In which we brave the Saigon traffic, visit the centre of the Cao Dai religion, try out some Viet Cong tunnels and cruise around the Mekong Delta
12.12.2012 - 16.12.2012 30 °C
Ho Chi Minh City is hectic! We've spent the last four days here - had a great time but we're exhausted! The traffic here makes Kathmandu look like a pedestrian zone - an unending stream of mainly mopeds which just don't stop. You just have to walk out into the traffic and they weave around you - we've finally mastered it but it's a bit of a leap of faith the first few times!
We arrived on Wednesday from Phnom Penh after a long but painless journey from Cambodia. We're staying in a really sweet, family guesthouse in the centre of the city - with possibly the nicest people ever running it. When we tried to leave for a walk with our bags, they were asking us to leave stuff behind so we didn't get our bags snatched, asking where we were going, checking we had a map... anyone would think we looked incapable!
One of the best things has been that we've timed our visit with an International Food Festival going on in a park a few minutes walk from our guesthouse. They've got food stalls from all over Asia (and a Fosters stall to 'represent' Australia) and a big stage with live music and dancing. On our first night, we even stumbled across some Mu Thai boxing - you can imagine how happy Marcus was!
On Thursday we went out for the day to visit the centre of the Cao Dai religion. It's touted here as one of the 'weirdest' religions, which doesn't seem particularly PC, but it is really interesting. We went to their main temple which is north west of the city to see a service. People who observe Cao Dai attend the temple four times a day - at 6am, midday, 6pm and midnight - not much time for anything else! The temple itself is amazing - lots of bright and intricately patterned columns and murals.
The religion is a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Christianity - but my favourite fact is that they have three 'saints' - one of whom is Victor Hugo, the French poet. We couldn't quite figure out why...
In the afternoon we went to the Cu Chi district which, even though it's in the south, was a strong Viet Cong area during the war. They had one of the network of tunnels that the VC built to evade the Americans, and which they used to launch attacks. The tunnels are tiny - about 40cm each way - pretty horrible for claustrophic people like me! We both had a little go in one of the hiding tunnels though.
100m of one of the remaining tunnels has been widened for tourists to have a go - apparently it's about 2.5 times the size it was during the time the VC used it. Marcus crawled through it - apparently at times it was pitch black and you were on hands and knees crawling through holes underground. These tunnels were three levels, down to about 8m below ground. Sounds pretty terrifying to me!
The next day, we visited the War Remnants Museum which, while largely one-sided, is a real eye-opener about what happened here in the seventies. They have exhibitions about the ongoing effects of Agent Orange on the population with some incredibly sad stories, as well as a whole catalogue of information about atrocities committed by the Americans. It's a bit of a weird place - outside are huge tanks, planes and other American equipment captured or left over that people are having photos taken with - juxtaposed with really horrific stories and photos inside. One thing that we were shocked by is that there are still a huge amount of unexploded bombs left over here - which is still killing and maiming people today. In a few days we're going up to the DMZ which is the area most affected, so we might find out more then.
Yesterday we had a really good trip out to the Mekong Delta - getting a bus to My Tho and then a series of boats around some islands and through the delta canals. We really wish we had more time here, as getting out of the city and chilling out on some boats, eating lovely fresh fruit and getting some fresh air was a really great way to spend the day.
So - today is our last day in Saigon, and tonight we're getting the night bus to Nha Trang which is - finally - a beach!