Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Continuing my tradition of using the bus, I boarded the morning bus from Phnom Penh and headed off to Ho Chi Minh City. Unlike the annoyances with the boarder police on the way in to Cambodia, leaving was a piece of cake. Getting in to Vietnam was easy, too, though perhaps because I already had a visa and didn’t have to apply just then.
After another 6 hours or so on the bus, we reached Ho Chi Minh City. The bus dropped us off right in the heard of the backpacker area (akin to Khao San Road in Bangkok). Therefore, it was pretty easy to find an inexpensive place to stay. Within moments of exiting the bus, I was deluged with offers for a moto, taxi and – what I really wanted – a bed. I settled on a place called My My Art House because the women who came to meet travellers was funny, full of energy and promised a cool room close by. It wasn’t raining when I got off the bus, but given the weather during the past few nights, I didn’t really want to press my luck. Apart from being close, the hotel was also really great and I would happily stay there again or recommend it to anyone else. They have a variety of rooms, so you can pick something more elaborate if you like, but I was happy with a cozy single room for $10 a night.
Using the hostel as my base, I visited many of the sights in Saigon (officially Ho Chi Minh, but almost no one calls it that). I checked out the Reunification Palace, which stands nearly as it did when the Communist Tanks rolled into Saigon at the end of April 1975. The building architecture was an interesting mix of French and Asian, though I’d picked Japanese influence above other Asian cultures. During the tour, it turns out that some of the furniture and fixtures were donated by the Japanese. Anyway, the tour was a neat way to see how South Vietnam worked prior to “reunification”. During the tour, I met into a few guys from the UK and the group of us walked to the War Remnants Museum. The museum embodied a not so subtle “screw you, Yankee Imperialist” ethos, a fact betrayed by its former name: Museum of American War Crimes. It was pretty interesting for the alternative viewpoint it offers. On display were many pieces of US military equipment and photos that chronicled the devastation of war, both direct through bombing and shooting and indirect through the use of defoliants such as Agent Orange.
On my last day, I took another trip to Cu Chi, a city just outside Saigon, where the Viet Cong built an enormous network of tunnels in order to combat and evade the US forces. The scale of the construction is really incredible, though crawling around the labyrinthine network of tunnels 6 metres underground was kind of scary because you cannot see much. The trip was fascinating both for the opportunity to experience the tunnels and for the chance to hear stories recounted by the guide, who is a Vietnamese man who actually served with the US forces during the war – something for which he later spent years in prison.
After a final day sipping beer on De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao, I hopped on the overnight train to Denang, so I could visit China Beach.