Day 8 – Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon
The final leg of our journey was spent traveling around Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the Mekong Delta.
We were met at the airport at around 11am by our third and final tour guide, Zhou (pronounced Chow). Zhou was a dainty thing, she was only around 4″10 in height yet had the personality and a charisma about her that was larger than life – she was also very well spoken in the English tongue.
Driving into Ho Chi Minh from the airport it was clear to see the vast differences between North and South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh city was densely populated and very built up, one of the most notable giants of the skyline is the Bitexco Financial Tower that had its own helipad and resembles the Gherkin in London. We were also warned that the weather in Ho Chi Minh city is temperamental at best and it can go from very sunny, to localised tropical rainstorms in a matter of minutes.
Before checking into our hotel Zhou took us for food in a small local restaurant. Whilst eating, we got to experience the weather of Ho Chi Minh first hand as the skies opened up and the ensuing rain flooded the streets of the city.
Once we had finished our food and the rain had subsided, Zhou took us on a tour of Ho Chi Minh. Firstly we headed straight to the Independence Palace, formerly the US Embassy during the Vietnamese War. We spent an hour looking at the palace and was given a glimpse into the political history of the building – the building is famed as the site of a dramatic finish to the Vietnam War where tanks crashed through the main gate on the morning of April 30, 1975.
After visiting the Independence Palace we made our way to the War Remnants Museum. Driving to the War Remnants Museum we were told by Zhou on the coach that we shouldn’t talk about the war or communism within the museums walls and that any questions we had should be saved until afterwards. The Museum really opened my eyes to how brutal the Vietnamese war actually was and how big the death toll was in comparison to the war in Iraq – It’s astonishing how evil mankind can be and how evil the human race remains.
Upon our journey to the hotel we stopped briefly at the more miniature scale Notre Dame and had a look around the Central Post Office. The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh city is possibly one of the grandest post office’s in the world and was built by the French in the early 20th century.
We finally arrived at the Duxton hotel around 6pm and were shown to our rooms. Located right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, the Duxton Hotel is a luxury 4 star hotel and appeared to be used mainly by businessmen visiting the city.
Day 9 – My-Tho and the Mekong Delta
Day 9 was an early start and we headed to Coconut Island situated in the Mekong Delta. The Islands in the Mekong Delta are a world away from the mainland of Ho Chi Minh and have between 500 to 2000 inhabitants on each island.Dragon Island (Con Tan Long), Phoenix Island (Con Phung), Tortoise Island (Con Quy) and Unicorn Island (Con Thoi Son), where you find fruit orchards, bee farms or coconut candy production.
On the Coconut Island we were given the opportunity to see how coconut candy was made and how the entire coconut is used in its production, right down to the husk of the coconut being used as fuel for the stoves. Whilst on the island we also tried shots of Rice Whisky that contained snake and scorpion as well as the sweets themselves, there was also the chance to hold a python that Richard and myself jumped at, hesitantly.
After seeing the Coconut Sweet manufacturing plant we took a horse and cart ride through the small village before light refreshments and music with the locals. The locals make all of their money from tourism on the Island and so they perform a short selection of songs for their guests.
Making our way back to the boat we took a trip through the narrow estuaries on the locals’ wooden work boats. It was a brilliant way to see some more of the island and see how everything growing so abundantly in this fertile land is used for something.
Day 10 - Cu Chi Tunnels
Our final day of the holiday and our last early start. We were up and leaving our hotel for the Cu hi tunnels come 7am. The Cu Chi tunnels were one of the most fascinating sights I had the pleasure of visiting in Vietnam. They were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and it was clear to see how they helped to counter the growing American military effort.
Zhou took us on a tour of the are and we had the opportunity to take a first hand tour down the tunnels as well as explore the remnants of an american tank that had lain unmoved since it was damaged on a land mine during the war.
Clare, Richard and myself ended the tour of the tunnels at the firing range where we each bought 10 bullets and had a go of the infamous AK47.
Vietnam was an incredible experience, It was a once in a lifetime trip and it’s really made me think how much of the world Clare and Myself still need to see and will aim at seeing as we grow old together – I can’t recommend it highly enough and although initially prices may seem expensive it’s worth every penny.