20/12/2009 - 22/12/2009
We crossed into Vietnam and settled into the backpacker district, which is like Bangkok's Khao San Rd only without the endless supply of cheap and delicious food stands. Every building on a couple of the streets is a 'minihotel', which are generally pretty nice 5-storey buildings with 2 rooms per floor and standardized pricing ($12 per night almost everywhere when we were there). Had we known that there are more than one such street we could probably have saved a couple dollars and perhaps had better quality by going to a different street and avoiding the Lonely Planet Recommended premium, but we had no qualms with the place we stayed.
The next day we hit the sights: the market, presidential palace, and war museum.
The market had a blend of wierd stuff and tourist shops, with raw goat (?) hearts, intestines and brains among the more exotic meat items.
Sue! How could you?! And with Ho Chi Minh?!?! Well, I guess she is from China...
Here's the presidential palace, looking like a university library.
At the War Remnants Museum, which is probably the best (most terrible?) war/genocide museum we've seen. Inside are mostly pictures of the effects of Agent Orange and napalm and the like, and some (mostly American) weapons. The hippies had good reason to protest.
Here are 'tiger cages' used for storing VC prisoners, encased in barbed wire. Seeing them, the first thought is - that's a really small cell. Then we see the display saying they were shared - 6 x 2.5x 1.3 ft for 2-3 ppl and 6 x 2.5 x 3 ft for 5-7 prisoners.
A jeans brand that probably wouldn't be popular in North America
Making up for the unimpressive Presidential Palace, HCMC has some excellent parks, big and well manicured. The jungle gyms are similar to the West's, but have a wider range of activities, and look safer (in person).
On the way home we happenned across a Christmas village, which was great to see a few days before Christmas. There were also random displays here and there in front of bars and shops.
Typical street in Vietnam - lots and lots of motorbikes. Once you get used to it, being a pedestrian in a motorbike city is really easy - it is safe to cross any street anywhere at any time (in daylight), as long as you walk slowly and always look at oncoming traffic
Our last day in town we took a day trip, a boating tour along the Mekong Delta with stops in a farm, a candy factory, smaller canal boats, and a small music performance.
Rickety waterfront houses
Gravel mined from the Mekong for use in concrete and construction. Singapore got much of its landfill from the Mekong in Vietnam, and now in some parts the river is too deep for nativ aquatic life or is changing shape. Vietnam has now outlawed the export of sand and gravel from the Mekong, though it is still used for domestic construction.
Lazily drifting along
The farm was very cool, with irrigation canals everywhere, a lot of frogs, and a cockfight! Actually the cockfight was more like rooster wrestling than pecking, and there was no clear winner nor apparent injury. The roosters didn't have the metal spikes that are used in real cockfights.
Me handling a snake. A guy a few minutes before me angered it by (inadvertantly) choking it, gripping much harder than he was supposed to. But it was calmed back down when I got there. The skin was scalier than I was expecting, being not fully fluid when it moves.
We're on a boat!
Some singing as our day and our Saigon adventure come to an end.
On our way out of Saigon we got an open-end bus ticket: for $35 we get a sleeper bus ticket all the way up to Hanoi, with 4 stops along the way where we can stay as long as we want. The sleeper bus wasn't great, but probably worth the extra $10 instead of having a regular bus for the 3 overnight buses. The company we booked with, TM Brothers, was terrible - the people working there were worse than useless, the time on the ticket for one of the buses didn't match the brochure (which said there were muliple departures available daily), one of the buses had roaches, the onboard washrooms on all buses were permenantly broken ("Broken" was written in marker on the door), and the sleeper compartments were just not very comfortable.