Ho Chi Minh – Saigon

Travelling during the Lunar New Year period might seem to be crazy, as it is the time of the greater human migration. Hundred of thousands of people in south-east Asia travel home for the Spring Festival. Unfortunately, in Taiwan people do not get much holidays (roughly only 15 days per year, if they are lucky), so me and Dominik decided to use the opportunity of the free week to travel to Vietnam.

Vietnam is one of those countries where most citizens need to apply for visa (at least 3 days ahead of the travel, unless they want to be faced with additional costs of speedy issuing). After applying on-line for a pre-approval visa letter and paying US$20 per person, after up to three days it is sent via email which shows all the people allowed to enter in the given day, along with their passport numbers and dates of birth… Seemed to me like violation of personal data protection, but I am used to the European standards where even grade lists at the university have to be encrypted, so what do I know. After downloading a visa form, filling it out and attaching a passport photograph you feel like you fully prepared to cross the border. However when we landed in Vietnam, it turned out that we had to queue for an hour in order to get the visa stamped into our passports and pay additional US$45 for a single entry visa (multiple entry is another story).

Completely exhausted, but happy that it finally all worked, we left for the airport, where a car was waiting for us to take us to out hotel – since we were landing in the middle of the night, we decided that it is safer to organise a transport, than to look for a bus. We paid US$18, which turned out to be exactly three times as much as if we took an ordinary taxi… Beware, an average taxi ride to the city centre should cost you about Dongs 125K, which is roughly US$5 plus tip. Vietnamese love to be tipped, and they expect it, especially from travellers, unless there is service charge included, but even then no one will say ‘no’ to a big, fat US$ tip. Another thing is, that paying in American currency for most of the things is not a problem at all. Handling the Vietnamese Dongs is quite a challenge, as the amount of zeros may cause severe headache. On the bright side, everybody is a millionaire 😉

We finally arrived to our Nguyen Khang Hotel in a middle of the night, and were greeted with a welcome drink and a free room upgrade! Yey! The hotel was really nice, right in the centre of the backpackers district, so many bars and on-budget bars were available just a minute away. Ho Chi Minh has many amazing places, unfortunately during the Lunar New Year holidays most places were closed, which was extremely frustrating. Unfortunately, many sights also were not available, most sadly the Mekong Delta Floating Market and the Cao Dai Temple, as well as some museums in the Ho Chi Minh city. On the positive side, during the holidays the city gets quieter and many places are decorated with flowers and symbols of good fortune.

Street with our hotel

Street with our hotel

Dragon fruit

Dragon fruit

Traditional Vietnamese clothes

Traditional Vietnamese clothes

Traditional Vietnamese clothes

Traditional Vietnamese clothes

Ho Chi Ming gives a similar kind of vibe to the one I experienced in the Philippines. People seem to be relaxed, the traffic is absolutely nuts and you just need to go for it when crossing the road, as there are no traffic lights and waiting for a break in the flow of scooters is utterly futile, everybody uses honking as a mean of signalising ‘hey! I am here’, kind of an echo-location thing… Also, we were advised many times to take extra care of our belongings, especially the camera, as the tourists mug rates are quite high, luckily nothing unpleasant happened to us.
During our first day, we strolled around the city as most of the sides are a walking distance away. There is plenty of taxis available and every time we used one, the taximeter was on, so we did not have to worry that something funky is going on. Apparently public transport also exists (a metro line is just being built), but we did not use it due to lack of necessity.
3D postcards

3D postcards

A lady cooking waffles on the side of a busy road

A lady cooking waffles on the side of a busy road

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Creative recycling

Creative recycling

3D postcards

3D postcards

In the afternoon we visited the War Remnants Museum, which was a sobering experience… The museum is open from 7:30 till 12 and in the afternoon from 1:30 till 5. It is quite well organised, with war machines exposed outside, while inside the history of war in the chronological order is displayed, along with heartbreaking photographies documenting the horrors of the war crimes.
The Vietnam war, also called Second Indochina War, or as known in Vietnam – Resistance War Against America, started in 1955 and covered the territory of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It ended twenty years later, in 1975, when Americans lost the control of Saigon. The U.S. government viewed American involvement in the war as a way to prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam. According to the U.S. domino theory, if one state went Communist, other states in the region would follow, and U.S. policy thus held that Communist rule over all of Vietnam was unacceptable. The North Vietnamese Viet Cong along with Guerillas from the South were fighting to reunify Vietnam under communist rule. They viewed the conflict as a colonial war, fought initially against forces from France (who had been colonizing Vietnam ) and then America, as France was backed by the U.S., and later against South Vietnam, which they regarded as a U.S. puppet state. (source)
During the war many war crimes were committed, including spreading various chemicals, like Agent Orange, that were responsible for many deaths and deforestation of the northern parts of today’s Ho Chi Minh. Vietnamese were using their forests as a hide out, leaving Americans with no chances. Therefore, Americans decided to destroy the whole ecosystem, causing the total destruction of flora and fauna in the region, as well as serious birth defects still occurring many years after the contamination.
Seeing all the pictures of the massacre and being surrounded by American tourists and their insensitive comments was a quite unique experience…
Vietnamese are masters of push-selling...

Vietnamese are masters of push-selling…

Push selling worked even on us, experienced travellers :P

Push selling worked even on us, experienced travellers 😛

Cock fights are still a popular pastime

Cock fights are still a popular pastime

In the evening, we met with Ute – Dominik’s aunt, who was also travelling in Vietnam. We spent an amazing New Years Eve at the Novotel’s rooftop bar.
The first day of the Goat year we spent with Ute, strolling from one bar to another, as everything was closed, including the museums…
Coffee at the old Continental Saigon

Coffee at the old Continental Saigon

Opera house

Opera house

Mariamman Hindu Temple

Mariamman Hindu Temple

 

Mariamman Hindu Temple

Mariamman Hindu Temple

View from the Bitexco Financial Tower

View from the Bitexco Financial Tower

View from the Bitexco Financial Tower

View from the Bitexco Financial Tower

View from the Bitexco Financial Tower

View from the Bitexco Financial Tower

Despite the holiday season, we managed to make two day trips which we booked in one of the many travel agencies just next to our hotel. Prior to the trip I also found similar offers on-line, but luckily I didn’t book it there. For our first trip to the Mekong Delta we paid US$11 whereas the on-line operators ask for US$50-60!

The Mekong Delta is located South from Ho Chi Minh and covers about 39,000 square kilometres. After a bus ride (transportation via boat is also possible, but more pricey) of about 2 hours we switched to a boat which took us to various destinations along the Mekong River.

Our Tour included a ‘longtail boat ride’ (a tiny boat rowed on a narrow river in between water coconut trees and mangroves), a visit of a coconut farm where coconut candies were being produced, a lunch on a cute island, testing of some local honey products and a presentation of traditional Vietnamese music.

It was a nice day trip but I think to most impressive parts of the Mekong River are the floating market (which was closed during the new year) and some regions deeper inside the Delta, and therefore not possible to see within one day.

snake & scorpion

snake & scorpion

Incredible electrical cords in Saigon

Incredible electrical cords in Saigon

The second day trip was to the Củ Chi tunnels. The tunnel system had been built by Guerrillas (the Vietnamese fighters from the south) for 19 years and ads up to about 200km. It was providing a shelter from the poisonous gasses during the war, and allowed many to survive in extreme, but fairly safe conditions. The tunnels were so narrow, that an average American soldier could not squeeze in. The tunnels available for tourists are already twice as wide, but it still made me nauseous to crawl inside…

ventilation system of the tunnels

ventilation system of the tunnels

model of the tunnels

model of the tunnels

entrance to the tunnels

entrance to the tunnels

artificial forest planted after the entire ecosystem was completely devastated by Americans and Agent Orange

artificial forest planted after the entire ecosystem was completely devastated by Americans and Agent Orange

It is horrifying that a war can go on for so many years without a good reason. What motivation the American soldiers had to keep them going for so long? It is beyond my comprehension. Another odd thing is, that today Vietnamese do not mind Americans visiting their country. Moreover, special tours for American veterans are organised! Who would want to come back and relive the horrors of that places?! Again, I cannot fit it in my head.

A positive accent for the end :)

A positive accent for the end 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Ho Chi Minh – Saigon

  1. Hela,

    Dobrze tu być z powrotem i śledzić Wasze przygody. No, i tym razem mnie nie rozczarowaliście 😀

    Czekam na kontynuację!

  2. Thanks for sharing. Again a very exiting report with wonderful pictures. We are waiting for the next one….. have a good time
    Kind regards,
    Klaus

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