Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Saigon Stories: Part Two

Continuing on from the last (rather rushed) blog, the next morning we went for brunch at a local bakery which is a treat in Asia as these are scarcely seen. Picking up a croque Monsieur and a sausage and cheese bap, we headed out for the day to see the remaining sights of HCMC. Our aim was to head towards the Reunification Palace, the Central Post Office, the Opera House and the various districts surrounding these points of interest. As per usual, after about an hour of walking around, we thought we'd stop for a drink to quench our thirst in the heat. We walked into the first place we found planning on enjoying a swift soft drink and making our way onwards. Upon entering it materialised that that bar was enjoying it's 'grand opening' and were dishing out free jugs of all draft lagers! I stupidly had ordered a diet coke before realising this, but not to look a gift horse in the mouth, also managed a beer or two and we can't complain as the entire bill came to £1.00. 

Being fully refreshed, we headed back in the direction of the opera house and stopped for a few photos...

Nearby, there was another market which we quickly popped into and then started to walk towards Reunification Palace. On the way, the heavens opened, and this gave us the opportunity to stop for lunch (a lot of eating and drinking this day). Only wanting something small to soak up the beer, we headed for some Vietnamese fast food. I went for some fresh spring rolls which were delicious but Rob ended up with some indescribable mush with bits of pork in it, served on leaf. Not great. 

We finally made it to Reunification Palace, and headed inside. Basically, to give you a bit of history, this palace played a significant role in the reunification of North and South Vietnam and the Independence of the country following the war. Today, it has been kept exactly how it was in the mid-60's as a monument to this. Outside, the palace was very grand with a lovely front garden and fountain.

Walking about inside, it was a bit less of a spectacle although certain parts were cool including the basement where you got to walk around radio control rooms actually used during the war. Also, in this area was a room screening a documentary film on the war which gave a really indepth look at the situation of the time. Apart from this, there wasn't a huge amount of interest. 

We walked back to the hotel and got ready to head out for the evening. First stop was more food and Rob was much more satisfied with his choice of tandoori chicken. We went to a restaurant with seats outside on the main street and spent a good hour people watching- you can never get bored in Vietnam. After this we went to a local hotel with a rooftop bar with great views over HCMC and enjoyed a couple of cocktails. This remained a couple as we had an early start the next morning, for a very exciting final day in HCMC.  

The next day, we went on an organised tour outside of central HCMC to a Cao Dai temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels. First stop was the temple. Before coming to South Vietnam, we had never heard of Cao DAI, but it is a major religion in this region. It is essentially a blend of Catholicism, Buddhism and Taoism which was founded in the 1920s. The temple was very elaborate and colourful with numerous statues, murals and other objects showing the blend. 

We also got to see the ceremony which takes place at noon every day and it was definitely a sight as all the followers wear the same robes (white, blue or yellow) and flood the temple to worship. 

The area around the temple is also very interesting as it used to be a town but is now abandoned as the citizens were all moved out pre-war. The buildings and courtyards still stand and visitors can wander freely around the deserted neighbourhood.

After stopping for a pretty atrocious lunch which consisted of beef in water, oily spring rolls and chicken in gloop, we moved on to the Cu Chi Tunnels. About an hour and a half from HCMC they were used by guerrilla soldiers during the war to hide, live and fight in. The stretch hundreds of kilometres and are very clever in the way they work. Here are some of the things we saw-

1) The first entrance which was absolutely tiny but Rob managed to squish in. It showed how the soldiers entered the tunnels each time.

2) The way the tunnels were also used as traps to trick opponents. They were very well designed and could kill or maim an unwanted intruder

3) A destroyed American tank from the war which you could climb on

4) Bomb craters which showed where parts of the tunnels had been destroyed

5) We were able to go through the tunnels learning quite how claustrophobic they were, to the point where I actually had to turn back because I thought I'd get stuck in the dark and creepy tunnel

6) Various bunkers which housed essentials such as a medical space and living quarters

7) We got to try the food the soldiers survived on, tapioca root and tea. We weren't impressed.

Following a long and bumpy journey back to HCMC, we felt we'd earnt a substantial dinner, and ordered enchiladas and beers, having eaten too much Vietnamese food in recent weeks. To cap off a fun-filled day, more importantly for Rob, we then went to a local sports bar and watched a whole Man U match. Needless to say this was a highlight for Rob and a low point for me.

We were leaving HCMC early again the next day, so after this we went to bed ready for our epic journey up the Mekong Delta towards Cambodia....

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