So having arrived and manged to find a place to stay and even seen a way through the traffic and got to the other side of the road it was time to actually do something. Time to consult the Lonely Planet, look at it's 'two days in Saigon' section and copy it to the letter.....unless it involves to much walking about in the hot sun of course.
In fact I can't say that we really did very much on our first day there except have something to eat and go to the market. The market (Ben Tahn) is great, you can buy whatever you like there and we ended up buying a few t-shorts and a right load of old tat which will hopefully make its way undamaged back to England in our rucksacks, but that's kind of the point of all of our shopping. We want someday for people to be at our house and ask where we got that and then say "well funny story actually" and you will be there for the next 15 minutes listening to a story you have little interest in. Be warned.
Anyway we managed to finish the day well by skipping straight to the end of the Lonely Planet's walking tour and having cocktails at the roof top bar of the Sheraton hotel which was pretty cool especially given the strength of the cocktails! It's amazing how peaceful the city looks from 17 floors up and you can't hear all the crap that goes on down there. It's probably how God feels no doubt as he looks down. Blasphemous? I don't think so.
Day two we had booked ourselves on a day tour to the Cu Chi tunnels and paid an extra $2 to go to a temple on the way which was a mutli-coloured monstrosity and probably not even worth the two dollars we paid. The tunnels though were very interesting. As you probably kn ow they are 250km of tunnels constructed by the Vietcong (VC) of North Vietnam who were waging a guerilla war against the nasty old Americans. The tunnel network was so secret and successful that supposedly the American built a base right above the one section of the tunnels and it took them two months to realise why their soldiers were being shot in their beds. Doh!
The tunnels were absolutely tiny so it's not suprising that the Americans didn't find them. The Cu Chi tunnels may have even been enlarged for the tourists but it didn't help. The first entrance we saw was a whole in the ground and we were invited to try and get in, a few did successfully although I (Stuart) had a go and much to the amusement of the watching crowd, especially Rhiannon, couldn't manage to squeeze my child bearing hips through the whole. The guides did offer to help push me down but having watched a middle aged Welshman earlier be pushed in and then need three people to pull him out, losing a lot of skin and pride in the process, I declined.
We were shown the traps the VC laid for the American soldiers which were pretty horrible and generally involved big spikes up places where you really don't want big spikes to be placed, you could begin to see how the Americans felt so frustrated in the war as they probably hardly ever saw the enemy. We were in fact with an American couple whose brother was in 'Nam and he must have felt a bit uncomfortable as the guides took pop after pop at the Americans for their unfair war.
Still the hilight was probably that we got to indulge our Rambo fantasies and fire an AK47 (live rounds). Just so you know, they were very loud with just one shot so God knows what a real firefight is like, also none of our whole group hit a target, but we sure scared the hell out of the dirt leading up to them!
On the next day we had a cultural one and hit the museums. The most powerful being the war museum which had galleries of photographs taken by western journalists of the war whilst they followed American units. Some of them were truly horrifying and made you wonder why the Americans were not brought up before the War Crimes Tribunal. I suppose being at war is a different worlkd that you had to understand, but there were photos and commentaries (from Westerners not locals) of them butchering women and children or posing around an alive VC member who was buried up to his neck in the ground. Worse even were the snaps showing the after effects of the poison gas attacks the Americans used on young children. Really quite upsetting.
That was mainly it really, we walked around in the searing heat and saw the palace, some temples and more shops and just tried to get a feel for the place. In the end I think we both liked Saigon although both of us felt that we wouldn't want to live there or probably even spend a week there. It is a 100mph place which is just exhausting to live in but was great to experience for a few days. It is a lot more fast paced than Hanoi which left us thinking that perhaps it was only the culture shock that made us be a bit negative about there.
That was the end of our Vietnam adventure. 23 days was all we had and despite suffering from the afore mentioned culture shock we really enjoyed it. Favourite places were probably Hoi An and Nha Trang as they were the most relaxed, but the cities were a great experience and the hill treking showed some great scenery so it's difficult to say. No time to think really as it's onto Cambodia!