Our time in Ho Chi Minh City and Southern Vietnam
22.09.2012 - 28.09.2012 32 °C
"So the weary travellers climbed off the bus after an 8 hour drive from Pnom Penh in Cambodia at the bus station in Ho Chi Minh City.........."
Ok so this place was like nothing we had ever seen before. The city is frightening to see first hand. There are so many scooters and the traffic seem to ignore any road rules that anyone ever taught us. It is like a well choreographed free for all, hooters going off all around us. This was daunting to say the least. So taking our lives into our own hands we stepped out into the oncoming traffic - seemingly taking a step closer to the bright lights at the end of the tunnel. The secret we were duly informed, is to walk slowly, one step at a time and never to stop. The bikes and cars avoid you and by walking slowly you give them the choice of which direction to go around you.
After a great night on the town in the former Saigon, Lou awoke with the trots. So she opted to stay in bed for the day while I went around town with my two Swiss mates. After a delicious pho for breakfast, we walked around the Ben Thanh market, and then headed to the War Remnants Museum for a shocking education on the war and the US's genocide of the Vietnamese people. The emotions you feel whilst here are so varied that its hard to explain, but I will try. The first thing you see are the fighter jets, cannons, tanks(US and Viet), large bombs etc, typical war museum. Its all fun and games standing behind the guns, pretending to shoot, for the perfect photo. Its a happy childlike feeling. Then you explore some more and see the camps and prisons used by the Thai people. Then you head inside and start looking at the photographs, reading the captions and you get re-educated. some of the pictures almost make you spew in your mouth and others are just mind numbing to think about. Rage, horror, pity, sadness, fear and helplessness are just some of the emotions that I felt in those hours walking through the museum. People deformed, by chemicals used in the war by the US, sit at the museum every day to raise funds to help families who suffered the same fate. Agent orange and other chemicals continue to destroy lives of the people who came close to them( US soldiers too). It is a day I will never forget.
So our Cambodian group had split up and in the evening we met new people joining our tour for the Vietnam leg. We all went out for dinner and a few drinks, Lou stayed home ( at the hotel ) again to try get well. Now after walking around the city for a day, I could negotiate the streets with confidence, cockily giving pointers to the new people on our tour.
With rain hammering down and Louise feeling a little better the next morning our tour took us to the Mekong delta. After boarding a boat, we were shown how the locals live on the various islands in the delta. We stopped and had Thai tea with a family who gave us local fruits to taste and sang folk songs with local instruments providing the tunes. After that we headed to another island where they make coconut candy, very tasty indeed and interesting to see how they made rice paper at the factory too. After the factory tour we were shepherded onto little canoes and were taken down mangrove lined canals to a village. We ate lunch here, it was a welcome respite from the relentless rain. After a relaxing lunch we went to another village where we were staying for the night - another home stay. This was a totally different thing to the last one in Cambodia, it was more like a school camp. Dorm rooms, separate toilets and cold water showers around the back of the building and the dining area about 40m away up a concrete path. No hot water but at least we had facilities. The afternoon was spent playing cards and relaxing on the veranda - we had planned a countryside bike ride which was cancelled due to the rain. For dinner we were shown how to make spring rolls and ate them together with pork, veg and fish. eventually we hit the sack after a few beers and a bottle of rice wine.
The following morning was spent cycling and eating breakfast, baguettes, eggs and coffee - my old man would love the coffee here, no fresh milk, just condensed milk. We then bussed it back to Saigon for an afternoon of markets and sightseeing because Lou had missed it the other day. With our first SE Asian overnight train to look forward to, we bought ourselves some food and drinks for dinner on the train.
Overnight madness- Sleeper train, 4 to a cabin. Lou and I were paired with Gordon, in his eighties and Kaye from Australia. They were on the trip with us through Vietnam. We sat chatting for a while, eating and then I headed next door to the party cabin. Nils ( one of the Swiss guys on tour ) and I had bought a bottle of rice wine each from the family at home stay the previous night and Eugene ( from Ireland ) had got a case of tiger beer. A polystyrene cool box with ice had been purchased at the station before departure, so it was full steam ahead to Nha Trang. The train was much better then we had expected and was pleasant enough - could be down to the fact that our group was upgraded to 1st class for the journey - bonus!
At 5am the train pulled into Nha Trang station and we caught cabs to our hotel. Exhausted from lack of sleep - have you slept on the top bunk of an old train lately?? We dropped our bags at our hotel and hit he beach. Nha Trang was the place the US soldiers used to come for R and R during the war. Its a lovely sandy beach with a great view of a few small islands just off shore. By lunch time we were all beached out and went to check in. Louise was feeling rotten again, but this time with flu! We had a nap in the afternoon and spent the evening strolling along the promenade watching the locals, playing soccer, badminton and running. We settled for Bratwurst for dinner, Oh boy what a refreshing change from Asian food. Yum yum yum. We turned in early and got a really good nights rest. The following day Lou was feeling worse, but we were getting on another overnight train that evening, and to be honest, I think she was dreading it. After walking around the market we got Lou to bed. We payed extra to keep the room because we were meant to check out at 12pm. This meant Lou could sleep and I could shower after the beach. Which is exactly what happened - I body surfed for around 3 hours then showered, packed and left for the station. Nha Trang could've been any beach resort in the world. Overpriced, neon signed bars and restaurants lined the main street near the beach. It is nothing special, but it does have a great beach. We enjoyed our few days here and loved the sunshine.
Next destination - Hoi An.......