Vietnam – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the Mekong delta & Phu Quoc Island

Vietnam.
An almost mythical country for me, given that I had my first foreign food experience with my half-vietnamese sister-in-law. We used to go to her parents’ house once per year around Christmas with my brother and parents, and we would sample the delicious home-made viet delicacies such as HarGau, Nems and Fresh Spring Rolls cooked by the mother.
Then I also met a few girls from vietnamese origin in France and almost systematically fell under their charm, but that’s another story.

It’s only natural than when I knew I was going to move to Singapore back in summer 2010, one of the first destination I thought about was Vietnam. I made it my first trip and traveled to the south of the country from the 9th to the 20th December 2010.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Pretty soon after I landed in busy HCMC (previously named Saigon), I was scammed by a fake taxi driver at the airport, who asked me double the regular amount to go to the city center and then of course, had no small change for my (small yet already too big) bank note… Oh well, no big deal, but I should think of always having small notes in the future…

First, I went to the War Remnants Museum, where the tone is set to a very patriotic one, the viets having had the immense pride to kick the american out of their country. The english-language caption are very one-sided as a consequence, depicting horrible american war crimes with an accute sense of details.

Old war planes outside the war museum

 

A gloomy prisoner cell

Even a french guillotine…

After a short night, an early morning flight, a taxi scam, and a visit in the super hot noon time, this visit did not make me feel so well. I would discourage people to visit this place just after a meal… Some pictures, depictions of torture methods and the overall features and atmosphere of the museum are not for the faint-hearted.

Moving on, I met with Anh-Tuan, a french guy from vietnamese origin, a “viet-Q”, that is a friend of of a friend who accepted to be my host for a few days and show me around a bit.
Anh-Tuan has a big bike and to see the city from there, almost as a local was a great experience… Absolutely shocked by the number of motorbikes, and the “different”, informal road rules in place.

See the video below for an impression of Biking in Saigon…

We went for a delicious buffet-style lunch at a nice colonial house. Different stalls had prepared many different dishes, which is great when you like to sample new foods.

 

Probably the best, freshest spring roll I had ever tasted…

After lunch, Anh Tuan went back to work and I went on solo walk in the streets of Saigon, the french colonial era post office, the Chi Minh Square, and explore the central market.

The beautiful, stuck in old times, post office…

 

Notre Dame de Saigon

 

 

Ho Chi Minh statue on Chi Min square

 

Street gaming

 

 

A stall at the central market (worth a visit)
The Zoo was quite creepy, I almost felt bad to have paid for it…

Cao Dai temple and Cu-chi tunnels

Next day, I went on a day-tour to neighboring tourist sites Cu-Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple, both about a one-hour drive from HCMC and one hour drive from each other.

Cao Dai is a syncretic religious sect that aims to preach its fidels to take the best principles and guidelines out of the leading monotheistic religions (asian ones mostly: confucianism, taoism, buddhism), but also from christianism… The religion also venerates as spiritual guides Joanne d’Arc, Victor Hugo, Lenine and Shakespeare: peculiar mix to say the least.

Cao Doa Temple seen from the massive square in front of it

It was quite a strange experience, to be with a bus full of tourist and enter this colourful, kitchy temple… The sounds of the mass was quite bizarre but I expected that from this sect…

After about 90 minutes on site, back to the tour bus to head for the Cu-Chi tunnels.
During the vietnam war, vietnamese had sometimes no over choices than living underground since the napalm bombing was so intense…
They dug more than 200 kilometers of galleries in the area of Cu-Chi, a real underground “town”, but don’t imagine spacious underground rooms, it was mostly tiny claustrophobic corridors leading from one place to another. The tunnels were made small enough for the bigger American soldiers to not go through them…

I still managed to get into this hole…

They could even harvest manioc/tapioca that grows inwards and would hang inside the tunnels… You could try to walk underground in tunnels of different lengths to get a feeling of how miserable that was.
A fairly instructive and scary exhibition of ingenious, cruel jungle traps designed by vietnamese to kill american soldiers is also there.

How to lose your legs in one second

Mekong delta

After these days in & out of Ho Chi Minh City, it was really time to move on to a more remote destination, so I took a bus from Ho Chi Minh to Can Tho, the biggest city and economic capital near the Mekong delta. From there, I headed to Ben Tre. The bus rides were quite long and bumpy but the scenery on the road was often worth it.

The Mekong delta is an interesting area composed of small villages scattered across the fertile plains irrigated by the thousands of arms of the river. I thought people were very hospitable although it was very hard to communicate at times, with notable exceptions.

 

Papaya
 
 
 
 

Phu Quoc Island

For the last week of my trip, I had decided to do nothing but enjoy the tropical weather and well, Phu Quoc was perfect for that. Not yet destroyed by mass tourism but enough to get to know some friendly people, white beaches, good food, and a warm sea.

There is not much to do on Phu Quoc anyway, except visiting the pearl farm, and visiting the remotest beaches in the north of the island.

So all I did was to wake up to the blue skies, eat breakfast, go to the beach, lay down, bake myself up, read, swim, have lunch, have a nap, write, swim again, shower, dine, drink beers and cocktails on the beach. And REPEAT. 🙂

So no more text. Just the visuals. You get the idea.

 

 

But all good things come to an end, and it’s time to go back to Singapore…

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