We used our time wisely on the bus and watched another couple episodes of Star Wars. Oh how happy my heart was to finally arrive in Vietnam. I have wanted to come here for years and years and if it hadn't been for bad weather, we would have come for our honeymoon.
They don't standardize the taxi meter rates in Vietnam, so if you have a taxi driver offer up the meter, don't be too quick to accept. We fell for this tactic as soon as we got dropped off at the bus station and after many arguments with thai taxi drivers, begging them to use the meter, we were quick to accept this option in Vietnam when it was presented to us. However, his meter was rigged so it charged us twice as fast and we heavily overpaid. Tip: Look up where you are staying in town in advance, and agree on a set rate before you agree to a ride. As dramatic as this realization was, in hindsight it turns out that twice the rate is stil quite cheap...haha.
Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh city, also known as Saigon. (It was changed from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh after the Vietnam war in honour of the famous revolutionary leader.) We stayed at a lovely guesthouse called Giang Son 3, located in the heart of district 1, on the backpacker street. This area can get pretty chaotic but our home was on a side street, so we were able to avoid the noise and chaos of our fellow travellers. The staff was very helpful and they served a delicious breakfast every morning, included in the cost of the room. Definitely one of the nicest rooms yet and we paid $30 bucks a night. A little more than we usually like to spend but there were not a lot of cheap options when we were searching.
We were pretty tired from sitting on the bus all day so we grabbed some quick McDonald's to satisfy our hunger. It was delicious, as always, and it was the nice reminder of home we were itching for.
Day 80- Saigon is a walking city and it was great to have some freedom back, to go where we wanted, when we wanted. We set out to see some of the sites and explore our new city. We walked in every direction and our first stop was the opera house. We bought tickets for the performance, scheduled the next night.
Next we went to Pho 24, which is one of Vietnams best Pho restaurants and it is also a franchise so it is possible that you may see this restarant in other places around the world, not to mention all over town. It felt like the Canadian version of Tim Hortons but instead of serving delicious coffee (I don't care what anyone says, I LOVE Tim Hortons coffee) they serve pho. The name has 24 in it because they use 24 ingredients in their pho recipe. For those of you who know me from home... I love Vietnamese food! For my first Pho experience... it was delicious and it only cost $2.50!!!
After our tummys were full, we went to a Starbucks so I could buy a mug from Vietnam to add to my collection at home. We had a lot of research to do for Vietnam and Australia so we sat down with a chai latte in hand and researched away. It was another great reminder of home once again.
We had a lot more to do than we realized and we stayed there for the next 3-4 hours. After we had a good plan in place we headed for dinner. I read about our dinner spot on a blog and it said "if you're looking to try some street food, this is the place to go". The restaurant is called Nha Hang Ngon. We were confused when we walked up to the place because it seemed more like a fancy restaurant than a street food eatery. Once we sat down, we realized that the restaurant area was completely surrounded by individual booths that worked on orders brought to them from the waiters. Such a cool idea and place. I couldn't wait to order pork vermicelli with spring rolls and let me tell you...it was A M A Z I N G!! Meghan and Kassie ...oh boy has this changed the viet game! By far the best food we've eaten so far this trip.
Here are some of the many cooking stations that surrounded the restaurant.
After dinner we went to yet another night market. Although Mike does not agree, I can't get enough of them. I could walk around these markets for days and I don't think I'd get sick of the constant howls and whistles that are thrown our way, in hopes that we are their next lucky customer. Luckily, Mike holds me back from buying any "dust collectors", as my mother would call them.
I did however convince Mike to let me buy some Vietnamese coffee for my sister and brother in law. As I was taking a photo of the coffee table, the little girl working the booth flashed me the biggest smile!
While walking home from the night market, a group of college students greeted us and asked us to sit down. It wasn't clear what their intentions were until they told us that they would like to practice their english. Mike and I both sat down with different groups and we discussed different topics such as; the Vietnam war, their homes in the countryside, what they study in school and what Calgary is like. I showed them pictures of the rocky mountains and they were very curious to learn about our bears. After speaking with them for some time, I learned that they went to that place everynight of the week, after school and work, in hopes of grabbing foreigners attention to practice their english. It was really interesting how tirelessly they worked to improve their english, increasing their chances at a better career. The kids in Vietnam see how lucky they are to have an opportunity like an education so they don't take it for granted. If that means they need to spend every night trying to improve their english, they will do it.
We sat on our street and enjoyed the madness with some Saigon beers in hand and the voices of hundreds of travellers all around us.
Day 81- After we enjoyed some fresh Vietnamese coffee, we set out for a day of sight seeing. First we went to the day market inside their famous clock tower. One realization we had is that one thing that never seems to change from country to country is the product sold at the markets. We have yet to see any differences between the products in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and now Vietnam. Perhaps this is the source of Mike's indifference to them... but what does he know, its market time!
Next, we headed to the Notre Dame church. The inside of the church was decorated beautifully with unique stain glass windows.
This one below is particularly interesting as it depicts what can only be an angel slaying a demon in the form of a dragon. I have seen many churches but never anything quite like this;
It was time for more pho. We read about another spot that made a top 5 list for pho in Saigon. They make pho with more of a northern Vietnamese influence and use fewer ingredients than the typical southern pho. The restaurant is called Pho Thin Ha Noi and we paid $3.00 each.
Pho crying out loud it was gooooooood! Maybe even better than the last one?
Even though it is rainy season in southern Vietnam, we had experienced very little rain. That is, until we got caught in an extreme downpour. But pour us couldn't be kept down with our new rain gear purchased for $0.50.
After lunch we went to the War Remnants Museum. This was another harsh realization for myself when learning of the tragic and gruesome events that occured during the Vietnam war. Side note: the Vietnamese call it the American war. I could only bring myself to take one photo at the museum. It was difficult to learn of the terrible things our neighbours did to the innocent people of Vietnam.
"I learned that the Vietnam war occured because the USA felt as though Vietnam was moving towards communism. During this time in history there was friction, on the global stage, between communism and democracy. The United States feared Vietnam's adoption of communism, would prompt others in the world to follow suit, making them natural allies of China and Russia. On the heals of the Cold war, the USA felt this was an unacceptable risk and began backing a small democratic movement in the south. Meanwhile Russia and China supplied the 80% of society that supported Ho Chi Minh and his "Communist party" in the north. The more I learned the more I realized that the Vietnamese were merely collateral damage in a much larger global political war. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Vietnamese revolution, was a nationalist first and foremost. He looked to offer more freedoms to his people who, for hundreds of years, had been a highly oppressed colony of China, France and Japan respectivly. Ho Chi Minh was viewed by the USA as a fanatical communist, when in fact he was a nationalist in every way. It just so happened that he felt communism would be the best political system for his newly sovereign country. This is a very reasonable conclusion when considering the fact that there was already very little social hierarchy in the region, do to the years of colonialization and oppression. The sole goal of Ho Chi Minh was to build an independent country, NOT to spread communist ideals around the world."
As you can see I was exposed to a bunch of information and Mike was kind enough to add the above few sentences. He took a particular interest in this piece of recent history. I will not add to his info but there are some very interesting documentaries on YouTube that are worth watching as well as googling "Agent Orange" will show you just how bad things got during the Vietnam war. I wish we had more time to spend at the museum but a previous engagement had us running for the exit door.
We had a show to catch so we ran home for a quick shower before heading to the Opera.
It was fun to dress up a little and wear makeup for a change.
The performance was fantastic. The production told the story of the Vietnamese culture from past to modern day society. Bamboo was used as the only prop to create traditional boats, huts and to represent objects in other forms. The use of the bamboo was artistic and creative, the acrobatics were captivating, the music, harmonious and the story was inspiring. Very well produced show and very much worth the $30 each.
Turns out we were right by that amazing street food restaurant from the night before and we were starving, so we went back for another delicious meal!
We ended the night off at a little cafe right off the backpackers street and enjoyed some delicious iced Vietnamese coffees. It wasn't until 3 in the morning that we realized how much caffeine we must have ingested!
Day 82- We caught a bus near our guesthouse and headed to the Cu Chi tunnels. It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the tunnels and the busses will always stop at a factory along the way to get commission for bringing tourists there. The Cu Chi tunnels were built and used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnamese war. The tunnels maze through 240 km of earth, acting as an underground army base.
The tunnels were not only used by the Vietnamese army but also by villages living above the tunnels. When they were under attack, the villagers would take their entire families and move underground until the fighting ceased.
Above ground, many traps were set by the Vietnamese to ward off American Soldiers. As the Vietnamese had very little fire power and explosives available to them, they were creative in their tactics and built some pretty effective traps to catch American troops.
Visitors are given the opportunity to shoot military weapons (this is the real money maker for the tour) but Mike and I have spent plently of time at or local shooting range in Calgary and didn't feel the need to shoot any guns.
Our guide told us that if we wanted to see bats, spiders, centipedes and snakes, we were welcome to crawl through the tunnels from one side to the other. We all laughed, until the first boy went in the tunnel and came out a man. The stories were true and we all quickly lost our nerve. Two other guys in our group who were in the American military couldn't wait to go in and roll in the dirt. Most of the other guys all chickened out. Some of them even got as far as getting in the hole but panicked when they saw the closed quarters and bats inside. Mike was gutsy enough to give it a go and he went the whole way. For those who are wondering, yes those are bats and there were spiders and centipedes (the big red ones), no snakes though. The guide also joked that is was important not to take a wrong turn because someone could easily get lost in there and end up in Saigon. Then again, we thought he was joking about the bats and bugs too... Mike and the other courageous souls said "it was like a maze down there and it would be easy to get lost if we hadn't been told which way to go".
Off he goes.... bye bye Mike.
I went in for a photo but didn't crawl through. It wouldn't have been a healthy choice for the sake of my nightmares.
On our way home we witness typical Vietnamese rush hour.
For dinner we went to a "street vendor" for the BEST Vietnamese sandwiches ever. Although the food carts sit indoors, it is just a shelter for the meals on wheels. You always know it is a safe choice when the lineup is out the door. We politely stood in what we thought was the start of a line until a local told us "you won't get anywhere standing here, you need to get in there". So we made moves and ordered the sandwiches traditional style.
Fresh baguettes baking in the oven, ready to order. The influence from France is very apparent everywhere in Saigon. The buildings, food and even lauguage are very present in the Vietnamese culture.
We learnt that meat is not refrigerated in Vietnam so it is very important to find a busy street food vendor or restaurant to make sure the ingredients are fresh. Below you can see our sandwiches being made. Each meat you see there was added to our sandwich... most of them look unrecognizable. It was a mystery meat sandwich.