Ho Chi Minh was the last stop on our whirlwind north to south adventure with Mum and Dad. Ho Chi Minh felt like a sprawling jungle of a place compared to the other stops on our trip and we were all a bit unsure of where to start when we arrived. Thankfully, our hotel had a beautiful rooftop deck with a pool and a bar where we could spend a bit of time (aka the best part of the afternoon and evening) while we came up with a plan of attack. In the end, our first night was very low key. I found us a good place for dinner on Tripadvisor, and then we ended up eating at the place next door to it – we’d had a few drinks by then and the signage was all a bit confusing, so we ended up walking into the wrong restaurant. It was a bit of a fail, but meant we already had a restaurant lined up for dinner on our second night, so no harm done.
The highlight of this portion of the trip came on day 2 when we hit the water for a trip up the Saigon River to the Cu Chi Tunnels. It’d be fair to say that the Saigon River isn’t all that beautiful. Like a lot of the waterways we have seen in our Asian travels, pollution is a real issue and there is a huge amount of rubbish and debris bobbing along. Despite that, watching the barges go back and forth alongside traditional fishes boats, and seeing the small villages on the banks of the river was pretty interesting. It also beat a 2 hour bus ride to the Tunnels, which was the other option for getting there. Dad cringed as he listened to the boat motor skip and whine for the entire hour journey, but didn’t get very far with his offer to take over driving duties.
The Tunnels themselves are part of an incredible network of underground tunnels, bunkers and living areas used by the Viet Cong for protection and fighting during the war. You only get to see a small section of this during the visit, but it’s enough to give you the general impression. There are also replicas of the various traps created by the Viet Cong to capture and kill American soldiers. Certain aspects of the tunnels have been widened for western heavy weights, so that you can try your luck squeezing into a trapdoor hiding hole, or wandering along a section of the underground network. We all had a go in the underground tunnels, but it was way too claustrophobic and hot for my liking. I bailed out after about 20 metres. Campbell carried on for the longest and came back to the surface smiling more than he does when we do actual fun things. Go figure.
The lowlight of our day at the Tunnels would have to be this monstrosity of a photo. Our guide, Tan, suggested that we participate in a “naughty” photoshoot, and before we had time to protest or ask what he really meant, he decided we should do a staged photoshoot with a tank and Campbell pointing his big “gun” at me. As you can imagine, the parentals thought this would be hilarious, as did the other tourists in the vicinity, and there was no getting out of it. Role playing and voluntarily making a dick of myself top the list of my least favourite things, meaning this was the ultimate cringe moment. I shudder just looking at it now. Moving right along . . .
We carried on our education about the Vietnam War the following day at the War Remnants Museum. We’d been warned that the Museum displays were graphic and very much presented from a Vietnamese point of view. It’s true that there was a strong element of propaganda to some of the commentary (American soldiers are referred to as “US henchmen” throughout), but I personally don’t think this detracted too much from the underlying message of the exhibits. By far the most interesting section was the photographs taken by various international war correspondents and photographers during the conflict. The images were candid and the back story to each of them made them that much more real. A number of the photos came from the last roll of film from photographers who were shortly afterwards killed in the battle.
Mum and Dad left us on Sunday night, which was a real downer. We had really enjoyed having some company for a couple of weeks, and indulging in some lovely hotels, restaurants and activities. We spent the evening they left eating instant noodles and ice-cream from the tub in bed – how the mighty had fallen. The following day it was back on track and back to budget. We shifted from the centre of the city to an apartment on the outskirts to hunker down for a few days and sort out our plan for the next few weeks, get haircuts, see a doctor for some more vaccines (because nothing says ‘the holiday’s over’ like a cheeky bout of Japanese Encephalitis) and hit the shops to replace some very old and tatty clothes.
Campbell also spent yesterday afternoon catching up with his mate, Steve, who lives in Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately for Campbell, the heavens opened just as he was trying to get home. According to the news reports, 17 cms of rain fell over the course of a few hours in the afternoon and early evening. The whole city descended into chaos, and it ended up taking him an hour to get home, rather than the normal 15 minutes. There were flooded buildings, heaps of accidents, broken down cars and scooters all over the road (some of which got swept away with all of the water), and people were forced to abandon their vehicles and walk home instead. The same thing happened tonight, only this time we were both in our apartment, which promptly flooded. We thought we’d seen heavy rain in Hanoi and Nha Trang, but the rain over the past couple of days has been something also entirely!
In a day we say ‘goodbye’ to Ho Chi Minh and head north again for a few days in Sapa, where we will be trekking through the rice paddies and meeting some of the local hill tribes in homestay accommodation. Turns out the tour we’ve signed up for is less of a casual frolic in the countryside, and more hard slog than we might have imagined. We will be covering 40 km over 2.5 days. This is not a bad thing though – our 2 weeks of eating and boozing with Mum and Dad have left me looking and feeling a little like mini-Buddha.