Tuesday, 10 February 2015


Saigon is manic. Not to Bangkok standards, but the steer amount of motorbikes makes getting anywhere a challenge. 

To cross the roads you have to walk into the oncoming wave of traffic (the motorbike drivers are well-trains in swerving around you, the car drivers are not), stop in the middle, do the same again, and then when you think you've reached safety motorbikes will drive up onto the pavement and honk at you to avoid them. Pedestrians are definitely the underclass when it comes to Vietnamese roads. 

I spent two nights there and that was enough. I had a few things I wanted to do, and an evening, full day, and a morning before my flight to Da Nang, was plenty. 

As soon as I arrived I booked a day trip to the Cu Chi war tunnels through my hostel. It cost US$6 plus $5 entrance fee. They're a good two and a half hour drive from District 1 of Saigon, but it's quite eye-opening. I'd never studied the Vietnam War (or the American War as it's known here) before so I was keen to see the history. 

The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers to escape the American troops, and they stayed in tiny spaces underground (made so larger Caucasians couldn't fit) all day and only came out at night. You can go into an original tunnel if you can fit, or a widened version for tourists. I took one look at the entrance to the original one and knew I wasn't going to squeeze into it. The people who did were harassed by bats inside, so I feel I made the right decision. 

They also show you some of the ingenious jungle traps that the Vietnamese engineered, and it's no wonder that so many films have been made about the Vietnam War. It's straight out of a fantasy novel, or a nightmare. 

After crawling through the tourist tunnel (it's 100m long, but with a way out after 20m), they show you a short documentary on the war. Take it with a punch of salt. It's extremely biased. It described the American Army as a "crazy band of devils". I thought this was laughable until I went to the War Memorial Museum that afternoon (they dropped those of us who wanted to go there after the tour), and saw how utterly pointless the American involvement in Vietnam was. However, the film was so blatantly anti-American and pro-Communist it was difficult to take its message entirely seriously. 

The War Memorial Museum was a barrel of laughs too. Having been to the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh a couple of days earlier I left hating humanity. After stories, with graphic photos to boot, of the atrocities of the American soldiers - disembowelling women and children, and the effects of the tonnes of dioxin (Agent Orange) that were dropped on the country as a wartime experiment, I was very much on the side of the Vietnamese. 

It also had exhibits about the French occupation and the suffering of the Vietnamese people. 

All very intense. 

The following morning I went to the Reunification Palace, which only got interesting at the end when you see the bunker underneath, with its old communications equipment and original wall maps. 

I then flew from the mania of Saigon to Da Nang airport, where I headed straight for the oasis of Hoi An. 

I decided to fly around Vietnam as much as possible, because the roads are such poor quality it takes over 15 hours to get pretty much anywhere, and Saigon to Hoi An by bus is 26 hours. Domestic flights are very cheap. You can find tickets online for as little as US$20 if you're lucky. Flights are often delayed or cancelled though. This one was delayed by three hours, and my Da Nang-Hanoi flight had a schedule change and was made later. They did email me two days on advance though. Well done VietJet Air! 

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