Monday, 19 November 2012

Day 17 and 18: Ho Chi Minh City

Day 17 and 18: Ho Chi Minh City

Downtown Ho Chi Minh City
  I started my day in Hong Kong with a swim in the amazing pool while Bryce slept in. By the time we ate breakfast and packed, it was time to leave for the airport. Our flight to Ho Chi Minh City went well, and we managed to find our way through customs and immigration. They are very thorough in both China and Vietnam, taking a good 5 minutes with each person, reading every detail on our passports and our visa to be sure that all the information matches. It’s not easy to stand in line for what feels like forever when you are tired from travelling and anxious to get to your hotel! Thankfully, the hotel in Ho Chi Minh City had forewarned us to take only the MaiLu or VinSun Taxi because the others tend to overcharge. By the time we arrived at our hotel, it was dark. Fortunately, one of the staff from the hotel was waiting for us, because we had to make our way down a dark alley, past children playing and old men sitting around talking to find our way to the hotel.
Ma Maison is one of the most interesting hotels that we have ever stayed at. It is a very small boutique hotel, and we were greeted at the door by a lovely young woman asking us to take off our shoes. She asked us to take a seat, and Ha, the owner of the hotel came to meet us.  A staff member brought us a glass of mango juice and passion fruit. What an amazing welcome! As we enjoyed this lovely refreshment, Ha showed us on a map where to find all the best sights in the city. He recommended a close restaurant for our supper and then showed us to our room.
Beautiful buildings
It was short 5 minute walk to the main street where all the action is, and I mean action! Motorcycle madness in Ho Chi Minh City makes the scooter scurrying Chinese look slow by comparison! It was difficult just walking down the sidewalks, because all the vendors have their wares for sale, and we had to walk in the street just to get by. This is really taking your life into your hands, because the street is a hive of motorcycles zooming along. Crossing the street is an experience that I will never forget, as we just had to say a prayer and dodge in and around all the traffic. We were great entertainment for a couple of old guys watching us waiting for the longest time before we finally screwed up enough courage to make a beeline for the other side. We laughed along with them and hoped that our death defying act made their day!
 Before going to bed, we were asked to put in our order for breakfast. Both Bryce and I chose an omelet. Yum, a breakfast that doesn’t consist of noodles and rice!
Our tour of the city was another breathtaking day. After meeting the travel agent to book our trip to Cambodia and Ankor Wat, we did a walking tour of the city. There are a never ending number of beautiful French style buildings built in the 1800s. It is astounding to see how picturesque the city is, considering the amount of damage that it suffered during the war.
Bryce in City Museum
The next morning, we spent several hours in the war remnants museum. This building has three floors, consisting of one floor chronicling the support that Vietnam had from people and governments all over the world, including Canada. The second floor has information about the areas of Vietnam that were under attack, as well as the number of troops deployed and killed, and the numbers of Vietnamese killed in the war. This was hard to take, and brought back so many memories. The war went for 30 long years, from 1945 – 1975, with America getting involved primarily from 1953 – 1975. Although there were regular stories and pictures in the newspaper during this time, seeing it here in this country made it all so real. The third floor was the hardest to take. This is where the agent orange room was, with pictures of all the people, including babies, who suffered as a result of the widespread spraying of this poison in an effort to defoliate the jungle, and prevent the Viet Cong from hiding. It is expected that the Vietnamese will feel the effects to the 2nd and 3rd generation, and many more babies with congenital birth defects as a result of their parents’ exposure to agent orange yet to be born. While it is to be expected that the war museum is one sided and presents all the sins of the Americans and none of those of the Vietnamese, it is clear that this is a country that has suffered a great deal. As we walk around this city and see men and women of our age, who would have survived the war, we have nothing but the utmost respect for such lovely people who so graciously welcome us to their country.
We enjoyed the City Museum, mostly because it is a beautiful old building that made us feel like we had returned to another century. It was built during the French colonial era, and was the palace of the last President of the republic in the 1960s.
Going from the 19th century to the 21st, we went up to the 48th floor of the Bitexco Tower. This building is only two years old, and has the most amazing 360 degree view of the city. We came home early to pack, because we are up at 5:00 am tomorrow to catch a plan to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
There are many things that we would do differently if we did this trip over again. One of them is that we would have booked our hotels in Hong Kong and in Ho Chi Minh City closer in, as they were both 20 – 30 minutes away from the city. We used TripAdvisor for all our hotels, and always went for highly rated hotels, but it is easy to overlook details such as this! The other thing that we would do is plan for more time in both places. Maybe next time, we will take 6 months for this trip! No matter how much time there is, it is never enough!

motorcycle madness

view of city from Bitexco Tower
view of city from Bitexco Tower

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