Ho Chi Minh City, city of motorbikes
I’m writing this part on the bus to my 2nd Vietnam City, the one after Ho Chi Minh City, so it’s THE best moment to write down what I’ve been doing the past 3 nights, 4 days in HCMC. My flight from Bangkok to HCMC (Dec, 18th) was booked throught Air Asia for about 50EUR. Air Asia departs in Bangkok from Don Mueang Airport, which is about 25km north of central Bangkok and the cheapest option to get there is to go by train from Hua Lamphong station. I had a flight at 7.45am and as I wasn’t quite sure about Bangkoks’ rail punctuality, I took the very first train at 5.20am. Was it because it was early or do they always drive that punctual, I don’t know, but in only 40min I was in the airport. HCMC is waiting! I arrived in HCMC about 1,5h later. Be aware that a Belgian citizen needs a visa for Vietnam! You can obtain this before departure at the Vietnamese Ambassy or go, as I did, for a visa on arrival. In that case you’ll need to:- get an approval letter in advance which can be bought online throught one of the many agencies offering it. I got mine for free 🙂 via Asian Trails Vietnam, an agency we work with at work.- have 1 passport photo- have 45 USD (single entry) Hand this all back to the customs agent together with your passport, wait till they call you back and off you go. On my way to the hostel I met 3 Australian girls who were staying in the same hostel as mine. And guess what..we were even staying in the same dorm! After a quick shower, the 4 of us paid a visit to the War Remnant Museum. This is an unique, brutal but essential stop. The courtyard shows a collection of U.s. military hardware such as tanks, jets, helicopters as well as a model of the tiger cage used to house VC prisoners. What touched me the most where the heartbreaking pictures and stories of the victims of the war. Those who suffered torture and those who were born with birth defects caused by the use of defoliants, also known as the Agent Orange victims. It took me several minutes before I could say anything without having tears in my eyes.
All of us needed a drink to settle what we just saw. Together with 2 American girls we met at the museum, we headed to a rooftopbar to have a cocktail. And later on to our first Vietnamese dinner 🙂 In this first day I already figured that there are no real traffic rules in HCMC. You cross the street whenever you like. As long as you do it slowly, you’ll reach the other side. Other vehicles as car,motors,bycicles all have their own way in cutting lanes and jumping ahead of other vehicles. You won’t get bored when sitting upfront in a car or bus.
For the next day, we all decided to participate to the Mekong Delta Tour My Tho-Ben Tre. This one was really a what we call, a ducky tour..you follow mother ducky from one shop to another with only few informations about the things you are gonna see. Maybe it was also because the tourgroup was so big (35p) and the guide was speaking poor English..Well, it was nice to ride on the local motor boats along the different islands and visit the honeymaking beefarm, the coconut workshop, have some banana rice wine..but yeah it would have been better if there were less tourists or when they would leave out the compulsory workshop visits. But I guess that this is just something we have to get along with. In my opinion, you won’t miss much if you decide to skip this tour.
On Friday Tuya (one of the Am.girls) and me went on the bus to Chinatown in District 5, aka Cholon. Quite a different Chinatown than the one in Bangkok. I can still see the garbage floating around in a small brook nearby, can still remember how dirty and filty the alleys were. If I’ve eaten something there, I think I might have come ill. Of course not everything in Chinatown was like that. We visited the very nice Thien Hau pagode and the Cho Binh Tay market, a wholesale market selling everything from spices to clothes to dried food. We didn’t ask for prices but I guess some stands will sell their goods to you, eventhought you are not a wholesaler.For getting back to our hostel we figured we wanted to try out the motorbike taxis. It was awesome! Those guys really know how to drive. I’m definitely gonna try to drive one myself, maybe in Hoi An?
While walking back to the hostel, I passed by one of the many travel agencies to book a tour for the Cu Chi Tunnels for the next day and for an Open Bus Ticket HCMC-Nha Trang-Hoi An. The Cu Chi Tunnels tour was so in contract to the previous one. We were with a small group of 15p and our guide Jerry was great! He was constantly talking about or the Vietnamese history or the buildings we pass. Did you know that Vietnamese people call the Mekong Delta the ‘9 Dragon Delta’? Or do you know why Vietnam is called Vietnam? Nam means south, as so Vietnam can be translated as “southern Viet”, which means, in the time that Vietnam was still part of China, the people living in the of China are Viet. Interesting, no? The Cu Chi Tunnels were of course the main reason why I joined the tour. We started with a stop at a factory where handicapped people are creating souvenirs out of eggs- or seashells.
Further on we passed some rice paddies and a rubbertree forrest owned by the gouvernment though to finally arrive in Cu Chi.It was really interesting to see how the peasants from this little village stood stand against the Americans. Amazing that they digged out this 121 km-long tunnelcomplex which has a meetingarea and a kitchen. As a tourist you can crawl around in a small part of the tunnel while as you get closer to the exit the tunnel gets more and more narrow. Or get down to the camouflagetrap yourself. I did both 🙂
The day that I leave HCMC was also my birthday. I kept it low-profile so there was not really a party or so, but to celebrate it a little bit, I treated myself to a massage performed by a (partly) blind masseur from the HCMC Association for the Blind. She wasn’t the friendliest person, but her magical fingers made her unfriendliness all up. Only 50.000VND, definitely worth passing by! With this great massage in my mind I walked on the bus to Nha Trang…