After some holidays in Thailand we decided to check out Ho Chi Min City and southern Vietnam. It was a destination I had always wanted to tour having grown up and witnessing the Vietnam war on TV. We decided to stay at the Rex Hotel that was the famous location for war correspondence who resided at the hotel, drank and told stories at the bar. We had a few meals and drinks to think how it must have been during the war period. It was a busy and popular place.
Having found an English-speaking guide with a driver for our short trip he had organised our itinerary and went out of his way to ensure our stay was enjoyable. He would come back after our day touring to take us out for meals and local restaurants not often visited by tourists. Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s center of commerce and the country’s biggest city, though not its administrative capital – an honor that rests with Hanoi. Much of the fun of Ho Chi Minh City comes from the simple pleasure of absorbing its flurry of activity – something best done from the seat of a cyclo or a roadside café. It is easy to miss some new and singular sight, be it a motorbike stacked high with piglets or goods bound for the market, or a boy on a bicycle rapping out a tattoo on pieces of bamboo to advertise noodles for sale.
The city, perched on the banks of the Saigon River and still known as Saigon to its eight million or so inhabitants, has changed its image from that of a war-torn city to one of a thriving metropolis.
Ho Chi Minh City is a fury of sights and sounds. Few corners of the city were free of construction work casting up new office blocks and hotels. An increasing number of cars and minibuses jostle with an organic mass of motorcycles, choking the tree-lined streets and boulevards. Amid this melee local people go about their daily life, the smell of inscents was always strong around temples and crossing the street was a death defying activity.
It’s one of Ho Chi Minh City’s many charms that once you’ve exhausted, or been exhausted by, all it has to offer, then paddy fields and wide-open countryside are not far away. The trip out of the city we took was to the Cu Chi tunnels, where villagers dug themselves out of the range of American shelling. We also took a tour around the fanciful Great Temple of the indigenous Cao Dai religion at Tay Ninh.
After we moved onto the Mekong Delta at My Tho for a river tour, then to local factories and small river delta villages that we traversed on donkey carts and small boats.
During the war with america, the villages around the district of Cu Chi supported the Viet Cong (VC) presence. They dug themselves out of harm’s way, and the legendary Cu Chi tunnels were the result. We visited a short stretch of the tunnels, where you have to drop to your hands and knees and squeeze underground for an insight into life as a tunnel-dwelling resistance fighter. Some sections of the tunnels have been widened to allow passage for larger tourist but it’s still a dark, sweaty, claustrophobic experience, and not one to take unless you’re sure you won’t suffer from these very confined spaces.
We enjoyed Vietnam and short time there. It will be nice to head back there in the future to tour more of the country particularly the mid and northern parts.