May 13, 2020
After almost 10 hours on a plane, we landed in the most populous city in Vietnam called Ho Chi Minh City. Although Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) has been the official name of the city since 1976, the old name "Saigon" is still used by many Vietnamese. After getting off the plane, we cross the border without any problems and find our luggage quickly. While still on the plane, Slawek suggests that we take a taxi to the city together. He decides to take a taxi outside the airport, which seems cheaper. Traffic in Saigon is indescribable: from thousands of people on little motorcycles to cars and bikes. Each honks to warn others of their presence. It looks as if there are no traffic rules. However, the traffic is smooth, without collisions and shouting.
The taxi leaves us on Pham Ngu Lao, a street famous for its hotels and hostels for backpackers. Slawek is staying in the taxi cab and continues his way to a hotel, where he has a reservation already made. Before saying goodbye, he invites us for an evening of partying with his friends.
With several addresses in our hands, we are looking for accommodation. With over 30°C (86°F) heat and heavy backpacks, it shouldn't be pleasant, but being in a place like this, we don't feel any discomfort. A hotel employee named An, who speaks very good English, starts talking to us. He shows us the room. It has air conditioning, a refrigerator, two large beds, a TV. The price is reasonable, so we reserve two nights. After checking in, we take a quick shower and go to explore the city of Saigon. It's only 11 o’clock in the morning. Before leaving the hotel, we talk to An again. He gives us many valuable hints, and even gives us his cellphone number, in case we need anything. He also teaches us about the tradition of bargaining. This makes us realize that we could have easily bargained a few bucks on the room. A good lesson for next time.
We wander around the city, watching and absorbing a new world, the world that we did not know before. Every so often someone asks if we need transport, food, drink, souvenirs, or marijuana 😉 Everything takes place in a pleasant atmosphere and without any nuisance. Even though we read some negative opinions about the local people, this hasn't been our experience! They are very nice and friendly. Just stop and look at them, and they send a smile in return.
After a few hours of wandering around HCMC, we go back to our room. For the past two days, we slept only a few hours, so we decided to take a rest, falling asleep for several hours. We wake up before 10 pm. Surprisingly, the sound of the traffic outside is as if there still was a day. We have no choice but to go out, this time to see Saigon by night. We walk the streets, which are full of bars, restaurants, and tourists. Noise and crowds of drunken tourists are not what we are looking for in our journey. Let's go a little further. It’s time for something we have waited for a long time. We are in a very small restaurant. A large number of local clientele means that the food is good and cheap. We were right. We order the famous Pho soup, which the Vietnamese eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We also get a plate with warm bamboo shoots, lemons, chili, and fresh herbs. The combination of flavors makes our senses go crazy ... it is beautiful. The first day we consider to be very successful. We went to bed around 2:00 in the morning, to regenerate our strength for the next, hopefully also a good day...
Last night was very short. We slept only four hours, probably due to the change in the time zone, and a large dose of new experiences. After waking up at 7:00 with a slight headache, we take a bus in front of the hotel and go to the port on the Saigon River. Today we go see the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the city.
We take a boat to reach the attraction. A river trip itself provides a variety of new experiences. After leaving the city borders, the river is getting very wide, and the edge is covered with incredibly lush and green vegetation. From time to time we pass the local people, absorbed in their duties, but this does not prevent them from sending greetings in our direction.
After about two hours, we reach the destination: the Cu Chi Tunnels, a historic site of the Vietnam War. The original length of the tunnels used to be over 200 km (124 miles), but today only 120 km (75 miles) remains. They were built by the Vietcong. There were hospitals, kitchens, bedrooms, conference rooms, and arsenals. Scenes from movies about the Vietnam War come to mind – you cannot help it. Additional sensations are provided by sounds of machine guns from the nearby shooting range. Besides the tunnels, visitors also have a chance to see the ways the Vietnamese fought against American troops. Very interesting were traps, directed at enemy troops, and especially pits dug in the ground, with sharp-pointed bamboo sticks on the bottom.
A bus takes us back to the city. We get off near the War Remnants Museum, dedicated to the Vietnam War. On the outside you can watch the "souvenirs" left behind by the U.S. military, such as tanks, planes, and helicopters. Inside the museum, the whole history of the war is presented mostly via pictures. It is a very interesting history lesson, which shows the cruelty which the human race is capable of. It is a pity that such events do not teach us anything...
On the way back from the museum, we bought tickets for a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show in The Golden Dragon Water Puppetry Theatre. As our camera batteries died, and the performance was to begin in a half-hour, we decided to quickly go back to the hotel to get new ones. We decided to try the tuk-tuk. Tuk-tuk is a kind of taxi, the rickshaw-looking, with a seat for the front passenger. A ride in a tuk-tuk in traffic such as it is in Saigon - is one of the obligatory attractions. Rumors reached us to watch out for hustlers who take advantage of tourists. And here's one of the ways. We do not have to look long for our "taxi", because they stand on every corner. We ask “how much”. He says 50,000 dongs for two people. The ride itself is very interesting and exciting, sometimes to a point of a heart attack 😉 Once we arrive, our dear driver pulls a piece of paper with the price of 250,000 dongs, and this is how much he demands for the ride! We realize it's a scam. After exchanging a few arguments, the price gets down to 57,000. Ideally, in this kind of situation, do not enter into such a conversation, just pay what you agreed, and leave. And better yet, just before the ride, write the agreed on a price on a sheet of paper in front of the driver.
After replacing the batteries, we go to the theatre, walking the crowded streets of Saigon. After reading many good reviews about this performance, we could not wait. Hall was filled to the brim, and the stage was covered with a curtain. After switching off the lights - beautiful scenery and musicians in traditional costumes appeared. The stage was filled with water, on the surface of which the puppets played out the scenes. Wonderful music reverberates around. Although we do not understand what is being sung and what exactly the show is about - it makes a big impression on us.
We check out from the hotel before noon, leaving our luggage at the reception. Today we say goodbye to Saigon. Three days is definitely not enough to enjoy this city, but it’s time to move on. We bought an open ticket to travel to the next town on the route Saigon-Dalat-Nha Trang-Hoi An-Hue. All buses are with seats that are also suitable and comfortable for sleeping, all for only 30 bucks! We could purchase a ticket to Hanoi, but we want to visit another two places before Hanoi, where these buses do not stop.
The departure time from Saigon to Dalat is at 11 pm, so we have the whole day ahead of us. We walk the city in search of a camera card, enjoying our last moments in Saigon. We visit the Presidential Palace and the Pagoda - Buddhist temple. Traffic on the streets is so dense, it's hard to cross the street! We come to the conclusion that there must be millions of those motorcycles/scooters, literally!
After a day of wandering the city, we go to pick up the luggage. Because we bought the bus tickets at our hotel, the owner decides to give us a lift to the train station. It has got even more interesting: we are taking the motorcycles/scooters 🙂 It is a wonderful surprise - the farewell of Saigon. The impressions were amazing - we could see how it feels from the road. The heavy backpacks on our backs add to the thrill!
We wait for an hour for the bus. Free wi-fi is available at the station, so time passes by quickly. After getting on the bus, we sit down comfortably in our seats and say “Goodbye Saigon”.
“The gladdest moment in human life, methinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton