31.01.2013 - 03.02.2013 29 °C
Fearing another long and bumpy sleeper train journey we decided to fly the very cheap and very unreliable Jetstar from Da Nang down to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now called. We left Hoi An with very heavy hearts as we had such a lovely week there but with such a huge area to cover and our visa end date fast approaching we had to push on. After a few delays we landed in Saigon at 2am and promptly headed straight to our hotel to sleep ready to explore the city the next day!
Saigon is a classically beautiful but modern city with lovely wide tree lined avenues and old french style buildings. Everything about it is pure elegance from the architecture to the friendly people - we were also very priviledged enough to be there in the build up to Tet (the lunar new year which for most vietnamese is the only week off they get) so the city was really looking its best with lights in every tree and shop windows all painted with blossom trees and well wishes for the year of the serpent!
The heat and humidity had really dialed up a notch and after one morning in the Ben Thanh Market we realised the cyclo drivers were going to became a very necessary means of transport in the heat of the day.
Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum - a photographic display of the war with a very obvious anti American slant. We wondered around the exhibitions of pictures taken by various journalists (many of whom were killed while on assignment). They were extremely disturbing but at the same time important to see. We left the museum with very conflicting feelings as it is very obviously a one sided anti American exhibition however you can't deny the devastating effect the war and in particular Chemical warfare (Agent Orange) had on the rural Vietnamese people. If anything it left us with a lot more questions to research about how things got so badly out of control.
After such a heavy afternoon we decided to round things off with a drink in the Bitexo financial tower sky deck. A bar with stunning panaramic views over the city - we timed it perfectly as the sun was setting over the skyline as we cracked open our first tiger beer.
The next day we took a cab to the An Dong market market in China Town. This is the market where all the local traders come to buy their goods wholesale so its a lot less touristy and you don't get hassled at all - its pretty clear that the tradesmen have bigger fish to fry then flogging one off items to tourist. This can be seen by the constant fierce tapping of calculators and wrapping of boxes. We passed a jam packed internet cafe with people sitting on crates at every computer glued to the screens and chickens scratching around at their feet - we wondered to ourselves how many online deals were being made in that shop and who were they selling to? It wouldn't surprise us all if this is the other side of Alibaba that we don't see.
After a few hours wondering around the market taking in the excitement of all the trades we decided that a cyclo drive was in order so we hailed down to guys who after a tough negotiation agreed to take us to see some temples. Each had its own USP - the one with the wood carving, the one with the incense, the one with the jade figurines etc etc interesting to see nonetheless! The drive through China Town was a great way to see the area as its not confined like other China Towns so walking it could have taken ages.
On our last day we had booked a flight out to Bangkok late in the evening so we had the whole day to explore. We started off by walking to the Emperor Jade Pagoda which is Saigon's oldest pagoda built by the Chinese community over 200 years ago. As you walk in you are hit with the strong smell of insence and in every corner there are people practising some kind of Taosist ritual - baby terrapins, fish and birds can be bought to add (with a wish or a prayer) to the ever growing stocks in the pagoda ponds and cages. The terrapin pond was particularly disturbing as it was completely over crowded with terrapins grasping to get out some with parayers written in white tipex on their backs.
Inside the temple there were loads of different deities being prayed to an people could buy oil to pour over an oil lamp, have their prayers writen in Chinese or burn insense at the many alters. The temple itself was very interesting to wonder around but when we walked out part of us wanted to buy up all the baby animals and set them free!
We then decided to hit the shops for some lighthearted retail therapy and spent an hour in Saigon square where you can get a huge variety of knockoffs straight from the 'faketory'! we kitted ourselves out with a few high quality items and now we were ready for our epic journy to the beach!