Helen and Randall on the road

A bit about our adventures 2011-2012

Tuesday 20th – Saturday 24th December: Saigon

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We arrived in Saigon / Ho Chi Min City by ‘international bus’ from Phnom Penh which involved handing over our passports to several different yet indifferent people who took our fingerprints but couldn’t be bothered to scan our bags.

Our hotel was in the Phạm Ngũ Lão backpacker ghetto so we joined in by dining at Allez Boo – surprisingly good noodles & tofu (Randall had his by now trademark burger).

In the morning after breakfast and a read of the local newspaper:

On this day in history…an interesting perspective.

we took ourselves off on an I-phone app guided tour of the city’s landmarks, starting with the War Remnants Museum with its extremely graphic exhibitions about the continuing effects of Agent Orange and other chemicals used on civilians during the American involvement in the civil war.

Next up was the Palace of Reunification which was closed (somewhat random but strictly enforced opening and closing times of public monuments seemed to be the norm) – this was to our relief as after the previous place we were a bit propaganda-ed out.

Instead we did some more ‘standard’ sightseeing:

Notre Dame cathedral

Main Post Office

Inside the Post Office (1)

Inside Post Office (2)

Inside Post Office (3)

Inside Post Office (4) – floor reminiscent of Barcelona

The ‘Hotel de Ville’ apparently modelled after the Paris one.

The 5* Rex Hotel next to the City Hall

One of the many high rise buildings going up in Saigon – lots of investment, much of it Chinese.

The National Museum was mainly interesting for the mummified corpse of a noblewoman. The remaining exhibits were poorly labelled and the party propaganda was at its clumsiest. Still, the floral calendar was quite sweet:

After stopping for coffee just behind the Opera House we attempted to go for lunch at the restaurant on top of the Saigon Trade Centre, only to discover that it had been closed for ages. The final stop on the tour was the Jade Emperor Pagoda

 – a bit underwhelming frankly, so given that the weather was starting to turn, we took the soft option and caught a taxi back to Pham Ngu Lao where we had lunch and a couple of pitchers of Tiger Beer while watching the world go by (and local police harassing a local junkie) in Le Pub.

The next day we took the inevitable tourist trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, one of a series of tunnel complexes used by the Viet Cong. The tourist attraction is based around some partially restored tunnels and a kind of walk-through open air museum with varying degrees of factual accuracy about the exhibits; our guide pointed out some waxworks of  ‘Viet Cong’ wearing military fatigues and smoking above ground, both fairly unlikely occurrences. Still, the ‘walk through’ tunnel was pretty hairy – we did the minimum 20 metre stretch, although a couple of our group did the full 100m open to tourists, reappearing red, sweaty and very out of breath.

The hilarious ‘John Wayne’ our guide, showing a tunnel entrance.

Way in (for small Viet Cong only)

Randall clambering on a captured US tank

pungi trap

another ingenious pungi trap

Salvaged UXO used for making IEDs. One of the reasons that the UXO issue is less bad in Vietnam than in Laos and Cambodia is that so much of it was scavenged and reused while the war was still on.

We decided to pay a bit extra and take the boat back instead of the bus, which was a great idea (particularly as the enterprising John Wayne had packed a cooler of beers which he sold us at highly inflated prices):

We bagzied the seats outside, along with a kiwi guy. Win!

That evening we decided to try out the nightlife, and selected ‘Carmen’ which turned out to be a delight. There was live music all night; Latin when we arrived – and we even got a little bit of salsa dancing in – followed by French followed by classic country (all together now: “Country Roooaaaaadddsss”). Highly recommend (although the beers were expensive).

We rounded the night off with G&Ts at the beautiful Rex Hotel Rooftop Garden Bar – very civilised, and apparently where all the reporters and photographers hung out during the war so they could peer down into the streets while hanging on to their cocktails – before an off-the-metre 2$ taxi home.

On our final night in Saigon we tracked down KOTO – the training foundation that we first discovered in Hanoi. As they opened in Saigon in January 2010 and the course is 2 years long, the first batch of ‘graduates’ were about to complete, so it was a great time for them. We had a fantastic meal accompanied by a bottle of Barcelona favourite Freixenet:

Stylish surroundings



From Koto we took a taxi back towards the centre of town and called in at Alibi – restaurant and bar with super friendly bar staff and sophisticated cocktails – we ended up staying for 2 drinks and nattering with the bartenders. Finally we decided to head off to the (in)famous Apocalypse Now nightclub which seemed to be the ‘in’ place to go based on any websites we could find. Sadly it was pretty naff, mostly full of bored and boring western males in shirts and chinos failing to dance with their accompanying sexy asian ladies, although there were a few younger Vietnamese couples and groups who seemed to be having a whale of a time. We should have gone to Lush which we spotted the previous night next to Bar Carmen. Oh well, we’ll know for next time…


Written by helenbcn

December 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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