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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Ho Chi Minh City

VIETNAM | Saturday, 5 April 2008 | Views [2835]

This area of Ho Chi Minh City is alive and kicking at night. The streets are busy with bars and restaurants and shops are in full flow. Checked out some alternative hotels for reference. Bought a SIM from Mobifone for my mobile that cost 100,000 Ðong and came with 75,000 Ðong of call credit. Settled down to my 2nd vietnamese meal of the day and a saigon beer.

Sat 29th Mar - Managed to get some sleep last night, but woke up earlier than hoped with noises from outside. After breakfast booked myself onto a trip to the Mekong Delta for the next few days, arriving back here late on 1st April.

Headed off to see some of HCMC's sights with a fellow traveller from the hotel. Easy to cover on foot although it is a bit hot today. First stop was Tao Dan park which contains a pagoda shrine with an interesting typically vietnamese design. Many people doing tai chi in the cool shade of the trees. A few nice cooling fountains to sit by.

A short walk from the park to the Independence  Palace, also referred to as the Reunification palace. Today there is a convenion on, so it was closed to the public, but was able to walk around the grounds where some tanks and aircraft are on display. To be honest, I thought it was a grand hotel when I approached it from the rear with all of the activity that was going on from the convention oranisers. I is a modern design so easy to confuse.

Down Han Thuyen to the very french design Notre Dame Cathedral  which was also closed so only a short walk around the outside. Across the road is the old Post Office building, which is definitely worth a visit for the fancy ceilings and old wooden phone booths.

Down Hai Ba Trung to the waterfront which has been a bit neglected so not much to see. Carried on north towards the zoo and museum but stopped for lunch first. Not much on offer but spotted a promising looking restaurant, so went in. They tried to stop us on the way in and the reason became obvious when we sat down. No english menus and nobody spoke any english either. Armed with the trusty Lonely Planet, managed to order a nice meal in vietnamese, which was actually very nice. Replenished, back on foot to the Zoo. 12,000 dong entrance fee. Hundreds of students today as part of some organised event, so noisy. The animals they have are well kept and some less common species. One interesting sight was they had just put a dying guinea pig into the cage with a massive burmese python. The poor thing was still shaking and didn't want to stay to watch it get finished off.

The museum is on the same grounds but a separate entry fee of 15,000 Dong. Will be coming back so didn't go in today. Hot and tired, aimed back to the Ben Thanh  market on Le Loi. Massive place and guaranteed to make an avid shopper foam at the mouth. Needed a cold drink after that, so back to the hotel and chilled.

Sun 30th Mar - Booked onto a 3 day tour of the Mekong delta area leaving at 8am this morning. Done through 'Sinh Cafe' travel on De Tham street, a well known company throughout Vietnam. Cost $36 inclusive of accomodation, breakfasts, lunch and all fees. Check-in time 15 min before departure and very efficient. A guy with a microphone annnounces when a bus arrives which tour it applies to and they make sure the right people get on the bus.

First stop after about 3hours on the bus was Cai Be (with a ferry crossing along the way), where we transferred to a boat for a trip down the river to see the floating market. Reminiscent of the Chao Phraya in Bangkok and fascinating to see the really old boats amidst the shanty stilted houses flanking the river banks. Constantly moving scene as many different styles of boat came flying by from random directions. Stopped to see rice paper being made by an old lady who had being doing it for 20 years. Basically, basmati rice is soaked and then put in a rapid blender over heat to create the liquid. This is then spread on a large round cooking plate for about 30 seconds with a cover over it and hey presto...rice paper. It is peeled off and placed on a bamboo frame to air dry. Also sampled some snake whisky straight from the jar with snakes in it. A 40% brew with a bit of a bite to it....sorry for the pun! Next on to see rice crispies being made. Black soot is mixed with the rains of rice and swirled around in a large wok until they puff up and the husk is blown off. After being in long enough to cook, the whole lot is separated out and the puffed rice put to one side for subsequent use. They were making crispie cakes by adding honey and coconut in a big wok and then flattening into slabs. Very tasty!

Back on the boat to go for lunch at a nice waterside location and aferwards entertained by traditional musicians and singers. All of the instruments were unique. A 1-sringed horizontal instrument having a form of bridge with a wooden pole that could be used to vary the pitch of the string whilst the guy plucked it. Another 2-stringed chinese looking banjo like instrument with tiny neck and chunky frets. A normal looking guitar with some interesting differences. The whole performance was a bit dissonant as they all seemed to be playing random tempos, but it did seem to go together in an odd way.

Back on the boat and in to a lovely open rural area to Vinh Long where we picked up the bus again for a 2 hour journey through villages and paddy fields to Chau Doc, where we stayed over night at the Hang Chau hotel. On the way to the hotel we stopped at the stunning 200 year old buddhist Lady Chua Xu temple and Tay An Pagoda, which are illuminated at night and both having a wonderful heady atmosphere of burning incense. The inside is a collection of fascinating chinese influenced buddhist design. Opposite is a row of stalls selling fish prepared in the most dazzling array of styles I thing i've ever seen.

Off to the hotel and then out for a meal. We are only a small group of four; A couple from Australia and a lady from Colorado in the US. A nice sociable meal then back for an early night as up at 6am for another busy day.

Mon 31st Mar - A short walk from the hotel to the Mekong and Into rowing boats for a couple of hours being rowed by vietnamese ladies to visit floating houses with caged fish breeding areas. They stand at the rear of the boat and move the boat with two oars in a vertical pincer action. The Mekong is fairly wide at this section and a fascinating mix of shacks on stilts and floating houses, floating on drums. In one section we visited, the houses extended down into the water by about 5 metres to create a cage in which there were 70,000 or so fish of mixed type being bred. Quite a sight when handfulls of food were thrown in.

Moved on to a small village of the Cham minority people. The main feature was their headscarf and they were producing woven sarongs and scarfs on traditional machines in much the same way as seen in other parts of asia. A short walk though the village to see a moslem mosque before returning to the mainland by boat.

Into the bus for a couple of hours and then stopped at a Crocodile farm in Thot Not where they breed about 25,000 crocs to be sold for food and handbags etc. A guide gave us an informative tour around the farm. Not a major fan of crocs, but sad to know their fate will be attached to someone's money as a wallet or someone's feet as a pair of shoes!

Back on the bus and off to Can Tho arriving at lunchtime where we stayed overnight. The afternoon to ourselves to explore. Jo and I headed off to see what the town had to offer. Busy as expected but with a waterfront of gardens to sit and watch the world go by on the Mekong. Found a nice café for a drink by the central market where I bought a new vietnamese style shirt.

Hardly seen any other foreigners in this town, which is a pleasant surprise. The locals wave and smile at us we walk. Young children are brought out to shake our hands and wave at us as we pass. On the way back went in to an incredible confuscian temple on the waterfront. Enormous incense coils hanging from the ceiling and the most ornate figures and carved work. Having almost got 'templed out' in other parts of SE Asia, Vietnam has some superb temples that are so different from what i've seen, that I have found a renewed interest.

Freshen up then hit the town again to find dinner. As this is not a touristy area. Could not find any restaurants, so ate on the street. Had a superb mixed seafood and meat noodle soup with vegetables for $1.

Tue 1st Apr - After breakfast a short ride to catch a boat for a 3 hour trip to Cai Rang floating market. A wide stretch of the Mekong packed the full width in places with a diverse range of boats selling mainly fruit and vegetables. To see who is selling what, they have a high pole on the boat with an example item tied to it. A sort of organised chaos.

Onwards to a landing pier to walk through the narrow pathways heading towards some fruit gardens growing citrus, jackfruit, pineapple, papaya etc. Above the pathway were regular webs with large poisonous spiders lurking for unsuspecing prey. Later returned to Can Tho for lunch. Final stop of this tour was Vinh Long market. Not particularly outstanding but nice selection of vegetables and fruit. Arrived back in Ho Chi Minh Ciy at rush hour, so chaotic and wall to wall motorbikes below a sea of multicoloured helmets, intermingled with a liberal scattering of overgrown Lexus cars. At one point when we were stopped by traffic, what looked like a large group of brides were congregated outside a big hotel. I was informed that this a regular greeting  and they weren't brides but greeting ladies. Another sight was a field full of kite flyers that was really colourful.

Checked into the Orient Hotel which seems a fiendly place with clean rooms. The hotel I was at before the tour is only open fo 1 night then closing down, so no point in having to move again.

Wed 2nd Apr - Some more sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City today. Went to the War remnants museum, also called the war crimes museum. Cost 15,000 Dong entry. A very thought provoking place to visit, with displays of vivid images from war photographers and numerous stories from victims of the Vietnam war. Many aircaft and tanks also on display. The most saddening part of the visit was the pictures of the victims of the chemical weapons such as napalm. Another case of the sickening reality of man's inhumanity to fellow mankind. Had to go and sit in the park aferwards to reflect on it.

Lunch stop at a nice backstreet café with misters to keep the air cool, followed by the Lo Xai pagoda. A modern design built in 1956 containing the usual massive buddha shrine and some interesting artwork.

Booked tickets for this evening to see a Water Puppetry show (65,000 dong), then headed off to the market.

The show was great fun. The tradition goes back to the 11th century and lasted about 50 minutes. Basically, the 'stage' is a tank of water set amidst an oriental style pagoda, flanked by musicians and narrators playing traditional instruments. The show was a lively collection of tales with characters, animals, dragons shooting water and flames and accompanied by sounds and storyline from the narrators. Definitely well worth seeing.

Street dinner in the market area finished off another hectic and tiring day. Word of warning about crossing roads in this city..... Motorbikes are like ants, they are everywhere. The only objective it to not hit anything. Apart from that, they ride on the pavements, the wrong way down the road, just about aything goes. It does make road crossing a fun experience as you have to be fairly confident when you aim across a road and let the traffic flow around you. Nearly got caught out tonight when a motorbike came flying across our path on the wrong side of the road. A few more inches and we would not have had a chance.

It has been really nice to have Jo as company over the last few days and she will be heading off north tomorrow for a few days before returning home to the US.

Thu 4th Apr - I am being joined today by a lady from the UK who flies in from Australia. The plan being to tour the rest of Vietnam together. Have to be at the airport for 10am to meet the flight. Tan Son Airport is a bit of a surprise. Modern and well organised with a covered 'greeters' area with seats outside of the arrivals doors. A large electronic display board shows progress of incoming flights. Joined up with Diane easy enough at arrivals then taxi back to the city.

Off on walkabout after settling in to the hotel. The main highlight of the afternoon was a visit to the reunification / Independence palace that I couldn't get into on my last visit. 15,000 Dong entrance fee. The present palace, built in the 1960s is the second to exist on this site, the first one was destroyed. On 30th april 1975 the vietcong communist army bulldozed the main gates to the palace and flew their flag from the 4th floor to signify their capture of Saigon putting an end to the republic that so many had been protecting and died for.

A group of video rooms tell the story of the vietnam war and the history of the building in many languages. You are free to roam around most of the four floors of the building. Some of the presidential rooms are superbly decorated with vietnamese design furniture and others more functional for meetings. On the roof a helicopter remains and the level also offers a great view of the city skyline.

In the evening went to Brewers café mini cinema to see the Jim Carrie comedy animation movie 'Horton hears a Hoo'. Hooville is a fantasyland that exists on a spec on a clover flower and Horton is an elephant that hears a cry of help from the mayor of hooville and tries to save them. Of course nobody believes I exists and I was a funny story, even more funny by the fact that we are all adults watching this.

Fri 4th Apr - On a tour organised thru Sinh café to visit the Cao Dai temple at Tay Ninh and also the Cu Chi tunnels a Ben Dinh. About 3hours to get to Tay Ninh which is the home to caodaism, a religion indigenous to vietnam. On the way there we stopped at a handicapped crafts workshop. Some stunning work of unique design made from stone and inlaid with mother of pearl. Another beautiful range of work was made from wood inlaid with coloured shells.

Next, on to Cao Dai. This place blew me away. The most incredible temple I have seen in a while for colourful architechture. Our arrival was timed to see the noon mass. Being a fusion of buddhism, confucianism, taoism, native vietnamese spiritualism, christianity, Islam the procession was a multi-coloured spectacle. The head priest in red enters followed by two priests in yellow and four in white. Followers from the main religious groups follow on in red, yellow, blue and white down the right hand side, with women followers all in white down the left. Muslim turban wearing followers then entered. Musical accompaniment and a choir are located in the gallery area, which is where we went to watch the procession. The main altar is stunning. An ornate red and gold seat arrangement and an octagonal domed section housing a globe decorated with the all seeing and knowing eye. The area containing the temple is a complex surrounded by a perimeter decorated wall with a magnificent entrance having ornate dragons on top.

Back on the road for about 90mins to get to Cu Chi tunnels at Ben Dinh. A network of over 200km of tunnels used by the Vietcong army during their war in the 1960s with the south vietnamese and americans, although they were actually built over a 25 year period from the late 1940s. The tunnels also infiltrated american held areas which allowed for surprise attacks. To disguise the existence of the tunnels, entrances were tiny rectangular traps in the ground, just large enough for a VC person to fit through and covered in leaves. So that we larger foreigners can get in, they have had to enlarge some of them, but still a tight for some. Built on three levels, they incorporate kitchen areas with a specially designed system for allowing smoke to escape without the enemy knowing. Man traps where placed throughout the area for the enemy to fall into, meeting a horrible death on bamboo spikes or metal nails embedded into swinging frames. Getting through the tunnels is fairly easy although quite small, so you are crouched down for most of the time.

Return journey to HCMC took about 90mins and hit at peak time as expected, so the normal sea of motorbikes and coloured helmets squeezing into every little space and even taking shortcuts up and along the pavements.

Off to Dalat tomorrow so up early again...... That's it for now folks



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