Mui Ne and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)08/09/2011
As we had expected our days in Mui Ne was mostly spent swimming, eating, drinking and relaxing. One our second day there friends of Seth's from the UK joined us. They were on a month long tour of South East Asia and so joined us for their time in Vietnam. We were staying in different hotels so only really joined them for dinner in the evenings which allowed us all to do our own thing in the day time. It was good to spend some time with some familiar faces and have company for pizza and delicious fresh fish dinner by the sea. Mui Ne beach itself is eroding fast by bouncing around in the waves was fun and it was great to be back by the sea. Luckily our hotel also had a nice swimming pool for more relaxing swimming.
After relaxing in Mui Ne for 3 days it was time to head back to the city life and we caught a bus to Ho Chi Minh City (formally Saigon) and found ourselves a nice little hotel in the "backpacker area" of the city. HCMC is as busy and crowded as we had expected and the roads are just as packed with motorbikes as we had been told. Crossing the road here really is a case of just having to step out into the road and hope that the traffic goes around you - waiting for a gap in the traffic just isn't an option. As with all of Vietnam the food was excellent, cheap and plentiful and being washed down with a glass of red wine was a real treat, however HCMC has more to offer then food and drink so our days were filled sight seeing.
First stop was the War Remnants Museum which was a powerful reminder of what the country has been through in the relatively recent past. Of course it was a slightly one sided view of the war, but the images and reality was no less shocking for that. There was a reconstruction of prison cells and tools used for torture, photographs of the impact (then and now) of Agent Orange, the poisonous chemical used by the Americans with devastating affect. There was also some old planes and tanks and some old bomb casings. In general it was a well thought out and informative museum (so long as you remember it is only one side of the story!). The next stop, the Reunification Palace, where the South Vietnamese government were based until they surrendered in 1975, was a pleasant contrast to this violence and the grand rooms and impressive grandeur was a reminder of a different way of life.
The next day we set off for more education about yet another side of the war, and went to see the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was one of our rare guided tours experiences but it was excellent. The tunnels really are tiny. Some have been slightly expanded for us western tourists who are not the size of Vietnamese farmer, but Seth did go through an original part and confirmed that they really were tiny tunnels as he crawled through on his hands and knees. In this labyrinth of tunnels was also a small hospital (complete with forceps which our guide was particularly keen for us to see for some reason that we never really worked out), a kitchen with an ingenious setup for allowing the smoke from the ovens to be released without being visible to the enemy seeing it and a small dorm for sleeping.
Finally I went off to see the Mekong Delta, feeling the need to see the end of the river we have now seen in China, Laos and Vietnam. It was another organised tour and included drinking honey tea, eating fresh fruit, listening to traditional music, cycling on one of islands and floating around the delta in 3 different types of boats. Although the Mekong does not look at it prettiest at this point, it was a fun day. After this we were left with time for our last fantastic Vietnamese dinner before heading to Singapore.