Friday, March 20, 2009

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon

It was dark when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City; not surprising, considering it was 5.30 am!
I will refer to this city as Saigon. We discovered that most living in the city referred to it as Saigon, whilst those in the rest of Vietnam called it "Ho Chi Minh", after their great and revered leader. It was officially renamed in 1975, after Saigon fell to the North, and Vietnam became unified.
Anyway, the humidity of the city was almost unbearable. Fortunately we had a lovely air conditioned room at a hotel just 50 meters from the market.
After breakfast, the group went on a City Highlights Tour, seeing such buildings as The Opera House and Town Hall.
This Tour ended at The War Museum, which chronicled the Vietnam War. Graphic photographs and documents told us, room by room, of the horrors of The Vietnam War, and America's part in it. It was graphic and confronting; similar to The Holocaust Museums; an experience one has to have, so that history may not repeat itself.
The rest of the day was free, so after a rest, Claire and I set out to do some shopping. Ronnie wanted some DVDs, so we asked where to get some at reception. We were, of course, back in a busy city; Vietnam's biggest, so back to traffic even worse than Hanoi. Our quest involved crossing many roads, but by now we were seasoned tourists; we just sucked in our breath, and walked straight ahead. (no pausing!) As usual, the cars, bikes and motor bikes merged around us. We have concluded that crazy as the traffic seems, the Vietnamese are good drivers. And we never witnessed any road rage.
Finally we found our shop, which ended up being comparable to a large Dick Smith store. It was two floors of the latest electrical equipment, and was packed with Vietnamese perusing cameras, DVD player, telephones, etc. We wondered whatever happened to Capitalism, the official ruling party. Here, like everywhere in The World, people vie to own the latest in technology.
We stopped at a REAL coffee place, and had a pastry. Did you ever wonder why there are so many Vietnamese bakeries here? It's because The French occupied Vietnam between 1885 and 1946. Their presence is still evident by some architecture and bakeries!
The DVDs were found at the market, only 50 meters from our hotel, but we had to rest in our cool room and then go out again... the heat was oppressive.
Time was running out; we had to be dressed and be ready for our 'Farewell Dinner'; yes, this was to be our last night together.
We were taken to a lovely restaurant, where we had a private room, and the best meal of the trip. It was beautifully presented, tasty, and our vegetarian menu reflected the other meals, without seafood or meat; most other restaurants had just given us plates of veggies.
Catherine and Hilly surprised us by giving out awards.
Max and I shared a 'silver medal' for our persistence.
Whilst most of the group had the next day to rest and shop in Saigon, 5 of us were leaving in the morning for Cambodia, so my mind was racing. (as usual). So I planned the following morning as follows;
6.00 am rise and shine, shower and pack.
7.00 am breakfast at hotel restaurant.
7.45 am hit the market, shop for 45 minutes
8.30 am back to hotel, take bags downstairs
8.45 am say goodbye to everyone, and board the bus for the airport.

All went to plan, with a quick dash around the market to buy t-shirts, tablecloths and a few souvenirs.
I have bought very little here, and not used my credit card once.

So it was "bye" to the group; hopefully we will have a reunion soon, and off we went for more adventures; in neighboring Cambodia....

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