam, with a trip to the lake. There were hoards of local families lining the banks chatting and relaxing and eating icecream. As we walked up to an jazz bar - Ibox, we had to dodge traffic on the bikes as they mounted the pavement to bipass standstill traffic. Definately deserved some cocktails after that (-:
I think I could live in Hanoi, it is a very vibrant city with wide streets, parks, bars, cafes, street stalls, monuments and super friendly, helpful people and even more traffic than any other city I had been to.