03/11/2013 - 07/11/2013
Before you point it out to me, I know it's not actually called Saigon any more, it's Ho Chi Minh City. Hardly anyone actually calls it that though - it's Saigon to the locals, so that's what I'm calling it.
As our bus arrived in the city, it seemed a lot more modern than Hanoi. We drove past an area with a lot of skyscrapers, though in amongst them was an old temple and pagoda. I loved the juxtaposition of it. I thought all of Saigon might be like that, but the area we were in was a lot more similar to Hanoi. And that included the traffic!
We stayed at Vy Khanh Guesthouse, which was just a short walk from where the bus dropped off. It was a much more basic looking place than the other places we'd stayed in Vietnam, plus breakfast wasn't included, but the staff were really nice and our room was totally fine.
On our first full day we went for breakfast at ABC Cafe. Infact we got our breakfast there every morning as they had a great selection of pastries and other baked goods. We then booked on to a tour for the following day, plus our onwards bus tickets to Cambodia.
After that we headed to the War Remnants Museum. It's incredibly biased, but still very interesting, albeit in a slightly harrowing way. I remember learning about the Vietnam war at school and hearing about the effects of Agent Orange and just being horrified that people could do that to each other.
After the museum we tried to go to the palace, but it was just closing. So instead we headed back to the hotel. Sadly it was here that I got a message from my Mum asking me to contact her urgently. I knew it couldn't be good news, so I phoned her quite nervously. She'd unfortunately been tasked with telling me that my Dad had died. You can imagine this was quite a shock. I'm not going to talk any more about it here, as it's not really the place, but I couldn't not mention it either.
To be honest, it helped that I was travelling. Although it was constantly on my mind, there wasn't really time to dwell on it too much or let it consume me. Having a tour booked for the following day was a welcome distraction. I did also get some wonderful messages of support from family and friends, for which I'm incredibly grateful.
Anyway, the tour the next day was to the Cu Chi Tunnels. These are tunnels that were used by the Vietcong during the war. You're guided around the area (above ground) and told about the history. It's incredibly popular and busy, so we sometimes had to wait a while before we could get to see specific items. You see some old traps, plus some entrances to tunnels, which you can squeeze in to if you like. It probably doesn't sound like much, but it was enjoyable. You can also pay to fire AK47s and stuff (which isn't cheap) but I wasn't interested in that. Even from a bit of a distance they were unpleasantly loud.
At the end of the tour there's the option to go through part of the tunnels. It's a section that's been widened for tourists (as the Vietcong were so small), but it's not been widened enough for me to want to go through it. I can get a bit claustrophobic. There are a few escape routes along the way, in case you do want to get out, but still, I'd read a few reviews online beforehand and knew it wasn't for me. Jamie went part of the way through but then came out an escape hatch. He confirmed I'd have hated it!
On our last day in Saigon we went to the palace. The building itself doesn't look very palatial but it has some nice rooms in it. I think the most interesting part was the bunker type area in the basement.
For dinner on our last night we went back to an Indian place we went to on our first night. It was really really good, so I feel like I have to mention it. It's called Baba's Kitchen -if you find yourself in Saigon and you like a curry, check it out.
From Saigon we got a bus to Cambodia. We spent a while researching the best company to go with and we ended up choosing Mekong Express. They were decent - we got free water and a snack. The border crossings were slightly confusing, as their communication with us wasn't brilliant, but they got us through and didn't leave us behind, so that was fine.