So… some of you may have (or definitely) caught that this post went up without text! Whoops! Here it is, with journal entry. 🙂
The journey to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, as the locals call it, was somewhat of an adventure. The train ride was 18 hours long, and about an hour into our journey, I noted that we were sharing our cabin with one more than we’d anticipated… there was a mouse! I found it rather funny, although Ros and Tamara did not. However, I was staying in one of the top beds in the cabin, which is a perfect position for finding such things amusing. The girls both had the lower bunks. I slept most of the way. We arrived in town at about 5AM on Wednesday morning, and got a taxi to the budget area of town. We got some breakfast at a horrifically overpriced corner restaurant… but at 6AM, we didn’t have much choice. Sated, we left in search of somewhere to stay. With accommodation sorted, we showered and set off to explore. Saigon is far less charming than Hanoi; it’s bigger, noisier, and equally as busy. We got lunch at what was purportedly the best pho place in Saigon. It was very good, but turned out to be a chain. After lunch we walked around, visited the Notre Dame cathedral, the post office, a coffee shop, and then the War Remnants Museum. The front of the museum is filled with tanks and fighter planes from the Vietnam War, as well as a reproduction of “tiger cages,” which were the detainment cells that the South Vietnamese used to detain their prisoners. I found the museum to be devastating, particularly the photo exhibition about Agent Orange and its longterm effects, with which Vietnam’s citizens are still dealing. After a sobering time at the museum, we headed back to our are of town, getting some weird street food cooked over a bucket along the way, and then stopping by one of the city’s markets. There was a large park nearby our neighborhood, which we walked through on our way. We stopped to watch the locals, who congregate there in large numbers to participate in various group activities. We watched dancing groups, then Tamara joined a game of Jianzi, which is an Asian version of hackysack played using a weighted shuttlecock. Ros and I joined an exercise group, which was such fun. We headed back to the hotel, stopped at a few tourist agencies on the way, and booked a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels for the next day. The girls headed out for dinner, and I decided to sleep.
On Thursday we were due to depart on our tour at 8AM, so we ate breakfast at our hotel and left in good time. The tour we’d joined was set to visit the Tay Ninh Holy See Cao Dai temple, and then the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cao Dai temple was a bizarre and eclectic mix of religious iconography, which is a fair reflection of the religion itself. Cao Dai is a Vietnamese religion that blends elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Catholicism. We watched a midday prayer ceremony, and then headed for the tunnels. So, the Cu Chi Tunnels are an incredible network of tunnels that the Viet Cong dug and operated from during the Vietnam War. Our trip was incredible. Our guide was magnificent, and extremely funny, conversing with us and telling us stories in impeccable English. After each story he told about the Viet Cong, I grew increasingly impressed with their ingenuity. Some of them LIVED in the tunnels for as long as ten years. We were shown the entrance holes to the tunnels, and were offered the opportunity to climb into one. You have to lift your arms above your head in order to make your shoulders small enough to fit in the hole. Out guide thought it would be funny to kneel over the lid once I was down there… luckily I’m not claustrophobic. Later, we got to crawl through a tunnel system, which very quickly became hot and sweaty. Again… lucky I’m not claustrophobic, although I definitely did wish that the people in front of me moved faster. After the tunnels, we headed back to Saigon where the girls and booked a tour of the Mekong Delta with a local travel agency. Tamara wasn’t feeling well so she returned to the hotel to lie down, and Ros and I went and had dinner.
On Friday we woke up early again to make the 7:30AM departure for our Mekong Delta tour. I was thoroughly enjoying having travel company. 🙂
Weird street food cooked over a bucket…
It ended up looking like a taco; it was a rice paper crisp, filled with a quail egg, chives, and little dried shrimp. It was pretty good, and it only cost about 35 cents.
The front of the Cao Dai temple
Some of its inspired iconography… the all-seeing eye
The inside of the temple was just as colorful as the outside
And so were those in attendance. Most worshipers wear white, while the priests are dressed in colors that reflect their religious inclinations. Red is for Confucianism, blue is for Taoism, and yellow is for Buddhism.
Getting into a Cu Chi tunnel.
And being trapped inside. He asked me if I could see any Viet Cong boyfriends; there were none to be found.