I think sometime when I was younger, like elementary school, I saw Miss Saigon on Broadway. I have vague memories of singing, silk, a lot of red, paper lanterns, pretty Asian women, and a sad ending I didn’t quite understand. I really have actually no idea if I saw this play at all or if it was a figment of my imagination, but if it was, I was spot on. The only thing missing was motorbikes. 5 million of them. In a city of 8 million people, there are 5 million motorbikes and scooters. And what feels like not enough stop lights. Good morning Vietnam!
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh late Sunday evening, after my father and I had bid adieu to my mother and the insane Thai new year festival, Songkran. As you can see I am going a bit out of order but my mother has signed up to be my next guest blogger and share her experiences in Thailand and the magically hot places we went. And tell you what a wonderful daughter I am. So stay tuned for that one folks.
Landing in Saigon (the names are interchangeable, they changed the name to Ho Chi Minh City after the north and south reunified after the Vietnam war. So HCMC=SGN. Same, same) at 10PM at night and you would have thought it was 9AM in the morning. Side note, you need a visa for Vietnam, either apply for one through the embassy if you have time or you can apply online for a letter of approval to bring with you and get a visa on arrival. You can’t just show up and expect them to let you in like Thailand. It’s lawless but not that lawless.
My father and I opted to do a last minute tour of HCMC since we were on a bit of a time crunch and I was exhausted of planning. I had met an Australian couple in Siem Reap who had used Buffalo Tours when visiting the city and highly recommended them. About a dozen emails and a million questions from my dad later, along with a hefty price tag for Southeast Asia, we were set. Airport transfers, hotel, city tour, Cu Chi tunnel tour, Mekong Delta tour and some meals and we were good to go. And boy do I think it was worth it. They partnered us with their brother company, Intrepid, for the tours, but organized everything else and it was so great to not have to plan for once. Really helped me enjoy the city and country. Sure, you can do Vietnam or the city for probably half the price, but having someone tell you what to do and when to do it and take you there and then explain everything interesting you could ever want to know is a nice change of pace. But anyway, I have the tours, facts, route, and locations down now so you can feel free to just hire me and I’ll take care of it 🙂
So HCMC. What a place. A clean, developing, impressive little metropolis, it has a very city feel with touches of French and Chinese influence. There are baguettes and cafes and wine. Again, all the necessities of my favorite places. We stayed at the Tan Hai Long III Hotel which was great, awesome location, clean, and across the street from the Financial Tower, this beautiful glass building that boasts amazing unexpected views of little miss Saigon. Through our tour we covered the three most important bases:
- City Tour: Monday morning we were up and early and picked up by our lovel tour guide Gem. Girlfriend had it together, she went to university for tourism and her English was great. She did 25 tours a month, between the city, Delta and Tunnels tours. She was so sweet, made sure Craig understood everything she was saying and was very thorough. Through the city tour we covered all of the highlights. First, Notre Dame Cathedral, this gorgeous church in the middle of town. Next door, the post office, which has always been functioning as a post office, even during the war. Then, the War Remnants Museum. Which was amazing. Obviously your hearing about the war from the Vietnamese point of view, but I still think it was really well done and my dad agreed. I also learned I knew NOTHING about the Vietnam war. Did I go to school? I couldn’t remember at this point of my trip. After that we had Pho, the famous beef broth soup Vietnam is known for and it was all it’s hyped up to be. Craig drank the broth. And last but not least, Reunification Palace. The presidential palace that was built with US Dollars during the Vietnam war, after many other buildings had stood in its place and I think looks like it belongs in California in the 1970’s but that’s just me. The building and grounds were really beautiful. And thats all folks! The main sights and sounds of the city tour. Sorry, I am back in America now and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to write these. I’ve lost steam.
- Mekong Delta: Tuesday we did a Mekong Delta tour and the highlights for this was the people we met. We met some great people. A couple from Australia and this great American family who had taken their 3 school aged kids out of school to travel the world. I asked them to adopt me and they were like, “Yeah, sure! Hahaha”. Then they realized I was serious and it got awkward. My Dad was basically throwing my belongings at them. Just kidding! They were great and had amazing stories and I spent most of my day hanging with their youngest son, Eli, who was 8. Who asked me about 145 questions that day, making it like a really intrusive first date. “Hey have you ever ridden a horse across the Burma border?” “Have you ever been sand buggying in Africa?” “On a safari with lionness outside your tent?” “Gotten robbed in Barcelona?” “Played soccer with kids from all over the world?” “How many countries have you been to? Oh, 15…that’s not bad. I’ll have gone to 32 by July.” OKAY KID. I get it. You’re 8 and 80 times cooler than me. But know this, you’ve peaked, really, really early. No just kidding, he was fantastic. I hope to have a kid like him some day. Down to do anything and up with a great attitude. And willing to talk anyone’s ear off. I am a firm believer that prevents child kidnappings, talking too much. At least my Aunt used to tell my brother and I that when we wouldn’t shut up when we were little. The kid was set. Besides bonding with my blonde buddy we took a boat through the delta, saw a snake, ate a lot of food, and learned how to make rice paper? I think that was it. Seriously, I was underwhelmed by the Delta tour.
- Cu Chi Tunnels : The final day we were reunited with our great tourguide, Gem and we went to the tunnels, which was really cool. Wikipedia, assist me please:
The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chidistrict of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong‘s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.
And that’s all you need to know! At the tunnels you watch a crazy propoganda video about the “American devils” and then learn about all of the different booby traps and methods they had to disguise and hide themselves. They were crafty. Wearing shoes backwards, building tunnels next to natural air holes and ant holes, amongst other things. We got to climb through the tunnels which was so cramped and I am pretty sure I would have rather been a POW then live there.
And that was it! Wednesday night I went on to Hanoi to finish my journey and my dad flew out. It was a great trip and a great place and I would recommend a visit to Vietnam to anyone and everyone!