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Saigon - Good Night Vietnam

Vietnam (Saigon, Highlands & Mekong delta) 2006-08-24

The difference between North and South Vietnam is relatively big. It s much easier to travel around in South, i.e. it is not as pushy as it is in the North. From Nha Trang we headed into the Highlands where people are living relatively primitive and you find a lot of minority people. We bought a guide and driver for a two day trip to Dalat and we thought that it was a good idea as we where able to see much more than taking an ordinary bus.

A villager is giving one the pets in the village some fresh air. Click to enlarge.It takes a couple of hours to go from the coastal area to the Highlands and when we get there our guide takes us to some nice waterfalls (again – after seeing the Iguaçu Falls in South America everything else is small) and through coffee – and black pepper plantations before we arrive in the small village Jun Village. The nature in the highlands is beautiful so we take a lot of pictures but to be honest – a visit to the Highlands in Papua New Guinea is unbeatable!

We get accommodation with a family that are from the minority people Mnong at the lake Lak and share the longhouse (we are getting used to a madras on the tree floor and mosquito net!) with our guide Hai and our chauffeur Lam and the family. At 5.30 AM the morning orchestra containing the roasters, pigs (many!), gooses and dogs start to play and after an early breakfast we went by boat to a small island called Lien. The minority people on the island look more Thai, Cambodia and Lao and as usually there are kids everywhere.

When we jump into the car to move ahead we felt an unforgettable smell in the car!! Hai did stop the day before and bought two Durian fruits (Eva was very happy as she loves it!) and a couple of jackfruits and placed them in back of the car. Those of you who know that smell knows what we mean!! Eva, Hai and Lam are enjoying the Durian fruit. Click to enlarge.Durian is the fruit that smells so terrible so many hotels do not allow guests to bring them into the hotel. This will be our lunch this day. The say like this in Malaysia about the Durian fruit: -"It smells like Hell but tastes like Heaven" Lam stops the car on a place with good views and Eva, Hai and Lam eats two big durian fruits and Anders he had a jackfruit.

On our way to Dalat we make stops to watch silk worms, mushroom plantations, Chicken Village and some other things so when we reach our hotel in the late afternoon we are relatively pleased with our tour. Dalat is situated at 1.500 meter above sea so the air is fresh and cooler than we are use to. We walk through the town and pass the market on our way to a restaurant. We buy the ticket for the bus that will take us to Saigon the next morning.

You know – the biggest city in Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City (Hanoi is the capital) but no one uses that name – everyone calls their city Saigon. Saigon has charm and we felt good vibrations as soon as we entered the city and it is definitely more “relaxed” than Hanoi. Well, Hanoi has its charm and we liked that city too. We found a hotel very central with super clean rooms and for $13 we get a double room en suite with AC and cable-TV including breakfast! We like it very much and we stay there for 4 nights and after one night we get upgraded to a “room with a view” for $17.

Thang and Nhan are waiting for us to go to another Pagoda with their cyclos from 1920. Click to enlarge.One thing you will not see in the future in Saigon is cyclos. The authorities are working for their removal so we decide to rent two cyclos to see Saigon. We find Thang and Nham on the street and we buy their service for two hours and they take us to a couple of nice pagodas, Notre Dame, the old beautiful Post Office, Ho Chi Minh museum. They speak some English and are very skilled to maneuver the cyclos through the traffic and the 3 million motorbikes in Saigon and cars, busses and lorries while they at the same time entertains us with stories and anecdotes. It’s scary to hear Thang’s stories from the war and we shivers when he shows us his 5 bullet scars – “Well, you know I only went back and forth to the hospital!”

We say goodbye to them at The Reunification Palace and we tell them that we most probably will use their services tomorrow to so they are very happy to hear that and they cycle away while we enter the gates. You know the gates on TV or on pictures that the North Vietnamese army crashed with their tanks April 1975 when Saigon fell. Two of the tanks are still there and inside the Palace they have saved many rooms intact from 1975. In some rooms in the basements there are grey rooms with a table, a chair and a telephone with war maps on the wall and higher up in the building there are some rooms that are very nice decorated and where used for diplomatic receptions. We watch a movie about the War and starts to get mentally prepared for our next visit which is The War Remnant Museum a couple of blocks away.
The tanks are still here at the Renufication Place. Click to enlargeA visit to War Remnants Museum is a brutal and naked uncensored insight to the cruelty of war. One section is made from the professional pictures from the photographers that where killed during the war and another show the effects from the chemical weapons the Americans used – and from which Vietnam also today are suffering from. Even though we later end up on a very good local restaurant we did enjoy the food that evening………

“The Day After” we make cyclo friends happy as we ask them to take us to Cholon (Chinatown) and once again we are surrounded by Saigon’s 3 million motor cycles and the sound from them – has to be experienced!!! They take us to some market places and nice pagodas and we invite them for lunch so 4 hours later we are back at the hotel. We fix tickets for our Mekong Delta Tour and we have dinner with Celia & Nacho whom we met during breakfast. They are also in their final stage of a 1 year around the world trip so we have a lot to talk about during the dinner.

August 22 – our Wedding Anniversary!!! Anders gives Eva a brilliant ring while she is sipping her champagne during breakfast and Anders….. FORGET IT!!!! This is how we celebrate our wedding Anniversary:

Breakfast: A small baguette which you make two halves of and put in a small banana. Squeeze it properly as the banana is ripe and soft. Eat it together with Vietnamese coffee and two fried eggs. A 3 kilometer walk together with Saigon’s 3 million motor cycles in 32 degrees Celsius to the History Museum to look at some smashed clay pots from 2.000 B.C - raw fish (sushi) for lunch and then walk back the same way (now 35 degrees) to the hotel. Check internet and have a shower before we walk up to our favorite local restaurant Vuon Pho 1 where we have prawn spring rolls, banana flower salad (it’s magic, so we order one more!) and buffalo meat. A couple of Tiger beer served with ice in the glass (our neighbor’s drinks blood to the food!!!) before we take a taxi while the rain is pouring. We don’t know the name of the hotel or our driver doesn’t understand so Anders from the back seat is giving the driver instructions in Vietnamese “left”, Straight ahead” and “right” – no problems and it is not so difficult so fall asleep that evening = Memorable Wedding Day!!!

The bus to The Mekong Delta leaves early next morning. Our guide Phuc has a group of 40 people (some are going 3 days others 2 days, some will stay at home stay, some at hotel with AC, without AC etc…) to take care of and he does it very well. We are impressed by the logistics and we travel with ferries, big boats, medium size boats and small boats, mopeds and small boats again before we get to our home stay!! In between we have also visited coconut candy mill, rice mill, rice noodle factory and some other places.

We trust the people who takes us around in the Mekong delta. Click to enlarge.We had a very nice evening with the 16 others that had decided to stay at home stay and next morning we have another early departure to go to the floating market. Well, you know – to see a real floating market you have to be at the market between 5 and 6 AM so when we get there many boats have already left so there is not that much action. One hour later there is full action as the whole group (not all!) are walking over a canal on a monkey bridge.

We also visit some other places before its time to find a seat on a minibus for the 3 hour drive to Chau Doc. Just outside Chau Doc we climb Sam Mountain (250 meter above sea level) where we have a wonderful view over the flooded fields and only a few kilometers away is Cambodia. Our “fingerspitzengefuhl” takes us to a very good restaurant in Chau Doc.

Tomorrow we head for Cambodia!!!!!!

Kisses from your professional tourists