30.12.2010 - 02.12.2010 30 °C
On our bus journey from Hue to Hoi An we had past through Danang, the third largest city in Vietnam. The traffic on the city streets there was insanse, nearly as manic as Hanoi! As we somehow made our way through the city unscathed we saw glimpses of a modern city, with new high rise buildings and individually designed stadiums. When contemplating moving on from Hoi An we decided to fly to Ho Chi Minh City. We had initially planned to make our way to Nha Trang, famous for it's beaches on route, however the weather forecast remained overcast/rain for the East Coast (normal for this time of year) and therefore we decided to miss Nha Trang out and avoid a day and a night of travelling in favour of a budget flight in the hope that we can still make our way to a beach in the sun over the next three weeks. Hoi An does not have an airport so we went back to Danang along the coastal road. The coast between Danang and Hoi An also has long stretches of beaches and we saw huge resorts being developed along them, also passing some already established 5* hotel resorts. It's clear that the development of top end holiday packages is a priority in this area and that the landscape is going to continue to drastically change.
On our arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is better known we made our way into the city on the public bus. The city was very busy with traffic and as usual in Vietnam - motorbikes were dominating, albeit the roads were wider and there were more footpaths available than Hanoi so it did not feel quite as crazy to walk around the city. We stayed in the popular backpacker area called Pham Ngu Lao and the area was buzzing day and night. Close enough to walk to the city sights our hostel was surrounded by modern concrete buildings with neon signs advertising the establishments and the usual 'motorbike taxi drivers' trying to find business. Stafff from the many restaurants and bars in the area were all attempting to get passers by to enter their establishments, with 'happy hour' offers and 'best food in Saigon' just a couple of the many sales lines. Just one hundred metres from our hotel was access to a series of alleyways which were lined with more traditional wooden buildings containing restaurants, bars and food stalls. Hawkers, some of whom were young children walked the streets trying to sell all sorts of products to tourists, from cigarettes to sunglasses. The next day we walked to the 'War Remnants Museum' and managed to wander around the floor containing an exhibition named 'requiem' containing graphic photographs from the war, many of which had been taken by photographers who died during the conflict - before the museum closed for lunch. We found that lunch time closures are common in many of the tourist sight locations in Vietnam, with air conditioning and lighting being switched off and tourists ushered out of the buildings and grounds at the beginning of the stated lunch times. We returned to the museum after lunch and saw further displays containing retired artillary and further images of the brutal realities of war including torture of prisoners. There was also a section of the museum dedicated to the after effects of the war focused largely on birth defects caused by the use of defoliants, in particular Agent Orange that was used by the Americans during the Vietnam war. The museum displays were in both Vietnamese and English, albeit the museum presented a one sided view of events.
In between visits to the museum we also managed to visit what is today known as the 'Reunification Palace' which was built in 1966 to serve as South Vietnam's presidential palace. Communist tanks crashed through the gates into the palace grounds in the morning on April 30th 1975 when Saigon surrendered to the North. The building has been left in the same state as it was on that momentous day and tourists are able to walk around the palace corridoors and peer into rooms. Tanks remain in the grounds outside and when we were there workers were maintaining the palace grounds in the heat of the midday sun. In the afternoon we walked to the 'Ben Thanh Market' an indoor market which was sweltering inside. A huge array of products were available, with one vendor informing Chris (who was wearing a PUMA T-Shirt) that he had lots of PUMA T-Shirts available for sale that weren't on display on his stall....
In the evening we booked a tour in the Mekong Delta with our bus out of Ho Chi Minh City scheduled for early the next morning.