Monday, 25 May 2009

Ho Chi Minh / Saigon

The hustle and the bustle welcomely returns and on a grander scale than even Bangkok. They say 8 million people live in Ho Chi Minh City with an estimated 4 million motorbikes, and boy does it show. It's crazy and amazing. How there are not accidents around every corner every 30 seconds I dont know, but in a world of Health & Safety this city (and the whole of Asia infact) is so liberating. The trick to crossing a 6 lane road with no traffic lights is weirdly just to walk out at a moderate pace looking in the direction of the traffic, leaving the motorcyclists to weave around you. Probably not for the faint hearted or whatever, but i've been around this for so long it's just normal for me now.

Ho Chi Minh is a great city, it's almost New York with Asians - very commercial, lots of shops, huge billboards & lights, markets, boulevards of expensive hotels and designer clothes, loads of museums etc etc. Like I said, New York. I haven't been to Japan or China but Im sure it has alot in common with them too. It's a welcome headache but should be avoided if you're a migraine sufferer (probably) - the horn honking never gets any less jarring.

Whilst I was there I visited the Fine Art Museum, the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral (yeah what?) and also went on a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels.

Fine Art Museum: Didn't hold my attention if im honest but the modern gallery spaces out the back were good.
Reunification Palace: They were 'on lunch' so didn't get to go in, apparently it's like a time capsule of the 80's, though but im uncertain as to the purpose of the building.
War Remnants Museum: The big tourist draw apparently and you understand why, it's very shock & awe though, doesn't hold any punches with it's depictions of how Vietnam suffered under America (mutilated bodies, decapitated heads etc). Definitely seemed (maybe understandably?) very one-sided but I dont feel I know enough to comment, which is something the museum lacked in teaching me, it's main aim being to just outright shock. The worst part was the section on chemical warfare used by America (Agent Orange) and how even now it's causing horrific mutations in the sons and daughters of soldiers who fought in the war. This part was an eye-opener and maybe something people do need to see, but the babies in bottles was unecessary. So overall worth a look but you will come away feeling a little uneasy about the presentation.
Notre Dame Cathedral: It's erm, what it says on the tin. Bizarre, but a nice juxtapostion compared to its surroundings.
Cu Chi Tunnels: 20km out of the city, Cu Chi is an area which was used by Vietnamese soldiers to defend Ho Chi Minh from the Americans - or should that be ambush? It's an incredible technological achievement where by a whole host of villages lived connected underground by over 250kms of tunnels, ready and waiting for the unaware Americans to approach. Crazy stuff, and the tunnels themselves were no more than 90cm in height with tiny A4 paper sized entrances. Halfway through the visit, tourists were able to explore a section of the tunnels and it was baffling to believe people lived down there for months, if not years. I could only manage a 20 metre crawl before claustrophobia set in - very hot, cramped and disorientating. You simply must. Oh, and there was a shooting range too where you could fire AK47's and M16 machine guns at a charge of $1 a bullet. I opted out for money reasons but have you ever heard an AK47? Fucking terrifying (pardon the french).

So Ho Chi Minh, yes, I like. Accomodation's a bit expensive but the city has a great atmosphere and there's a lot to do. Oh and if you want to chill out in the park, expect to have a crowd of Vietnamese students around you wanting to practice their English, they're like language cruising zones. Ha. X

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