Ho Chi Minh City (Day 11-12)

Tuesday, 22/08/2006, Ho Chi Minh City

After only three days, I left Cambodia to visit a „real“ communist country for the first time :). Because there is not town on the Vietnamese side of the border, I booked a 5 US$ tour through to Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon.

The bus left the hotel at 7 am 7:30 am, and we arrived at the border about three hours later. Fortunately, the streets in souuthern Cambodia are much better than the ones on the north, so the ride was (relatively) smooth. At the border, ckecking out of Cambodia and into Vietnam went without hassle, I had already gotten the visa for Vietnam in Bangkok.

On the Vietnamese side, all participants were collected again and then brought to Ho Chi Minh City in another hour. Vietnam also knows how to make good streets.

Saigon looks a lot like the other Asian cities I have been in, except for the disturbing lack of riksaws, tuk-tuks or the like. The are some bycicle-drwn riksaws, but the main mean of transportation are motos, normal motorbikes or scooters where the passenger sits in the back. And although Vietnamese traffic has been discribed as very bad, it has still some catching-up to do to get equal with Bangalore ;).

Together with two Brits I set out to find a guesthouse featured in the Lonely Planet, but it seems to have closed up. Instead, we were led to a hotel, where I managed to get a room (again, no A/C and no warm water :() for 6 US$ the night. I booked my train ticket to Hanoi for the next day ( I hope my stinginess doesn’t get the better of me – I booked into a „soft seat“ instead of a sleeper, but saved 30 US$) and a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels.

Then I had a look at the „War Remnants Museum“, formerly known as the“ American War Atrocities Museum“. Again a disturbing account what men are able to do, but tainted definitively by Vietnamese propaganda (all war crimes and cruelties seem to have been done by the South and the USA).

Then I had a look at Saigon’s very own Notre Dame cathedral. I even watched the beginning of the mess, but decided that I didn’t understand anything anyways, it was catholic, and too much standing, so I left to look at the post office. A colonial-times building, rows of desks, and it somehow feels just right to do your mail business like that :).

Afterwards, I went back to the hotel , because the sky looked really threatening and got blacker by the minute. Unfortunately, the thunderstorm was faster than my moto, so I arrived totally drenched. I changed clothes and got something to eat which I suppose was Vietnamese style. Then I went back to the hotel to bring this blog up to date, and to catch a good night’s sleep. Thanks to the rain, it has cooled down considerably.

Wednesday, 23/08/2006, Ho Chi Minh City

Heavy rain over night had cooled down the city considerably (well, about 5 degrees), but the heavy overcast still had me worried. Samrt as I am ;), I packed my raincoat for my tour of the Cu Chi tunnels, about 70 km from Saigon.

The Cu Chi tunnels were dug by the Vietcong, and the tunnel network stretched over a distance of over 250 km, including about 40 km of tunnel dug during the independemce war against the french. The area, very close to Saigon, was never really taken by the South Vietnamese during the war.
First of all, we watched a movie, which must have been from the 70s, judging from the quality and the heavily propaganda-influenced content (townsfolk happily walking into fighting, the only dead soldiers are US, a girl takes down a main battletank from the front with a single grenade, …).

Then we were shown different things, from the original counter-french tunnels which where only 60 by 80 cm, the 60 by 60 cm tunnel entrances, and an impressive display of Vietcong traps. They even have a shooting range there, where you can fire AK-47 or M-16 rifles. Then we were led to the actual tunnels, 80 by 120 cm. And that’s very small, trust me. You can go 30, 60, or 90 meters, and in the you will be 3, 6, or 10 meters underground. The tunnel network even has underwater exits into the Saigon river.
Afterwards we had a „light lunch“ of some kind of cooked root and tea, a meal the Vietcong had to eat when they ran out of supplies. After passing trough (another)souvenier shop, we went back to Ho Chi Minh City.

Later that day, I visited the Reunification Palace, the government building of South Vietnam. It is now mainly a tourist attraction, but some government meetings and receptions of foreign guests of states till take place here. The building is very impressive, amost of it is still in the state as the North took it in 1975. The tanks which first broke through the gate, as well as the aircraft with which a North Vietnamese spy in the South Vietnamese Air Force (!) bombed this very building when ordered to fly a bombing attack against the North, are now standing in front of the building.

The rest of the day I explored the Ben Thanh Market and the surroundings, and after a short lunch I will leave on my 20 hour trip to Hanoi.

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