So, there we were back on familiar territory in Ho Chi Minh, after about 10 hours traveling from Phu Quoc. We ducked into one of our favourite alleyways and into a tiny little restaurant run out of a front room and had some fantastic cashew chicken stir fry and beef noodles, again, super cheap but great.
As we said, we had unfinished business in Ho Chi Minh, so we set off to finish what we had started. Our first day we decided to visit Cholon, the formerly Chinese enclave of the city. This meant getting a local bus, which actually meant getting squashed in a queue, shouted at by a bus driver and finally getting off in relief at the stop! We went straight into the colossal Binh Tay covered market to marvel at the hundreds of fabric, incense, leather ware and dried fruit stalls, among others. It is not really a tourist market, so it was nice to look around with far less hassle than Ben Thanh in the centre of town. The main draw of the area is the ancient Chinese architecture, so we set off for a self guided walking tour, stopping at several beautiful pagodas on the way and taking in the sight and smell of the huge traditional herb shops. We stopped beside a busy road for a great coffee and met a very friendly Vietnamese lady called Ley, who told us her life story, about her forbidden marriage to a GI in the war and her children in the US, while helping her with her English.
We had a great dinner that night on the street of grilled pork and rice, getting in the way of the pedestrians and motorbikes trying to get along the pavement, before having a few beers overlooking the street from a balcony and trying to plan Abby’s solo adventure when Andrew goes home for a month. We are no closer to conclusion, but we did go to bed at about 2am so we must have tried hard to plan at the very least.
That was a stupid bed time as we had to be up at 7am the next day to go to Cu Chi tunnels. We were a but nervous after the last tour, but it seemed the easiest way. In fact, w per were extremely lucky to have a very engaging and informative tour guide, Mr Binh (Mr Bean). He had been a medical student in Saigon before the war, but during the Tet offensive he lost his family and went to America. He was trained by the US navy and returned to command 35 US soldiers, fighting against the Viet Cong in the region we were visiting. This gave him a huge knowledge of the conflict, which he brought to life, as well as a perspective different to the communist and nationalistic rhetoric otherwise available around the war. Watching him mime pouring gasoline into a tunnel then throwing his lit cigarette in one moment, and hearing him sing Creedence Clearwater Revival songs the next, you never knew when to be somber or amused, but he made the trip fascinating and enjoyable.
The end of the tour, having already seen the horrendous traps in place to catch Americans and south Vietnamese, took us into the tunnels themselves. Or at least it took Abby. While Andrew may have conquered heights, it seems claustrophobia is still very much on the cards. The tunnels were tiny, dark, hot and crammed with tourists……..and they have been enlarged for fat tourists. (I was happy outside – Andrew)
The next day we had an afternoon flight to Danang, but that still left enough time to visit the Reunification Palace, a very plush, very 1950’s/60’s residence and command centre for the President of the Republic of Vietnam. The kitschy staterooms filled with shag carpets and huge paintings were a huge contrast to the army communications bunker underground, but it was all a fairly interesting look at the history of the building and worth a trip.
Then, it was time for our flight to Danang. We’ve spent nearly a week in Ho Chi Minh in total and would love to go back. Maybe one day……