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Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)

18 January 2012

I had always wanted to visit Vietnam so it was an obvious choice when planning our semi round the world travels.
However, after unexpectedly cold weather in India (ok, so it was their winter) and the threat of freezing conditions later on the trip in China, we decided to cut short our time in vietnam and spend more time in cambodia, Laos and Thailand which were supposed to be warmer than northern Vietnam.
However, as we had flights booked we spent two nights in HCMC at Phan Lam (www.seventyhotel.com) which was a lovely little hotel with cosy rooms at £15 for a double. The location was great, in the heart of the Pham Ngu area and a short walk from the Ben Thanh Central Market. The staff were amazingly attentive with a great breakfast and spotless rooms.
On the first evening we braved motorcycle taxis (which worked fine but we saw the following day how bad these are in the rain with numerous crashes) to visit Hoing Loi which works on giving underprivileged Vietnamese the chance to develop skills and have work. The food was great, reasonably priced and the service was impeccable.
We arranged a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels through the resident STA travel agency for $6 plus $4 entry for a half day tour. This was a fascinating display of the tunnels occupied by some 5,000 Viet Cong resistance fighters in south vietnamese territory and contained details of the gruesome traps and tactics that the Vietnamese used to defeat the Americans. There was also the chance to try some of the weapons so i treated myself to ten rounds on the AK47-spectacularly hitting nothing!
The half day tour was quite a whistlestop tour and for anyone really interested I would recommend the full day trip.
We took a late lunch at Vietnamese Kitchen in Bul Vien Street enjoying a mix of western and vietnamese fare.
We then wandered to the War remnants museum, taking shelter in the central market from a heavy downpour while I took the opportunity to try to buy some shorts – with no success (I am a poor shopper at best and this was chaotic experience!).
Due to my poor shopping and sheltering from the rain we arrived with only half an hour for the war remnant museum but spent the dollar entry fee as we were booked to depart to the Mekong Delta the next morning. I really wish we had had more time here, there is a fascinating (but harrowing) photo exhibition called Requiem, a display on Agent Orange (chemical warfare in the Vietnam was) and an interesting display on the “truths” of the war. Other interesting features were on display but I was shepherded out with only time to take a few photos of fighters and tanks.
We dined that night at a reasonably priced bar called cafe zoom where I lost all cultural credence by enjoying a blue cheese burger (I can’t resist blue cheese on a burger) and had a few beers while watching the scooters go by!
Having had a small taste of Vietnam so far I was beginning to regret the brevity of our visit but looking forward to the delta.

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