Our itinerary while in Vietnam below (mostly traveled by plane and bus):
Thank goodness we had read a little about the location of our hotel before arriving in Saigon. It was situated in a charming narrow alley in district one that by day existed as a local market, and by night as a local hangout with families talking, watching TV, playing games, eating, etc.. Since many people do not have the luxury of AC, they would leave their shop fronts/living rooms open to the air, oblivious to whoever walks by peeking in as they carry on their lives. A couple of times when we came back after dark, we also witnessed a very old man sleeping in an improvised cot outside in the middle of the alley. We were definitely on a local street! Not many tourists in sight.
For a week, we took in the sights of Saigon visiting museums, markets and getting immersed into this big city’s street life. Above: Spices at ChinatownAbove: the picture isn’t great quality but yes there are 6 people on that scooter! Above: one day we hired a bicycle tuk tuk to take us around HCMC, with both of us were sitting in that seat, that poor man had to get off the bike a few times and push and walk!
Below: traffic our tuk tuk was in the middle of, crazy!
A must see while in HCMC is the War Remnants Museum, filled with all kinds of military weapons, photos, and history (as one-sided as it might be) from what the Americans call the Vietnam War, and the Vietnamese know as the American War. Weapons ran from the smallest land mine up to tanks and aircraft. The photos were quite moving and disturbing, documenting not only the atrocities during the war, but the unfortunate, shameful, and continuing effects of agent orange and napalm.
The Reunification Palace was also very interesting as it seemed to sit in a time warp since the time when the northern VC tanks crashed through the gates, marking the final takeover of the Northern communist regime. The rooms of the palace are still in their 70’s decor glory, complete with a helicopter on the roof of the complex.
The central post office, designed by Gustave Eiffel and built between 1886 and 1891, was equally impressive.
The Notre Dame cathedral, which sits across from the post office, although built from materials shipped from France, has nothing to envy to the original. Flocks of newlyweds come here for the photo opps, trying to recreate the romantic Parisian ambience.
We went with a tour group to see the Cu Chi tunnels , a couple hours drive outside Saigon. These tunnels symbolize the resourcefulness, creativity, and tenacity of the Vietnamese people and were legendary in the 1960’s for their roles in facilitating Viet Cong control of a large rural area 30 kms from Saigon . The tunnels were several stories deep and included hospitals, kitchens, living areas, trap doors, booby-traps, and underwater entrances.
They facilitated communication and coordination between the Viet Cong controlled enclaves that were isolated from each other.
It was very eye-opening to walk/crawl through a part of those tunnels (who have been slightly enlarged for tourists) and realize how difficult it must have been to stay down in those for days or weeks at a time. It got VERY hot and claustrophobic really fast!
Americans could not get a handle on the tunnels and as a result the 420 sq km of tunnels were the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare with many casualties on both sides.
For our last days in Vietnam, we decided to take a 2-night excursion in the Mekong delta and rode the bus for 4 hours to Can-tho, our base to explore life on the Mekong and the floating markets.
From our hotel in Can-tho, we took a cab ride bright and early at 5:30am to catch our slow boat at the jetty. Our cruise was scheduled to last 7 hours which in the end was a bit much considering the heat and the pace the boat was going at. Our crew was an elderly woman (most boat operators are women) and her cute grand-daughter who did not speak a word of English but was playing tour guide…very sweet.
The floating markets were very small with only a few fruits and vegetables being traded but nevertheless photogenic. James also bought coffee from one of the “floating bars”.