This is the original name for what is now internationally known as Ho Chi Minh City. It is also the name that the capital of Vietnam goes by with the locals, and is therefore the name you use when organizing transport. However, waking up at 6am to the sound of heavy traffic whizzing past either side of the bus and the unmistakable noise of a large engine being kickstarted, we realized we had broken down about one hour outside of Saigon. Without much to do but slowly wipe the sleep from our eyes, we consigned ourselves to waiting.
Once inside the city we bustled through the crazy scooter rush hour we had become accustomed to in Vietnam and found ourselves a nice Vietnamese coffee shop: if we were going to be dodging traffic, we would rather be full of caffeine. Saigon is actually pretty simple to navigate, with most streets spreading out from a small strip of green park in the city centre just north of the Saigon river. So it wasn’t long before we found our way to our hostel, the Vy Huang Guesthouse, put our bags away and headed off to brave the crazy roads.
First we headed to the war museum, realising it would be incredibly shallow of us to go through this beautiful country without learning more about one of the most significant parts of its recent history. It turns out two hours of walking around reading about how terrible America acted during the Vietnam War is not good for the soul. You can’t help but feel yourself getting angry at those who killed innocent civilians and children, especially after seeing the generational effect caused by those who ordered the dropping of chemical weapons. The Vietnamese had been fighting for their freedom and independence since 1945, first from the French and then from America, but through shear will and determination they did not let that goal go, and now they stand with a beautiful country, and hopefully a wonderful future, feeling proud of themselves. And so they should.
We decided also to visit the new Bitexco Financial Tower for a little look out over the city. With over 52 floors, Vietnam’s second largest tower is over 260 meters tall and offers some spectacular views over Saigon.
Afterwards we slowly walked back towards our hostel contemplating everything we had just seen, but first we needed to visit the Saigon markets and replace a sunglasses we had uncharacteristically lost on the night bus. After a little expert haggling we got some reasonably priced and reasonably convincing fake Ray Ban Aviators.
For our last night in Vietnam we had booked ourselves a meal on a river boat cruise down the Saigon river, and needed to go make ourselves look slightly more presentable. The riverboat was called the Indochina Junk, which certainly wasn’t fitting for the spectacular traditional sail boat we boarded for dinner. The set menu provided us with more delicious spring rolls, deep fried fish and more nibbles than we could possibly finish, all topped off with a little house red from the Da Lat region of Vietnam.
With the sunset and the night sky beautifully contrasting the Saigon skyline –which was now twinkling every color in the rainbow – we listened to the boat’s entertainment (a family who played traditional Vietnamese songs) and toasted the beauty that is Vietnam. We also promised ourselves that at some point we would come back soon and conquer it on motorbikes.
Tomorrow we head over the border to our 18th country, Cambodia and its capital city Phnom Penh.
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