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Saigon

An early arrival with the night bus from Ha Tien, but we didn't manage to get much sleep unfortunately. In Ha Tien we had stopped by a bar called Oasis for a couple of beer while waiting for our departure to Ho Chi Minh City. The owner of the bar turns out to be an ex-pat Briton and he gives us advice about travel in the Tet holiday (Lunar New Year) - which was about to kick off - warning us it could be difficult and expensive to get transport in-between places. He also gave us advice about taxies, and that some companies could be dodgy. This advice came in handy and we got a taxi with a reputable company Mai Linh on our arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, we of course insisted on using the meter. There were no attempt from this driver to divert us to another destination or anything - we're still very much on the offensive as people have been telling us story after story about being ripped off by taxi drivers - really pleasantly surprised, we have a nice relaxing journey up to District 1 where most of the backpacker hotels seem to be situated.

On reflection we compare everything with how we were treated in India. The conclusion we come to is as follows. The horror stories we've heard about Vietnam came from people who'd obviously not been to India... because if they had they'd never let themselves be messed about like that. We'd heard similar tales about Bangkok, but again we had no problems there at all, as we could smell a dodgy tout or driver a mile off - India has changed us... Still, it's important to stay on the alert as you never know when they've thought up a new scam - you can easily be caught out no matter how street-wise you are...

All of the places we'd looked up before arriving seemed to be full, and we had to start looking at other alternatives. We finally, by chance, found Hotel Thanh Ha. A bit more expensive than we'd hoped for, but the value for money was excellent. It's a fairly new hotel and for the standard of the room you'd expect to pay double of the rate we're charged. The owners are also a really sweet elderly couple, and we're offered coffee and tea while they quickly get the room ready for us. After checking in we immediately collapse as we had very little sleep during the nightly bus-journey.

[caption id="attachment_1875" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The entrance to our lovely little hotel "Thanh Ha" in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The entrance to our lovely little hotel "Thanh Ha" in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption]

First afternoon and evening, after a good rest, we have a walkabout and visit a Hindu temple, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum and the Ben Thanh Market which apparently is a bit of a tourist-trap - we're just quickly walking through it anyways though - we're not up for any shopping really. Afterwards we stop by a bar for a test of the Saigon Beer of course.

[caption id="attachment_1830" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hindu Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hindu Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1831" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hindu Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hindu Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1832" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1833" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1834" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1835" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption]

We booked two days worth of sightseeing through our hotel and the first is a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels, the second is a City Sightseeing Tour.

The visit to the Cu Chi tunnels is quite interesting and we have a really nice guide who worked as a translator during the Vietnam War. There is a lot of obvious propaganda for the communist rule and ideology at the site of the tunnels but our guide can tell us a slightly more realistic version of events when we're in the bus - where no one from the outside of our guide-group can hear him, of course - and to our amusement he always finish his stories by saying "now, forget about it". We get the chance to try out how it would be to use the tunnels as a "tourist-size" replica has been constructed on the site. Even in the larger size tunnels you don't have much space at all. Not many finish the full length of the tunnels as they can be a bit claustrophobic. At some stage up front in the tunnel I hear someone sounding like they're stuck and slightly panicking up ahead... It's really humid and hot and by the end of the very short crouched walk (about 100 meters) I’m drenched in sweat and my legs are incredibly tired and aching with lactic acid.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/zCbohBb-Rwc]

After returning from the Cu Chi tunnels we head up to book tickets for the Golden Dragen Water Puppet Theatre, which was great fun to watch, regardless of not understanding a single word of the dialogue.

[caption id="attachment_1842" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1843" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Making Sandals out of old tyres at the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Making Sandals out of old tyres at the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1844" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1836" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1837" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1838" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Water Puppy Theatre, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Water Puppy Theatre, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1839" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Water Puppy Theatre, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Water Puppy Theatre, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption]

Second day of sightseeing is the City Tour - a fully packed day which includes a Chinese Temple, War Museum, Coffee tasting (weasel coffee) in Chinatown, South Vietnam's largest market in Chinatown, Lunch, President's residence, Notre Damme and finally the old Post Office. To our surprise when we get picked up from our hotel we see a familiar face as we enter the bus - it's Natasha which we met on our adventure trekking in Chiang Mai, Thailand - it's a small world sometimes, and it's nice to have a catch-up and hear stories of what she's been up to (although her experience with Don Det is very different from ours, and not in a good way). Our guide Chi was really good, he's full of jokes and good stories. He confesses to learn much of his English from watching Only Fools And Horses and idolises Del Boy - this of course makes for some comical language. His commentary was very non-communist, something that has apparently given him quite a few brushes with the police. He also contained most of his anti-communist commentary to when we're in the bus - to limit the police visits to a minimum I guess. The most memorable part of the tour must be the War Remnants Museum with its exhibitions about the effects of the Agent Orange and other dirty chemical warfare that was used, and photos and stories of the atrocities that happened here.

[caption id="attachment_1846" align="aligncenter" width="545"]War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1845" align="aligncenter" width="545"]War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1847" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1848" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1849" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1850" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1851" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1852" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1853" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1854" align="aligncenter" width="533"]South Vietnam's Largest indoor market, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). South Vietnam's Largest indoor market, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1855" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1856" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1857" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1858" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1859" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hand Craft Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1840" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hand Craft Shop near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hand Craft Shop near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1841" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hand Craft Shop near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hand Craft Shop near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1860" align="aligncenter" width="545"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1861" align="aligncenter" width="533"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1862" align="aligncenter" width="545"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1863" align="aligncenter" width="533"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1864" align="aligncenter" width="545"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1865" align="aligncenter" width="533"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1866" align="aligncenter" width="545"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1867" align="aligncenter" width="545"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1868" align="aligncenter" width="545"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1869" align="aligncenter" width="545"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1870" align="aligncenter" width="545"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1871" align="aligncenter" width="545"]President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1872" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View from the rooftop of the President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). View from the rooftop of the President's Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1873" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Notre Damme, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Notre Damme, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1874" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Outside of Notre Damme, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Outside of Notre Damme, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).[/caption]

We were initially planning on taking a night-bus to our next destination Da Lat after our City-Tour, but due to some miscommunications this had not been booked for us, so we stay one more night in our lovely hotel and then leave the morning after. The owner of the Hotel is very sweet and escorts us to the bus agency - he arranges the pre-booked tickets and waits for the bus with us to make sure we get on the right bus to Da Lat. What wonderful service?

As we had heard many other travellers slating Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam in general, we were a bit on the offensive as we arrived. However we find Vietnam to be really lovely with very friendly people, and we love the bustle of Ho Chi Minh City. From the very beginning of our stay we start talking about coming back to Vietnam again some time.