Saigon is brighter than ever, and louder too!
On February 3rd, I arrived in Saigon via day bus from Da Lat City. The drive down from the mountains was scenic and grand as I descended to flat marshlands leading straight into the heart of the biggest city in Vietnam, formerly known as Saigon.
Over my short stay in Ho Chi Minh City I visited one of the city’s famous museums: The war remnants museum and the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels located a couple hours outside the city.
The War Remnants Museum – 40,000 VND/ticket ($2 USD)
Where to begin? This museum is a must see, the horrors and stories told within churned my stomach and ached my heart. I saw pictures of war crimes, agent orange victims and more than a little propaganda condemning the acts of the American Government and Solders in the war that raged for 8 years from 1968 to 1975.
Governing ideologies aside, this museum showcases the monstrous acts that occurred in war on each side: The terror, the deaths, the mutilation of innocents, chemical poisoning and both urban and environmentally destruction.
In terms of resources, the financial investment into the war effort by the USA was massive totalling 676 billion. Even today in 2016 the cost to provide clean water worldwide would only be 10 billion per year. The use of B52-bombers and the 14.3 million tonnes of artillery and bombs dropped was almost double that of the efforts in Korea and WW2 combined. 3 million Vietnamese died including 2 million civilians and another 58,000 American soldiers. I recommend visiting before the Cu Chi Tunnels tour for a very emotional day.
Cu Chi Tunnels – Half day tour 231,000 VND ($10 USD)
A tour of the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City is a great complement to the museums on the ‘American War’. My tour started at 1pm with a bus ride to an art gallery where the pieces were made by handicapped artists. The pieces were made out of paint, sea shells, egg shells and other materials on a thick tile. They were really beautiful, but out of my backpacker price range. A great unique gift with a heartfelt story.
Next stop was the main attraction at Ben Dinh: A reconstruction site of the tunnel systems used by the Viet Cong guerrilla fighters from 1963 until 1975. These tunnels served as an underground military base and community of pro communist fighters and families. On display on the surface are a series of vicious traps used to maim soldiers and trap doors used as air vents and ambush points. I crawled 100meters through the dark and narrow tunnels, it was hot and exhausting. I can’t imagine living underground for ten years.
Walking around the site, gunfire can be heard from the nearby shooting range where tourists can fire an AK-47, M16 and even an M60, assisted by a professional. I fired five rounds of an M16 for 175,000VND ($8USD), it was scary and exciting, but most of all it was educational. This experience really drove home the history of the region and the terror of armed warfare.
Downtown Night Life
Climb up to the rooftop bars overlooking the bright city, play some pool, or find a table on the crowded sidewalks with cheap draft beer and enjoy the fire breathers and other quirky street entertainers! Pay for an amazing view at $2.50 beers in the sky or join the bustling streets for $0.40 draft beers on plastic stools, both are great! I met some of the most interesting people squeezing in to the crowded metal tables lining the sidewalk.
After meeting another traveller on the bus from Da Lat, I checked into this cheap hostel. It was a cramped space with six beds in a small room. But at 6$ USD/night centrally located and a few blocks from the busy downtown streets, it did the trick. Given my busy days and nights, it worked out great.
The staff were really friendly and helpful, along with other guests we played a card game called ‘big 2’ together in the early evening. Beers were $.50, it was the perfect set up before heading out on the town!
Starmoon French Cafe
I stumbled upon a cute French cafe in the narrow side alleys of Saigon. They had real coffee, European coffee! Not just the thick Vietnamese coffee.
The owners had just opened their doors the week before and hadn’t even gotten around to advertising online. They sold fresh out the oven croissants! For 30,000 VND, ($1.50 USD). Yum!