Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is still Saigon to everyone that lives there, and is the largest city in Vietnam. Over the last ten years the city has increased it’s population from 3 to 9 million people! Saigon is loud, crazy, fast moving, and has the scariest traffic I have ever seen! Forget following simple traffic laws such as driving on your side of the road, stopping at red lights, or allowing pedestrians to cross at crosswalks. Drivers do not stop for pedestrians; instead, one has to dart in and out of traffic when crossing the road. It is a very daunting and scary task, but one that is necessary in navigating Vietnam streets.
Check out this crazy round about that we had to cross!
Danny was welcomed to Saigon with a huge storm that flooded many streets in town. It was a crazy sight! Coming from winter in Sydney, he was immediately struck by the heat and said that he could hardly breath the humidity was that thick!!!
We spent our first day in Vietnam together seeing all the major sights. We took a cyclo (a small cart pushed by a man on a pedal bike) to the Reunification Palace. This is where the communist tank crashed the gate to the palace on April 30, 1975, the day Saigon surrendered. Danny got his first experience in being ripped off in Southeast Asia as the cyclo drivers claimed to have told us the cost of our ride would be 150,000 Dong instead of 15,000 Dong. Cyclo drivers are renowned for being dodgy but we argued with them and refused to pay the full amount…it was a little scary. It is advised not to take this transport after dark as many tourists have been mugged by their drivers.
We visited the War Remnants Museum which displayed tanks, airplanes, guns, and many sad and grotesque photos of victims of the Vietnam War. I was shocked and saddened to see the effects of Agent Orange, the chemical used by the USA during the Vietnam War. As a result of the war 3 million people died and 2 million are reported to have been civilians. I left feeling very sad and wanting to know more about the history of this time.
We wandered down to the Saigon River to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. The river is a main artery through the city and has many floating restaurants, and we decided to take a night cruise on one of the boats.
The next day we took a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels which is about an hour outside of Saigon. I was immediately irritated by our tour guide Joey, who was quite the bigot and liar as he insulted many and misled the group in his versions of the events of the war. According to Joey, American women all look like fat water buffalos, and he also made many insulting remarks towards those of African American decent, and homosexuals. I was shocked as he told the group with a straight face that America invaded South Vietnam to steal gold and oil and as a result the North (Viet Cong) entered the war. I was annoyed that he only referred to “America” when talking of the enemy of the Viet Cong, and neglected to mention that South Vietnam, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand also fought against the North. I do realize the percentages of Americans were huge in comparison to other countries troops. As an American, I felt quite conflicted throughout the tour. I strongly disagree with many aspects of the war, especially my countries use of chemical weapons. But I also think it’s wrong to generalize about individuals based on where they are from and I felt quite defensive as one does in the scenario of “no one can speak bad about my mama but me”. It was the first time in my travels that I really felt anti-American sentiment and a bit awkward saying I am American when asked where I am from in a room full of victims of Agent Orange. I guess this is all to be expected as the war was quite recent, was obviously very controversial and so many people have suffered as a result.
By the end of the tour, I was furious with our tour guide and I felt compelled to express to him my disqust with his offensive comments that I found to be completely rude, and unacceptable on a tour with a diverse group of people who have paid money for a tour. I told him I am an American and clearly do not look like a water buffalo! I also called him out about his lies and suggested that in the future he refer to the Viet Cong enemy as a coalition of forces. He was pretty stunned by me and had nothing to say.
Minus the ignorant tour guide, the Cu Chi tunnels themselves were quite cool. The tunnels of Cu Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels. The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the war and were used by the Viet Cong as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes and living quarters.Some parts of the tunnels have been enlarged for tourists, but it is still a very hot, claustrophobic experience to duck walk and crawl 200 meters underground! Danny braved an original 7 meter tunnel that had not been enlarged. The first guy that came out of the tunnel was visible shaken and was hyperventilating. Danny made it through as well but said he had a moment of panic inside, as it was very scary to not be able to see anything and to feel completely surrounded by walls.
At the end of the tour one could pay to shoot a variety of guns that were used during the war. Danny decided to shoot a couple of rounds from a machine gun and asked me to take his photo. One shot from the gun scared me so much that I literally took off running. I absolutely hate guns and I had to get away from it all, it was way too much for me!
After two quick days in Saigon, Danny and I took a night train to Nha Trang. The train left at 10 pm and arrived in Nha Trang at 6 am. Our cabin was quite small but I was able to sleep and happy to leave the crazy city in route to the beach!
To see all of my photos from Saigon CLICK HERE.