Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Going, going, Saigon.

Ho Chi Mincing. 
The afternoon bus from Mui Ne arrived in Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City) as evening fell over Vietnam's biggest city. Saigon felt busier and more vibrant than the capital Hanoi, hotel touts swarmed as we departed the bus, and we followed one down a side street in the backpacker district to take a room for $6 each a night. That evening Alex and I had a wander of the main streets around us, which were filled with bars bursting with tourists, and restaurants beckoning us in to look at the menu. After dinner we picked a spot on the pavement for a few beers and to watch the nightlife race by. The city felt a buzzing live wire of neon and consumption, it felt young and pulsating with life, and more progressive than Hanoi.

Saigon streets.

Child street vendor up way past her bedtime.
The following day Alex and I had a small explore of the city, and I bought two t shirts from the market to replace my tatty and holed garments. When we walked in the covered market we were pounced on by market traders, who struck vice like grips on my arm until I finished my bartering or I managed to break loose to be attacked by another one. It could almost be a bit overwhelming but with the right attitude it's actually quite entertaining. We spent a few hours exploring the stalls and commercial streets of Saigon, before I retired to the room for a snooze in the mid afternoon heat.

Saigon shops.
Saigon to the market.
City motorbike traffic.

An interchange.

Bicycle rickshaw.
For our second and final full day in Saigon, Alex and I booked onto a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels an hour or so outside of the city. The tunnels were used by the Vietcong during the war, and some people spent years underground hiding from American attacks and launching attacks of their own to drive the foreign powers from Vietnam for a Communist victory. Our guide for the day was excellent at his job, he had worked for the Americans as a translator during the war and span a great yarn, which made the experience much more eye opening and enjoyable than a typical tour.

We had to squeeze down into the first tunnel, this was no place for a claustrophobe, and I wriggled my way along a pitch black tunnel filled with bugs and bats, with nothing more than a phone screen for illumination. A few times I stopped to cast my phone light in the crevice a few inches above my head, to see the eyes of a small bat shining back. We visited another tunnel which was still tight but had a little more headroom, and this one was clean of bats and creepy crawlies and was lit up by the odd bulb. At the end of the tour was the firing range. We had heard the crack of gunfire as we walked through the woods learning about the war from the different exhibits, including the various spike death traps made by the Vietcong, and the sound of rifles only made the experience a little more eerie. I opted to fire an AK-47, and the rounds were £1 each, so I limited myself to 10. The target was about 100 metres away and difficult to know if I had hit it. After each round recoiled into my shoulder and a thunderous crack erupted from the chamber, a cloud of red dust floated up from the baked earth behind the target and the empty cartridge spun to my right and hit the concrete floor with a ping. It was a good experience, the boy soldier in me has always wanted to fire a machine gun and I would've paid for a whole magazine could I have afforded it.

Disappearing down the tunnel.
Alex in the larger, swept out, tunnel.
No pictures of me playing Rambo, but I kept a cartridge as a souvenir.
That final evening Alex and I went out for a beer with a Scottish lad, Brian, who we had met on the tunnel tour. We went to a bar on a terrace high up over the city, I forget which floor it was on, only half as high as my similar experience in Shanghai, but visibility was better and Saigon looked great from a few hundred feet up. We towered above the chaos, noise and hassle of the streets, and felt rather elite for a few minutes, though we paid for the privilege with the price of the beers. Our bubble was soon burst once we returned to street level for a few more beers with a mixed crowd of nationalities, and we had a drunken early morning lunch on the way home, before resting up to take the bus to Cambodia the following day.

Looking down on Saigon.
Saigon nights.


  1. Your photos are really really beautiful! Its seem to me that you're traveling all over asia and finishing vietnam ! Which is amazing :D I'm planing on it and maybe I would get I got here while finding some resources about my project of tourism at school, reading your thoughts and photos are really helpful! Thank you hihi

  2. Your photos are truly stunning. I'd like to use 1 picture as background for a website i'm working on.... Please email me on terms and conditions....

    Jeroen (