Date I was there: 1-4 July 2010
Following on from part one, our next activity involved catching a taxi to Chinatown. Learning from our mistakes yesterday, we set a price of 100,00 dong with our driver. Annoyingly, when we got there the meter read 62,000 dong but we didn’t get change. Sadly, the market was disappointing. It was more for the locals, with lots of food and kitchen bits, although there were also a lot of knock-off handbags. We quickly gave up and went to KFC for brunch. My travel buddy went for the cultural option of chicken and rice but I stuck to my burger.
It was pouring with rain outside so we rushed into the first cab we found and headed off to Ben Thanh market again. The driver took a longer route costing us 160,000 dong- more than twice what we should have paid to get there. We tried to call him up on it but he claimed it was a one-way route, so he had go take a longer way back. It only amounted to a couple of pounds extra so we just went off and made a good dent in our souvenir shopping lists.
The next day we decided to sort out posting our things home and organise a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, where the Viet Cong had hidden out during the war against America. We easily managed to send off our stuff and we even splashed out on air mail. We hoped our stuff would arrive home shortly after we did. Also, while we were at the post office, we spotted a desk saying ‘Day Tours’ and we managed to book our tunnels trip; all very easy, just the way we like it.
We decided to do something cultural with our day so we went to the War Museum, stopping at a bakery on the way to stock up on pastries. The Vietnam War was an area of history I had briefly studied at school but knew relatively little about. The museum had some pretty shocking images of children affected by the use of Agent Orange and a lot of anti-American propaganda. As sobering as the experience was, I would definitely recommend going and seeing the war from the Vietnamese point of view.
In the morning, we actually had to get up early- a bit of a shock to the system- as we were picked up at 7.30 am by our tour guide. After an hour and a half drive in a very uncomfortable mini bus, which we did have all to ourselves, we arrived. We briefly managed to fit into a tunnel that had been left in its original state and not widened for tourists, tried some very strong rice wine, had a picture on top of a tank, saw some very unpleasant booby traps set by the Viet Cong and then it was time to go into the tunnels. I maintain the trip was very worthwhile but this was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. We had to bend over double to fit through, even though these tunnels had been widened, and the small space didn’t agree with me. My knees were struggling and, even though we were down there for what can’t have been more than 10 minutes, both of us had very sore and stiff muscles for the next couple of days.
Our next stop on the day tour was at a huge temple that was beautifully decorated and we watched a bit of a service. I cannot remember the specific name of the religion but they had their own language and the people in the village around the temple would spend 20 years cleaning it and living off donations. After we left, we had one more stop off for lunch before heading back to Ho Chi Minh.
When we got back to the hotel we set off to the market (again) to finish off our shopping, and then to the post office where we booked a trip to the Mekong River for the next day. We then sat in the park where a man came over for a chat. He told us he was a professor of physics and wanted to chat about England. We’d also had a group come and ask if they could take a picture with us.
The next morning we were met by the same tour guide- Ken- who took us to a temple with two giant Buddha statues. We snapped some photos before boarding our boat and set off to our first stop, where we tried banana wine (which I can’t say I loved) honey tea (lovely) caramelized banana (even lovelier), some peanut stuff and some ginger. We also got photos with a python and some bees before heading back to the boat. At our next stop, we saw people making candy and tried coconut wine, snake wine (which was basically alcohol from a container full of snakes) and a lot of fruit. We then took a donkey and cart ride to a little cafe where we watched some traditional Vietnamese singing and Ken treated us to some local beer, before getting a smaller boat up a stream, whilst wearing conical hats. We then made our way back.
A friend of ours from home was in Saigon at the time and having failed to meet up with him once, we tried again after we got back to the city, but sadly no joy. However, the place he was staying was a lot buzzier and full of backpackers- we should have done some research and found that place beforehand! We hung out there for a while, wandered in and out of the shops, got dinner and then headed back to bed ready for our flight to Hong Kong in the morning.