On Wednesday 23rd October we took a bus from Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, to Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam. The six hour bus journey with Mekong Express was infinitely better than our previous bus trip (Siem Reap to Phnom Penh), although nothing in comparison to our luxury bus journies in South America. The bus was comfy and they made the border crossing a breeze, especially when compared to some of our previous border crossings (Bolivia to Argentina, for example). The bus dropped us off on Pham Ngu Lao and from there is was only a five minute walk to our hostel – Phan Anh. After checking in and dropping our bags in our room we set off in search of food. We enjoyed a lovely curry at Mumtaz, but on the walk back to our hostel the, skies opened and we got soaked to the skin! After putting on some dry clothes we spent the remainder of the afternoon doing some research for the coming few days.
On Thursday we had breakfast and then set out for a day of walking to take in the sights. Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum. It was sad to see the human cost of the war, especially the ongoing impact that the use of Agent Orange is still having to this day – more than 30 years after the war ended. The museum has a large collection of machines and weaponary left by the US Army at the end of the war, including a number of planes, tanks and helicopters.
From the museum we walked past the Reunification Palace (we had planned to go in but it was closed for lunch) to the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, which was built to resemble the Notre Dame in Paris. After taking a few photos here we continued on to the Bitexco Financial Tower, where we ascended to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor. This offered fantastic views across the city, the size of which is hard to comprehend at street level. After spending some time enjoying the views we were back on the streets, wandering back in the general direction of our hostel. Back at the hostel we looked up local restaurants on TripAdvisor and then went for a late lunch. The remainder of the afternoon was spent at the computers in the hostel, trying to work our where we wanted to go next and then how we would get there. We eventually decided that our next destination would be Hoi An and we would get there by train. However, there is no train station at Hoi An, so we have to get a 17 hour train to Da Nang and then get a taxi from the train station to our hostel! Feeling very pleased with decision we headed out to treat ourselves to coffee and cake at Sozo.
Friday started quite early as we had booked on a tour to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and they were due to pick us up at 0800. We were picked up a few minutes late and then set off on the two hour journey out to the tunnels. We had a stop at a Lacquer factory on the way to the tunnels – an opportunity to visit the toilet or purchase something from the conveniently located factory showroom! Once at the tunnels our first stop was to watch a 15 minute film showing footage from the war and about life in and around the tunnels during that time. We then took a walk through the forest, taking a look a various traps used by the Vietnamese against the Americans, some sample rooms set up to illustrate how the Vietnamese made weapons from unexploded American ordinance and an American tank that was damaged by a land mine during the war and has remained unmoved since. Some of the tour group then took an opportunity to fire weapons – anything from an AK47 through to M60 machine guns! Our next stop was at some of the tunnels, which have been enlarged so that westerners can fit through them and then our final stop was a trapdoor used by the Vietnamese when climbing into and out of the tunnels. The trapdoor was the size of an A4 sheet of paper and I could only just fit through the door, but the gap below the door was not large enough for me to crouch down!
We arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City in the middle of the afternoon and went straight for another late lunch, this time at a lovely little Italian restaurant called Vittorio’s. After the best pizza we have had in a restaurant since we left the UK, we headed back to the hostel where we enjoyed refreshing showers – much needed due to the high humidity – and then some rest for the remainder of the afternoon. In the evening we took a walk to Sozo for coffee and cake for dinner.
Saturday was what we term a ‘filler day’. We were catching the train from HCMC to Da Nang at 1900 and didn’t really have any plans for the day. After a later than usual breakfast, we spent the majority of the morning in our room sorting stuff out and repacking our bags before checking out just before midday. Leaving our bags in the hostel we took a walk around the main market in town, which sells everything from clothes to food to souvenirs. It was hard work walking around the market as you are hassled to buy something at every stall you walk pass. If you gave a stall more than a cursory glance then it was like saying you wanted to buy something and the amount of hassling only increased! We left the market and wandered rather aimlessly around the city for about an hour and a half before we headed back to Vittorio’s for another amazing pizza. We then headed back to the hostel and whiled away the afternoon updating the blog and our journals, as well as chatting to other travellers who were also waiting for flights. By 1730 it was time to say goodbye to the hostel and take a taxi across the city to the train station. Arriving at the station we didn’t really know what was going on – the door out to the platform was locked and all the signs were in Vietnamese (which was to be expected, really!). After standing around for a while, looking confused, the doors were unlocked at 1815. We boarded the train and found our cabin, which was to be home for the next 17 hours. We had booked upper berths in a soft-sleeper cabin, paying around £30 each for the 17 hour trip. Considering the prices of trains back in the UK I thought this was a bargin! We stowed our big bags beneath the lower bunks and climbed up on to our bunks. They were a bit short for us, but still much more comfortable than squeezing ourselves into seats (planes, buses or trains) for any period of time. They even provided a sheet, a pillow and a duvet! The other two people in our cabin soon arrived, the train pulled out of HCMC train station and we settled in for the journey.
Photos from our time in Ho Chi Minh City can either be viewed below or at http://photos.andywicks.com/HoChiMinhCity