So many were the witty titles that we came up with for this post that we have foregone one witty title in favour of several witty subtitles.

Artelaris Now

It’s Ho Chi Minh City to the cartographers and communist autocrats, but it’s still Saigon to everyone else. Excited by the arrival of Kizza and Janeo and knowing that we would be easily distracted by fresh beer, French food and pho, we sweated out most of Saigon’s must-sees in the first few days (hangovers not withstanding). Saigon is a mad city, where the two-wheeled population almost equals the two-legged population and crossing the road is an extreme activity in itself. That elusive break in the traffic never comes, so you’ve just got to defy every instinct you have and let that bus honk and swerve around you. Or wait until a granny or mother-and-child crosses the road and shuffle along behind, not at all secure in the knowledge that no one would be callous enough to mow them down.

Obviously, a lot of the sightseeing to be had in Saigon relates to the war. The Reunification Palace is magnificently preserved in all its 70s glory, complete with official presidential gambling rooms, cinema and shooting gallery.

The War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the “American War Crimes Museum”) documents the impact of the war on the Vietnamese people, particularly those described at the time as the North Vietnamese. Unsurprisingly, the collection is not exactly shy in attributing blame to the USA and their southern “puppets”. It also includes an excellent exhibit on press photographers in the conflict. Reading the stories of these men, and a few women, while viewing their photos reminded us just how many iconic photos resulted from the war and what an important role they played  in communicating the horrors of that war to the people at home. It’s sad to think that nearly 40 years later, nothing like this sort of press freedom exists in Iraq, Afghanistan or any theatre where western forces find themselves.

We also spent an afternoon at the Cu Chi tunnels, where communist soldiers endured staggering subterranean hardships just 60 km from Saigon. Now, the site is managed by the military who let tourists experiment with firing automatic weapons. For a fee, of course. Yeah!

We combined our trip to Cu Chi with a stop at the Cao Dai Holy See. The Vietnamese seem to have an appetite for creating extremely ecumenical “fusion” religions with rather curious theology – although with over 2 million followers, they make Jedis look like rank amateurs. Actually, the temple was a mere sideshow to our tour guide “Slim Jim” Thong who was far more interested in showing off his extensive knowledge of Australian rhyming slang than telling us anything about the Cao Dai religion, which is a blend of Buddhism, Catholicism, ancestor worship, Confucianism and Taoism. Its three principal saints are Victor Hugo; Sun Yat-sen, a Chinese revolutionary; and Nguyen Binh Khiem, a Vietnamese poet. Other venerated historical figures include Joan of Arc, Thomas Jefferson,  Julius Caesar, Shakespeare and William Churchill. Unsurprisingly, all of this results in some fairly psychedelic architecture and colourful ritual.

After all this, we needed some touristic frivolity and heavily chlorinated fun. We stuck out like dog’s bollocks at the Dam Sen Water Park but mostly we were all too busy with the joys of the “Twister Space Bowl” to notice.

And of course, touristing needs fuel. We ate our way through numerous bakeries, had a fancy night with cocktails at the Rex Hotel and a French dinner which was really just Catie’s excuse to order a steak and sampled rice noodles in every which way, often baffling waitresses with our prolific ordering.

Phun times on Phu Quoc

On the meticulously-researched advice of Dodd, we all flew down to Phu Quoc island for a beach holiday. In short, it’s best noted that at this time of year Phu Quoc is probably better suited to a Meteorological Society convention for those interested in extreme monsoonal weather. But no matter – the fridge at the bar was well-stocked and staff were happy to keep a tab running for us (yikes). Flight delays resulted in Kieran and Jane having to make an “Amazing Race”-style bolt for their connections home and us witnessing some severe breaches of the Asian “save face” rule (read: homicidal dummy-spits) from Vietnamese passengers.

What’s going on, Mekong?

After the anonymity of Saigon, our egos needed some massaging and so we headed for the tiny towns of the Mekong Delta where tourists are still very much a novelty. Or, for one tiny boy, a Godzilla-style freakshow as he sighted a shaven-headed, bearded and sunglassed Linds and ran to take cover behind a gate.

Our return to bus travel was, if nothing else, an interesting experience. Bus stations are apparently not the place to get a bus in Vietnam; it’s far better to get a moto to the highway out of town and wave your arms at passing vehicles, applying the “abandon hope” strategy adopted in Malaysia.

Ben Tre: Where the bins are all shaped like penguins; couples canoodle by night around an artificial lake and the beginning, end and 2-hour lunch break of the working day are heralded by an air-raid siren. Run by those dirty (literally) trade unionists, guesthouse is a close contender for worst accommodation of the trip – cigarette butts clogging the bathroom drain, friendly roaches and no toilet seat.

Vinh Long: Marred by a head-cold, activity was charmingly limited to drinking coffees by the Mekong. And speculating about the proportion of hotel residents who were renting the rooms out by the hour, if you know what I mean…

Chau Doc:  Roll-call for the bus here included 2 puppies, a baby chicken and about 20 plastic garbage bags full of pig’s livers. Thankfully, they and all their water-logged defrosted glory were in the cargo hold. Ewwww.

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4 Responses to “”

  1. eternal Says:

    Hey Catie! This is Kelly from Two For One (www.twoforone.wordpress.com) and I came across your comment the other day, so decided to follow your and Linds’ travels. Really like your blog, well written and lots of info (can’t say much about ours). Happy travels and I’ll keep following you…

  2. Naomi Says:

    I watched a fascinating doco on SBS a while back that examined the history of war reporting. apparently the freedom the press had in vietnam taught governments that they have to restrict access if they want to control public opinion. was really interesting to hear about the lengths the US gov went to restrict access during the first gulf war and subsequent military skirmishes.

  3. anthony Says:

    The Reunification Palace is magnificently preserved in all its 70s glory, complete with official presidential gambling rooms, cinema and shooting gallery.

    My home just suddenly feels so inadequate.

  4. beyondbagot Says:

    Ah, but there’s no presidential sausage making facilities. You win. – CP

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