Bus journeys in Vietnam take flipping ages, even if you aren't traveling that far. Thus a mere 200km and a mighty 4 hours later we arrived in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City (since 1975). The only room we could find was on the oxygen-sapping fifth floor of a guesthouse in backpacker central close to the main market....with no lift. But it had air-con, sweet, sweet air-con....and on the very same street you could dirt cheap beer and the traditional nectar of the gods: diet coke.
Like Hanoi, HCMC is a big old city (9 million people and 5 million scooters), but we found it easy to get to grips with, strolling through an enormous flower market and ducking into a few street-market restaurants for dinner.
Next day we visited the War Remnants Museum. This is an outdoor collection of US military vehicles left after the Vietnam War and several indoor photographic exhibitions that chart the history of the conflict (and international condemnation of it) from the end of WWII up to the storming of the gates of Independence Palace in 1975. A fascinating museum that helped us understand a lot better the recent history of Vietnam. It would be fair to say that it gives a pretty one-sided view, but it was very moving and we are both interested in reading about the war a bit more on our return to the UK.
In the afternoon we visited Independence Palace, renamed Re-Unification Palace after 1975. This was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates (and still remains in the front garden). Again a fascinating place, if not a bit surreal as it remains largely unchanged and little used since 1975, and it was only built in the mid-60's. So full of the latest 60's furniture and cutting edge radio technology. It claimed to have a mini-bar in the basement, but we failed to see said bar. Katie also stood on a carpet that she wasn't supposed to. How embarrassing.
Wondered back to our hotel past Notre Dame Cathedral - early start tomorrow for a three day tour of the Mekong Delta.
It's quite incredible how much you notice the smog in Asian cities when you've been out of them for a few days-no wonder everyone wears masks! We also established the art of crossing the road. The best thing to do is just to walk blindly and without any hesitation and to allow the scooters and other traffic to make its way round you or to slow down. Psychologically, it is better to be in some kind of state of semi-consciousness and be practising the exact opposite of mindfulness, for the moment you realise what you are doing it is likely that you will start screaming and be run over. Hopefully we will remember to not cross roads like this when we get to Australia-will keep you posted on this front.
NOTICE OF AMENDMENT: On reaching Saigon we started to get a sneaking suspicion that our sources had been incorrect and it was going to be the Vietnamese year of the cat, not rabbit (huge pictures of cats everywhere gave it away). It is still going to be the year of the rabbit in China and Cambodia just to confuse things. So apologies, I am sure you will all be able to cope with this news.