Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City
– Going back to our political youth!
In 2004 I was invited to New Zealand to teach at their yearly Quilt Convention, that year in Auckland. The Convention took place just after New Year and of course high season and extremely expensive flight tickets. After having checked out prices with many different air companies I found that an Around the World ticket with British Airways was cheaper than an economy ticket to New Zealand in high season. SAS also have nice offers on Around the World tickets.
Then we had to start planning! We had 5 weeks available and 3 of them was to be spent in New Zealand, divided between the North and South Islands. We wanted one week before and one after at 2 different exotic destinations. Pretty quickly it was decided that we wanted to go to Vietnam, specifically to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon and to the Kingdom of Tonga in the Pacific as a grand final.
We both belong to the generation that grew up with the Vietnam War. Despite the fact that the country was almost on the other side of the world, it was part of our upbringing. We were bombarded with war news and later we also met many Vietnamese refugees. Specifically, the focus was put on the boat refugees that were rescued by Norwegian ships. Most of these refugees came later to Norway. Their hearth breaking stories made a big impression. So we had this country so far away and that we knew so much about, but still did not knew anything about. Vietnam also has a history marked by French influence and Ho Chi Minh City is characterized by this in its architecture. We have always loved Vietnamese food so it was with tingling anticipation we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City via London and Bangkok late in the evening on December 21, 2004. The journey took a total of 22 hours!
We arrived to a temperature of 25 degrees C and a traffic culture in the city center that was very special. Thousands upon thousands of mopeds with at least 2-3 persons on each filled the streets. The most I saw on one moped was a family of 5.
We stayed at Hotel Palace in the middle of the town`s main street. It is an older hotel from the French era. This is a government owned and operated hotel with OK standard and a very nice breakfast, actually just excellent!
The first night we went out into the crowded streets filled with mopeds and people and festivity. We were looking for food and here it is possible to get food everywhere. Any pavement has its little kitchen and you can sit down on small, colorful, plastic chairs and enjoy homemade food straight from the wok. The food was great! We were served fantastic spring roles and skewers with tenderloin, beef, shrimps, squid and meatballs.
Per started the next day already at 5.30 in the morning with a walk around the block were we stayed. Its always someone wanting to offer you something that early, like marihuana or ladies, but Per only settled for a cup of coffee at the nearest corner. Later we walked the streets together and enjoyed the exotic street life. We had lunch in the market and had to agree that if we survived this, we would survive anything!
Then we each got a rickshaw cycle and went off to China Town, Cholon. The deal was 5000 Dong, approx. 3 – 4 Dollar, for each rickshaw each way, 200.000 Dong in total. Finally arrived they would not accept payment, but insisted on waiting for us. So they waited and took us back through an agreed detour for the same payment as we agreed on earlier. We stopped and had some food at a place on the street that both our rickshaw drivers recommended. And in the end the price was increased to 300.000 Dong. Per felt stupid and naïve, astonished and angry, but he did not get into an argument. It was after all no more than 20 Dollar on each of us. But it was annoying to be ripped off!
The place we ate was OK and exotic. Per ate something looking like worms and they dug them out from a wooden trunk. Per claimed that it tasted like chicken. I myself are more careful and did not taste the worms!
You can not travel to Vietnam without experiencing the fantastic Mekong Delta. The river Mekong is one of the largest rivers in the world. It starts right up in Tibet and runs through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia before it ends in Vietnam and flows into the South China Sea. Through the Tourist Office just near the hotel we arranged a trip with a wooden canoe on the Mekong River and also visits to nearby villages in the Mekong Delta. It cost around 100 Dollar including transport with car for many hours and a nice lunch together with 2 guides and a driver. The first part of the trip took us to My Tho, a small town south east of Ho Chi Minh City. There we went into the canoe and mingled with ferries, fishing boats, barges, house boats and other canoes.
First stop was Turtle Island were we got to se local hand craft and hear local music. Then we went on to a honey farm in Ben Tre province were we saw the production of honey products like sweets and cakes. Then out on the river again and at a comfortable pace we enjoyed a myriad of small rivers and canals in the Mekong Delta.
Traces of war are not so visible in Ho Chi Minh City, but you do not have to travel far to get an insight into how the situation was during the Vietnam War. To the north of the city is the underground city of Cu Chi. Viet Cong dug out a whole system of underground tunnels, almost an entire underground city just near an American military base. The area was heavily bombed but they just dug their tunnels deeper. You can visit an information center at the spot with film from the war.
There are guided tours in this area with tunnels and literary crawling through some of the tunnels is part of the tour. You soon realize that that its no benefit to be fat or suffer from claustrophobia. Much of the area is to day planted with rubber trees.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon is Vietnam`s largest city with more than 5 million residents. Ho Chi Minh administrative area has more than 9 million residents. The city is located south in the country at Mekong`s estuary and was earlier the capitol of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1976.
Don’t miss Notre Dame the cities Catholic Church built in the period 1877 to 1883.
War Remnants Museum is centrally located and worth a visit.
China Town officially Cholon is like a big market area and here you can also visit pagodas.
Ben-Thanh market offers nearly everything. You get a great variety of Vietnamese food and the market is one of the city`s trademarks.
The colorful Jade Pagoda was built in 1909 by Chinese immigrants
The city`s Tourist Office can offer a variety of day trips to the surroundings.
The currency is Dong (VND) and 10000 Dong is approx. 0,7 Dollar.
Ho Chi Minh International Airport is located just north of the city and has some direct flight to Europe. Most common is to fly via Bangkok. Find cheap flights on Momondo!