We left Cambodia and did a 16 hour journey to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, which included two mini vans, two coaches, a ferry and a taxi. It was a long journey, but when we finally arrived at our hotel – the Gia Vien we were very impressed. The hotel was lovely and we were right in the centre of the city so had our pick of restaurants and bars.
We awoke the following morning, after a lovely night’s sleep in the comfy beds and made our way to breakfast. We have gotten used to having very little expectations of breakfast over the time we have been travelling, as you never know what to expect, but this time we were very pleased. You could have your choice of hot foods that they would cook there and then for you including noodles and omelettes or you could opt for toast, eggs, salad, bacon, fruit or pastries. So we filled up the breakfast and decided to go on a walk around the city.
Our first stop we decided would be the Ho Chi Minh Museum. We walked about 30 minutes to get there, in blistering 32 degree heat and when we eventually arrived, a taxi driver waiting outside told us it was closed due to New Year. We didn’t realise, but we had arrived in Vietnam the week that they celebrate New Year and here, most places shut down for up to seven days! Feeling disappointed, we and also slightly concerned that we would be left with nothing to do for our entire time in this city, we decided to continue our walk onto the next museum. Along the way, we were stopped by an old man who said, “would you like to go on a boat ride?” We asked how much and he said 500. Given that it’s 35,000 to an English pound, we thought bargain and agreed to go on this old mans boat. He said it would take us round the river for one hour where we would see the sights and a fishing village. He walked us down a pathway to the jetty and I started to think to myself, why is it so cheap? Are we going to have to paddle the boat ourselves or will it be like the bamboo raft we had in Thailand? The old man lead us to a woman who asked if we wanted a beer – given it was only 10:30 in the morning we politely declined and opted for water instead. This she told us was 30,000. I started to think, wow 30,000 when the boat ride is only 500, is this right? Then she asked for us to pay for the boat ride so Barry got out the money, to which we were given a funny look and they said no this is not enough, it’s 500,000! – So that explained it then and we quickly learnt that they drop the ‘thousand’ when they are speaking about money – we wouldn’t make that mistake again! Having paid what felt like a small fortune, we were then told to follow a younger guy onto the boat. Much to our relief it was just an old long boat, much like ones we had been on before. The guy started up the engine, but it just died. He tried it again and again it just died. I saw the panic in his face. He took the cover off the engine, played around with it a bit then tried again. This time, luckily, it started and off we went.
We passed some of Vietnam’s tallest buildings, including their version of the shard. Once we pulled out off the main river, we went down a little side river, which was surrounded by greenery and birds. The fishing village we were told about turned out to be just a guy with a net! The river was filthy, with rubbish just floating in it. At this point, I was very glad it wasn’t a bamboo raft as there was no way I would want to be sinking into this river.
We’d been crawling along amongst the greenery for a while now, when the boat almost came to a stand still. We looked back at the guy and we saw him dangling over the edge of the boat with just his feet holding him on the boat. Something had gotten stuck in the propellers and he had to pull it out. This happened no less than three times along the way and each time he had to dangle further into the river, By the third time he had put almost his whole body in. I felt sorry for the boy – the river really was disgusting! When we got back the jetty, the woman was shouting at us tip, tip. We had no idea how much to give the guy so gave him 100,000, but he didn’t even say thank you. It was an experience, but hardly worth the £18 we just paid out for it.
We continued our walk and came across the shopping centre. We took a look around inside and I came across Coast. Naturally we had to go in and have a look around – she just can’t keep away!
Along the way we saw men carrying coconuts over their shoulders. One guy, let us try to carry them and it was so heavy, we couldn’t believe that they carry it around all day. He told us to take pictures and then once we gave it back he proceeded to get cut open a coconut and give it to us. Now we had to buy it. A short while later, another coconut man approached us and pulled the same trick. This time we had wised to it and refused to buy the coconut, but we saw dozens of other tourists all with coconuts who had obviously all fallen for the same trick.
Next stop was the War Remnants Museum, where the grounds were filled with all the old US tanks and planes. Whilst the museum was fascinating and at times gruesome with many pictures of injured soldiers and civilians it was very pro Vietnam as if they had no part in the war against the USA at all.
Our final stop on the list, was the Reunification Palace where the old president had lived before the war. It had not been touched since the 70’s and you could really tell from the décor. It was filled with large conference rooms, dining rooms and even had it’s own cinema room. There was also a helipad on the roof and a bunker where the president and his family would escape to when they were bombed. Although it was called the Grand Palace, it didn’t feel particularly Grand, but I’m sure in it’s hey day it was.
We finished the day with a beer and a Vietnamese dinner and nursing very sore legs from having walked for 6 hours.