Leaving Vietnam

My last morning started with the usual soup at the hotel and then Willemeijn and I walked to a nearby indoor market. Here is the street on which our hotel was, right in the middle of the backpacker district.

  

The indoor market was not very exciting but there was not much else to do for the last couple of hours. At the market everything imaginable was sold. We strolled around for a while, looking at all the stalls and trying on clothes but ended up buying nothing.

  
  
  
What I did end up buying though was a small ice cream at Baskin Robbins that was about three times as expensive as the lunch we had after. Because while sitting in the air conditioned shop we were watching the street and noticed a lot of people going for lunch into the corner shop. And this is exactly what we did. A last soup with all kinds of sausages and meat inside and a local ice tea. Life can’t get much better.

  

After lunch it was time for me to walk back to the hotel and catch my shuttle. The shuttle was again a private car and in no time was I at the airport. Due to the international flight I had to be there two hours earlier so I spent my time wandering around.

Finally we boarded and after a little over an hour I landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Immigration was quick and efficient and I was happy I had the necessary picture with me. I was also happy that I hadn’t done the online application which would have been more expensive and wouldn’t have saved any time at all.

  

The Rose Apple Guesthouse I had booked for my three night stay had a free pickup service and Mara (I really hope this is the way he spells his name) was already waiting for me with his tuk-tuk.


At the hotel Tim, the Belgian owner welcomed me and helped me plan my next three days touring Angkor Wat with Mara. I decided on starting with a sunrise tour so the next day pickup would be very early. I therefore stayed in that evening and went to bed early. Yours, Pollybert

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HCMC Tour and the Cu Chi Tunnels

My last day in Vietnam had begun. After almost a month here it had come down to this. My last day.

But last day or not, I had a tour planned today. A half day city tour and in the afternoon the Cu Chi tunnels. Pickup was at 8am and since I had already woken up Willemeijn she came down to breakfast with me. As usual I had a soup, such a great way to start the day, and I noticed that here different herbs were served with it.

Thus energized the tour could begin which it did at the Reunification Palace. The president of South-Vietnam resided here during the Vietnam (American) War and it all ended when a VC (Viet Cong) pilot managed to drop a bomb on top of it. This bomb hit the central staircase which is therefore kept in a state of ‘holiness’. The stairs have been repaired but we weren’t allowed to walk on them. To get to the first floor one had to use the back stairs. Next to the stairs (on both sides) was also a picture of the successful pilot.

The building itself was not so interesting, more the history behind. It was not only the residence of the president, it was also the military headquarter during the war. Anyway, we toured the building including the bunkers and here are the pictures. Quite the cozy residence!

  
  

Please note that the president always had to be higher than his guests. 

These are real elephant legs (male, female, baby). The children of the president used them as paper baskets or so we were told.

The entertainment room with games, a piano and a pool table.

From the palace we walked a short way to the Notre-Dame Basilica. On the way there I noticed that there really was a lot more traffic in Saigon. I got myself an ice-coffee and then slowly walked over to the church and the Central Post Office right across the street. The post office was designed amongst others by Gustave Eiffel.

  

While visiting the church there was a choir singing, if you want to hear it, please click here.

     

And as always there were brides around.

Our last stop on the city tour was the War Remnants Museum. It started slow with pictures taken by American War correspondents of American soldiers and then the further up you went into the museum (it has 3 floors) the more difficult the pictures became to me. The killings and the atrocities and Agent Orange and the aftermath of it. On both sides, but of course they were and still are a lot worse here in Vietnam. Looking at the pictures and reading the stories made me feel so mad at how we could allow it. Actually how we are still allowing really, really bad things to happen all over the world. Have we not learned anything from history? I was glad that I was on a guided tour and there was a time limit to the visit. So in the end I rushed through and couldn’t read everything. So maybe that makes me a coward but there is only so much I can take. If you ever go to HCMC make sure that you go and see the museum. It is well worth your time!

Even in Austria there was a demonstration against the war. It took me a while to find this picture (for Sylvia: there were a couple of demonstrations in Budapest!)
     

I didn’t want to take closer pictures of what agent orange left behind. I think it is enough that I have seen it and if you are interested you can google it. Not easy to stomach though.

The morning program was over and we went for lunch. Since with the cheap tour I had booked only a light lunch was included I decided to leave the group and have lunch on my own. The other reason was probably that lunch was at my hotel and I found it a little bit weird. The tour for the day by the way was only 10$ but didn’t include any entrance fee. I had to pay all this extra. Still it was quite the bargain.

So I went for lunch three restaurants down and had a fish in clay pot. Really good but full of bones. Took me the better part of my lunch hour to not kill myself on these bones. Still have not mastered the art of eating the fish with the bones, but am working on it. It tasted better than it looked!!

For the afternoon we had a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels planned. These were all around Saigon that’s how far the VC came without the Americans knowing. The visit on site was really amazing. The facts you learn on how they lived underground including their animals. How they disguised the air vents with anthills, how they stole American clothes and dragged them across the tunnel entrances to make sure that the dogs wouldn’t find them.

We started our tour with an introductory movie about the tunnels and then went right into the woods.

We saw all kinds of secret holes and traps in the ground. No wonder the Americans lost the war!

The disguised ventilation shafts. After that we came to a shooting range where you could pay for a round of ten bullets. The weapons and the bullets were still from the Vietnam/American War and they had enough left to sell for a very long time! Unbelievable what the Americans had to leave behind or let’s put it this way, what they had brought into the country in the first place!

  

After the shooting range we had one more stop in the woods, the tunnels. Everyone who wanted to could go down and try them out. There were exits after 20, 40 and 60m. I managed exactly 20m. The man in front of me was big and blocked out all light. Plus he stopped every couple of meters which made me nervous if there was something ahead. I couldn’t believe that the VC lived down there, had children, raised animals etc. Unbelievable!

When I returned to the Beautiful Saigon 2 Hotel Willemeijn was already there after a day of leisure. Instead of crawling through tunnels she had gone to the museum as well and spent the afternoon in a spa getting pampered.

For dinner we followed a recommendation she had gotten from someone she had met in Dalat. Since the place was a bit further and we had learned from our mistake the night before we got a taxi and sat down before telling the driver where to take us. As it turned out it wasn’t problem at all. We arrived at the restaurant where only locals ate, always a good sign. I can’t really remember the names of what we ordered, but this is what we got.

  

There was a bit of work involved with dinner since we had to put the little pancakes and also the big one (broken into pieces) on a salad leaf and then roll it. So delicious!!

Since it was our last evening together and the last one in Vietnam for the both of us, we decided on drinks at the nearby Shri Bar which as I have just found out is the number 1 rooftop bar in Saigon. The view was lovely and drinks were excellent. Yours, Pollybert

  
  

HCMC and the Mekong Delta

My train arrived in Quy Nhon with a little over an hour delay. Something I quite liked since my estimated arrival time in HCMC was around 4:20am (this train was actually not my first choice but on the later one the soft beds were fully booked). So whatever delay we could get I was happy with. It just meant I could sleep a bit longer and arrive at a more humane time.

We ended up arriving with a two hours delay. What a bliss to sleep until 6am and have time to brush my teeth. I had arranged for a pickup service and my driver was waiting with a sign for me.

In the Beautiful Saigon 2 Hotel my room was not ready to check in and there was no shower in the communal area. But they had a bathroom at least and before breakfast I could freshen up a bit. While drinking my coffee I perused the tour menu and saw that the city tour and the Cu Chi tunnels could be done at the same day. Since this would save me a day I could spend one day seeing the Mekong delta.

I was not too sure about going there because the reviews I had read online didn’t sound promising. But since I had an extra day I decided on making the tour.

I booked the tour with the reception and after breakfast I was already on my way. Looking out of the bus window this city appeared as crazy as Hanoi. Probably even more so since it had a lot more inhabitants (ok, around 5 millions more, I looked it up).

Once outside the city traffic was less and we soon stopped in My Thon to visit the Vinh Trang pagoda. There was still a slight drizzle but this would eventually stop.

  
   
Back on the bus we drove just a bit until we arrived at the Mekong. Here we all got off and got on a boat that brought us to our lunch destination on Tortoise Islet. Lunch again was not great, so no pictures from there.

  

With the boat we went to the next islet where we visited a family that made coconut candies. The coconut is first shredded, then cooked, in a next step molasses is added and cooked some more and finally the mass will be spread on a board, cut into stripes, cut into squares and wrapped individually. Quite a lot of manual labor for a candy that didn’t taste great.

After the visit we were put on a hand-rowed sampan in pairs and I ended up with a rower who looked like Freddie Kruger.

The boat ride was no longer than ten minutes, but it was enough to get three new mosquito bites. Next stop was a honey bee farm where we sampled lemon tea with honey and got entertained with local music.

For the music please click here, it was interesting in an awful way.IMG_5402

And that was basically it. After that we got on the bus and drove back for two hours to HCMC. While still on the bus I got a text from Willemeijn that she was already at the hotel. I had met her at the Farmstay in Phong Nha and then again in Hoi An. Only this time we had decided to share a room.

So when I arrived at the Beautiful Saigon 2 Hotel she was already waiting for me. We shared our travel stories and then we walked for dinner with people she had met in Dalat. And with walked I really mean we walked. Forever actually!

The taxi wouldn’t take us because the street was right around the corner, but the place we were going to was at ‘district’ 9. I don’t really know how the numbering worked but after a while numbers were starting over with a different ‘district’ number. And we started at ‘district’ one….

I am just glad it was worth it. Her friends were really nice and the food was amazing. The place we had walked to was outside the usual tourist area since the couple who discovered it was renting an apartment around the area. At 11pm or so we called it a night. I had another tour planned and she was meeting her friends at the War Remnants Museum. You’d, Pollybert