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Saigon or HCMC?

VIETNAM | Monday, 12 December 2005 | Views [965] | Comments [2]

Hello all,
Here I am enjoying my first full day in Saigon (now known officially as Ho Chi Minh City). This entry might be a little big due to some major computer problems here in Vietnam. I think "Uncle Ho's regime" keeps a pretty tight control over the internet - I haven't been able to update the journal for a while, and many people I bump into can't access their hotmail account, and yahoo is really slow.
Anyway, I need to tell you about my last day in Hue and the two days I spent in Hoi An, so here goes - it might not read too well because I saved a bit of this entry to my Yahoo! account previously..... 
Firstly, thanks to all of you who sent me birthday wishes on my 26th birthday. I've had a great day, even though the weather was terrible! The Dutch girls and I though had a good time in the rain in Hue, after dragging ourselves out of our hotel room (no more movies!) in order to see some more of the sights around Hue. After having a birthday breakfast of banana pancakes, we hired a car (with driver) to see two of the best tombs in town. We were a little down that we couldn't do the bikes with Mr Lac (rain), but this was the next best option. Firstly, we went to the tomb of Tu Duc, who was ruler a couple of centuries ago. By all accounts he was a bit of an unlucky chap, because he had 109 wifes, all seemingly unable to give him a child (turns out he was the problem). The tomb complex was really stunning, even more so in the rain, with ponds, prayer halls and gardens for his concubines. The rain gave us a bit of a bonus in that there were not too many people there, allowing us to wander at our leisure.
Next we went to what I thought was the better one, the tomb of Minh Mang, ruler from 1820 to 1840. This complex was stunning, as it had marble bridges and pagodas all seeimgly blended into the  surrounding landscape, using natural colours such as greens and blues. In some areas you really had to take a good look to see where nature finished and construction began!
These were good, but after a few hours, cold and wet, we decided to get back to the hotel. Tonight I will go for dinner before meeting some other people in the "DMZ bar" for a few celebratory drinks. We all seem to be on one huge rotation - people that I met in Thailand keep popping up here and there, and I am sure it will be the same when I am in the airport ready to leave the South East! Tomorrow I am booked on the early bus to Hoi An, which is a another of Vietnam's cultural gems. More on this when I get there.......
And then we got there after a short bus ride and the three of us checked into a great hotel for $3 each.... Hoi An is a real gem. If it wasn't for the vendors EVERYWHERE trying to get you to part with your cash, it would be perfect. Within seconds of leaving the hotel, we were asked whether we wanted motorbikes, to have a suit made, to buy something. The vendors are crafty. They will ask you wnere your from, and if you need help, before asking you whether you would like to "just look, no problem" at their shop. I'm not too proud of it, but you do get asked every five minutes, and after a while, I did get very short with some of them, expecially the guy who held up some fake Raybans, identical to the ones I was wearing on my face. After saying "no" he continued to hassle me, leaving me with no real option but to give him the look of death...
I did get two shirts and a jacket made in readiness for Japan, and they are all perfect! For $31 I got a black and purple shirt and a  grey jacket. The tailor was not pushy and did an excellent job, they are perhaps the most well fitting clothes I have ever had. Hoi An is THE place to get stuff made, and we all got something.  But enough of all this, more about the town.
Hoi An is like walking in a museum piece. It was built by using French, Japanese and Chinese influences, and I don't think it has changed in 150 years. The small cobbled streets and crumbling buildings are stunning. For a better look at the town, click here. I spent my first day there wandering around. To enter the town, you have to pay D75,000, which is about $5. For this you get to enter the temples, tombs and bridges. Whilst this was a little steep, I really enjoyed it. The highlight for me was the Assembly hall of the Fujian Chinese congregation, which had really elaborate murals of red and greens surrounding the temple. The old town had such a good feel to it that it was easy to spend a few days there.
At night we went to a bar to enjoy a few drinks and to meet people, and to also watch a bit of local corruption in action. At about 11pm, the owner of the bar rushed to us and switched the lights off, telling us that she must close. Accepting this, we wandered outside to be met by three or four locals being spoken to by a police officer, who had an official jacket on, but funnily, also shorts and sandals. He had what I think were the locals licences in his hand. After some money changed hands, he gave the licences back, got on his bike and sped off. The grumpy locals then did the same.
My last day in Hoi An saw myself and the Dutch girls hire bikes to go to the beach. It was overcast, but still warm and the water was great. We messed about on the beach, did some reading and tried to avoid the sellers by dashing back into the water whenever they approached (god, they are persistent!) That night I said goodbye to the girls (not before leaving my jacket in the hotel room - sh*t) and got on the bus for the 24 hour ride down to Saigon, passing through Nha Trang due to the torrential rain and floods. For hours at a time the bus could go no more than 15MPH - not too good when you are squashed behind the most arrogant French person you have ever met, who considers it his god given right to recline his seat for the whole duration of the trip! Coincidentally, I ended up sitting next to David, a lad from Ireland that I had met in Laos - we caught up and swapped stories, making the trip a little more bearable.
And so we got into HCMC, or Saigon, as the locals still call it, and booked into a double room with Dave. I think that Saigon has had a little trouble adapting to the North's socialist policy. It really is a glitzy city, with neon lights advertising companies such as Fuji and Canon. Even Lotteria, the Korean fast food company have restaurants here. For the first time in a while I have had a huge, decent coffee, and there seems to be a western orientated drive (good or bad though?). I'm not being bothered by the vendors, and people seem to just come and go as they please.
Afer having a great western breakfast (sorry, sometimes you just have to do it) and a coffee I headed off to the sights. First on my list was the War Remnants museum, which was shocking, but excellent. It displayed American weaponry, helicopters and the famous tiger cages used to "interrogate" prisoners, and also excerpts from American marines, including a once SEAL soldier and now White House senator admitting to some atrocities, quoted from American hearings. There were pictures of torture from GIs, including a particularly grizzly one of two Americans cutting heads off prisoners. As I said, truly shocking, but an excellent piece of work. This museum really struck home the horrors of war, and was really thought provoking. After that I took myself off to the botanical gardens for a chill-out before heading over to see some pagodas - more of them.
I'm going to stay in Saigon for two days before doing a day trip to the Mekong Delta. Then I will catch another bus into Cambodia and to Pnom Penh. Time is a real issue now, but hopefully I'll be able to meet Barry & Elle in Bangkok around the 22nd!

Tags: On the Road



Dan, Another great read! Keep it up. Take care M

  Martin Dec 12, 2005 10:16 PM


Hi Dan, Happy birthday to YOu! I'm sorry to say it lately. But I believe you must have a terrific day on your birthday. when do you back to China again! I'm dying to see you and drink with you.

  Scott Dec 13, 2005 6:07 PM

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