We had decided to take the bus to Saigon - the alternative was a six hour trip down the mountain and then a day's train journey versus a 7 hour bus ride. The ride was OK - down through the mountains past front gardens, most of them full of coffee drying in the sun, then onto the plain where we struggled to get through the urban sprawl of Saigon.We had a pleasant surprise when we arrived - the hotel was a block away so we walked to it without the normal hassle. We settled in and braved it out into the Saigon traffic. We have seen lots of chaos in the cities we have been in but Saigon seems the worse - there are motor bikes everywhere and junctions just seem to flow -no real rules. Fran is getting better at crossing the road - she grabs my arm and doesn't look as we let the motorbikes flow round us. Although there are plenty of zebra crossings, the traffic does not stop for you.
Next day, we set off on a walking tour of the city. We went past the main market - managed to avoid getting too far in - seemed like everything we had seen before in different places in Vietnam was there. The next stop was down the antique shop street - full of statues of elephants and rice baskets and other things Fran couldn't carry. We then moved on to the city museum - a grand French colonial building with lots about Saigon's part in the 'liberation struggle'. It seemed a little incongruous as they were putting up some very tacky Christmas decorations - revolving Father Christmases.The next stop was the Reunification Palace - which was the old Presidential palace. We were expecting a grand old French building - it turned out this was destroyed in a 1960's coup - bombed by the South Vietnamese air force. The 60s building was another throwback as very little had been changed since it was occupied by the Viet Cong in 1975. It contained lots of military memorabilia but it looked like a rather ageing hotel. After that it was on to the war remnants museum - really a display about the atrocities of the Vietnam war as told by the North. It pulled no punches with the photographs and exhibits - pretty horrific. Last stop was the Cathedral - 19th century but sitting in an area full of French colonial buildings. After the walk, the city itself had become far more appealing - even the traffic didn't seem as bad although the government certainly didn't miss an opportunity to remind you of the war - even though over 80% of the current population weren't born when it ended.
We decided to take in a few pagodas the following day. This was after we had a little beautification - haircut for me and manicure for Fran. The pagoda/temple (famous for it's turtles) was a walk to the other side of town which took about an hour in the heat and humidity. The walk definitely wasn't worth it - temple was ordinary and turtles (tortoises) were not too well kept. We decided to hop a taxi to the old Chinese quarter. Here it was wall to wall markets (originally the Chinese had dominated the trade) although most of it was wholesale - we didn't want to buy packs of 20 flip-flops. The medicine area had been overtaken by Christmas decorations. We took in a couple of Pagodas which were OK - Fran by this time has developed an allergy to incense - I think she is just 'templed out'. We found a place to cool down with a iced drink before hopping the bus back to our hotel.