Tag Archives: Ho Chi Minh City

Miss Saigon and Viet Cong

I took the bus to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Ho Chi Minh City is the name given to Saigon, after 1976. However the Vietnamese still call it Saigon.

The bus to Saigon stopped in Nha Trang, where we had to wait for two hours to change busses. I decided to go for a little straw. I saw people drinking thee and coffee at these little parlour shops along the street. I started to crave for some hot cup of sweet morning tea. I went to one of the parlours and asked for a tea. They explained me that it was only possible to have tea AND coffee. Strange! Ah well, I thought I could always leave the coffee and only drink the tea. Haha. I ordered. Already fantasizing about my hot cup of tea, I got served an ice coffee and an ice tea. Really!? I decided to drink it all up and leave this quest behind. And when I drank up the ice tea the parlour owner poured me some more, because he thought I really liked it. Hahaha.

After a 26 hour bus trip I arrived in Saigon by evening. Saigon is the true metropole of Vietnam.  Crowded streets, billboards, more neon lights. I hadn’t booked a ho(s)tel yet. Together with a guy from Germany and 5 girls from Argentina we searched for a place to stay. They settled with the first place we came across. I decided to search further. I had an address of a Capsule hostel scribbled down. I would try that one, but as I was walking through the crowded streets of Saigon with all my belongings it suddenly started to rain heavily. I was tired, didn’t had no proper sleep for two days. Luckily the capsule hostel was just a few 100 meters away. I decided to go and stay there! Because I had only two full days in Saigon I booked two tours. The Mekong Delta tour with the floating Markets and the Cu Chi tunnel tour. I mostly stressed the importance of the floating markets, which I really wanted to see.

The next day I was picked up by a tour guide really early. A mid-aged Vietnamese man who introduced himself with the words: “My name is Dong! Easy to remember, because it is the sound that you hear when you beat the drums..” and subsequently did a loud impression of this sound: “Dong!! Dong!! Dong!!!” One thing for sure, I won’t forget his name. Hahaha. I was on a bus with predominantly Vietnamese people. The guide would tell a long story about a sight in Vietnamese and then give a short translation in English. And believe me when the guide says: “And right from you, you see a beautiful rice field” after a 5 minute long monolog in Vietnamese, that can’t be the full translation. That’s the really, really short version Hahaha.

Watching at the scenery passing by, I noticed the main building style in Vietnam. They are normal buildings, just like every other city. The only difference is that they are really narrow. Like you squeeze two street lengths to fit in to one. Also I noticed that many rice fields had graves in the middle. Later on I found out that it was normal for Vietnamese to bury their ancestors in the midst of the family owned rice field.

I got in a conversation with the only English speaking people on the bus, a couple from England. A fireman and policewoman. They told me that they did so many tours already, that they decided to do this tour without the Floating Markets. Huh!? I thought this was the one with the floating markets? I checked it with the guide and indeed. This tour didn’t include the floating markets. I regretted really, because that was my sole reason to go on this tour. The guide called with the hotel back and forth. Came out that I was put on the wrong tour, through an error at the reception. Damn!! I still tried to enjoy the tour, but was far from happy. However we sailed the Mekong Delta and rode horse and carriage. A lot of the Vietnamese people wanted to go on the picture with me. And a little Vietnamese boy functioned as translater between me and his family. Turned out that he had learned some English at school. His family members would talk to him in Vietnamese and then push him to translate it to me. “Do you like it here?”, he asked. “Yes, I do”, I replied. “My mom and sister, say they want to sit in the same boat as you.” “O… Kay…”, I replied. Hahaha. It was funny though. The whole boat trip the little guy kept asking me questions. “What is your favorite color?” “What is your favorite music?” “What is your favorite food?” and just when I thought he was finished he asked “Ok and now ask me?” Hahaha! We fed alligators, holding a piece of meat as bate on a wooden fishing rod. To get there we had to walk over a provisionally constructed bridge made out of bamboo. I went cycling through an native village. I learned about water coconuts. I even bought a little bottle of snake wine. Yes, there is an actual snake in the bottle. I had to taste it. It has a real strong taste to it.

Even though the tour was pretty nice, it was a real disappointment that I didn’t get to see the floating markets. Even though I know there is not much to see, it was one I really wanted to see. Even when I had the chance to see the most famous floating market from Bangkok, I declined it, because I was going to see them in Vietnam. Not! The guide made an effort to explain me in words, what I would have seen at the floating market. He also down talked the experience. It was really nice of him, but it didn’t really help Hahaha. Back at the hotel I explained my disappointment. They apologized and I got refunded. They even offered me to go again on the tour with Floating Market tomorrow, free of charge. This unfortunately was a no go, because I had only one more day, and was going to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Guess I still have a good reason to revisit Thailand or Vietnam now ;-) Hahaha

That evening Holland was playing against Mexico. 11 pm local time. I went to a bar to see the match. There I bumped in to Tom, the German guy again. The bar was full with orange shirts. Me not being a great soccer fan, I realized this was my first time watching a game in a bar, ever! I really liked it! But after Holland reached an disadvantage of 1-0, we really went bonkers when the 1-1 was scored. I liked the tension in the bar and the relieve when the 2-1 was scored out of a penalty. I won a bet against Tom. After the 1-0 he was sure Holland would hit the plane back home. Man was he wrong! Hahaha. Một hai ba, yo (one, two, three, yo)! The Vietnamese way of saying Cheers! It literally means 1, 2, 3, Cheers!

Viet Cong

Today I had a tour to go and visit the Cu Chi Tunnels.  One of the most famous tunnels used in the war against the Americans. The Viet cong had a super sophisticated tunnel network, consisting of three levels 3m, 6m and 10 meter deep. It was one of their main advantages during the war. The entrances of the tunnels were hidden. They could pop up out of nowhere and disappear out of nowhere.

I got picked up at the hostel by a guide and put on the bus in the main street. As the bus started driving the guide started talking on the microphone. “Welcome people, today we are on a tour to the Mekong Delta, and the floating market…” What!!? On the wrong tour!!? Every inch in my body said, not again!! And that’s exactly what I yelled out interrupting the guide. The whole bus stopped and starred. I explained my story for everyone to hear: “I have booked a tour for the Cu Chi tunnels, not for the Mekong Delta. Yesterday I got put on the wrong tour, and today again!? I can have one mistake, but this is really too funny for words!” I wasn’t even mad, more in disbelieve and I could still laugh about the incident. The guide stopped the bus, made a phone call. He then asked me to wait on a certain place in the middle of a busy crossing and told me I would be picked up. The people in the bus supported me fully, giving me thumbs up and wishing me good luck as the bus drove off. There I was, in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a.. bus. After ten minutes, still no one came. I asked a passer-by to use his phone to call the hotel. Luckily he agreed. The hotel wanted to send a taxi to come and pick me up. I explained them, that I don’t want to go back, I wanted to go on this tour… and at that moment a guy on a scooter arrived. He took me to the bus and I was on the right tour now. Wow!

The tour started with a polygon 50s documentary of the Vietnam war. After the documentary the guide made a joke: “You felt a sleep already!” He also knew the documentary was lame Haha. After that we visited a hidden tunnel entrance and even got the change to go in to the tunnel entrance and hide. By means of being funny, the guide made sexy noises while people dipped themselves in to the tunnel hole. Like really!!? Especially the woman looked at him like: Is he actually doing this? Pretty awkward. Hahaha

We walked past a B52 bomb crater and also saw a real tank that had been active during the war. The site was full of jungle and in the background you heard constant war noised of shooting guns and explosions. It really gave you a feel of the background sounds during the war.

The guide seemed to have a deeply rooted hate for Americans. He asked if there were any Americans on the tour. No one replied. “Good!”, he said. When we got to the boobytrap section the guide explained the working of a number of real life used booby traps. He sadistically seemed to enjoy telling us the detailed inflictions the boobytraps made to American soldiers. This one, would cut away all the flesh in your legs and then it takes three hours for you to die slowly and painfully. Looking at the mechanics of all these traps and imagining what the spikes and knifes could do to a human body, shivers ran over my back! Horrible!! Some had the sarcastic nick name: “Hotel California. Check-in oly, no check-out.”

Later on I found out there was actually an American guy on the tour. Guess he was too afraid to come out. Haha.

Then I noticed the war sounds becoming louder and louder.  It seemed that these war sounds were real! There was a shooting base where you could fire an actual M16, AK47 or bazooka. Even though I am not a gun lover, I saw this as a once in a lifetime experience I had to experience. I choose the AK47. I got to fire 10 bullets. The sound and the kickback are super intense. But if you imagine the killing potential of this gun it is also a bit creepy!

After the shooting we went to the final part. The actual Cu Chi tunnel. The tunnel was 140 meters long, with an exit every 20 meters. I’m truly not a fan of small spaces. We entered the tunnel and came in to a small space. This wasn’t that bad, until I noticed a small black hole in the corner of the room. That was the actual entrance to the tunnel. What!? My heart started pounding as I got in to the tunnel squat. It was warm, I started sweating and slightly hyperventilating. I felt the ground pushing on me and felt really, really cramped. After 40 meters I decided it was enough. Not my cup of tea. And then to imagine they made the tunnel 50% larger for tourists to be able to go through them. Respect for the Vietnamese those days! The American soldiers didn’t dare to enter those tunnels to fight those days. They had a special unit with their own rules and values. These guys must have been insane!!

After the tour some of us asked to be dropped off at the War Museum. So did I! Not knowing what an effect this Museum would have on me. The entrance was only 15000 Dong, which is like 60 euro cent. The first impressive thing about the museum is that the museum terrain was full with war vehicles used during the war. Tanks, helicopters, artillery and the most impressive the Chinook, which I knew from movies like Platoon and Television series like Tour of Duty. What an experience to stand next to it and even be able to look inside. The war still feels like it happened recently, so you get a real feel of what it must have been like. You think about the young soldiers, getting in to this vehicle having no clue what kind of atrocities the future had in store for them.

Inside the museum you learn a lot about the history, about the protests against the war and also about Agent Orange. Agent Orange and how the Vietnamese people still feel the effects of it. One gallery is full of second an third generation victims of the Agent orange. People born without eyes, legs, twins stuck together… horrible. And then you see a concrete well standing there, surrounded with stories and pictures. At first it looks like a normal well, but then you discover that it was a hiding place for the three grandchildren of Mr. Bui van Vat who got massacred.

As if this wasn’t enough I then went outside to the section about the imprisonment, conditions during the war. You can see the real life prisons used. Even the infamous Tiger cage. You read about the torture methods which were inhuman. People having to roll over a cooking iron plate, until their skin was completely pealed of and bleeding. One prison had a peephole. Already excited I looked through the peephole not expecting to see anything. Then I suddenly saw and old neglected man sitting on the bench in the dark. I scared up and soon discovered it was just a doll. Wow!! Quelle horreur!

Heavily disillusioned I left the museum. I must admit this had been the museum with the deepest impact on me ever!!