Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon as its known to the locals)
24.12.2006 - 30.12.2006 30 °C
Ok, I've been back a week and now I am going to try and tell you about my weird and wonderful week in Vietnam. We got a bus from Jeonju to Seoul, and then flew from Seoul to Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh City is known by two names because it was called Saigon when it was the capital of South Vietnam. However, when the North took over the city, and reunified the country in 1975, it was named Ho Chi Minh, after the North Vietnamese leader.
We arrived in Saigon at around midnight, after an uneventful 5 hour flight. It was very warm, probably about 25 degrees. We were picked up at the airport by staff from our hotel, the BiSaigon, and were checked in fairly quickly. Our rooms were simple, but nice. We straight to bed and crashed out after spending most of the day travelling. I set my alarm on my new watch (thanks for the xmas present Mum and Dad), so I would wake up for 10am and not sleep in. However, I neglected to adjust the time to allow for the 2 hour time difference, and wound up waking up at 8am. This is obviously much earlier than I would normally get, but I was too excited to stay in bed. Leaving the others asleep, I went for a wander around the area near our hotel.
We had booked our hotel in a backpacker area, so it was full of foreigners, souvenir shops, restaurants and street vendors. It was a crowded and exciting place to look around. But my priority that morning was to find a travel agent that could help us book flights from Saigon to Con Dao. We planned to spend 3 nights in Saigon, and then 3 nights on Con Son Island in the Con Dao Archipelago. However, although we'd been able to book our hotel on the island, we had been unable to book a flight before leaving, so I had to try and find us one as soon as possible.
I went into a couple of different travel agents, whom all tried to help me, but sadly, I was told by most that there were no flights available on the day we wanted because it was fully booked. Also there were no flights a day earlier or a day later because it was a public holiday. I was disappointed, but not as disappointed as I thought Rachel, Nicky and Laura would be. We'd all been really excited about travelling to island, which was supposed to be a quiet nature reserve, with stunning beaches and wildlife. So, I found myself a table in a restaurant and ordered some breakfast, and then went through my Lonely Planet guide. My plan was to come up with a couple of alternative places we could stay and price them up, before I told the others that we couldn't go to the island, so that they wouldn't be too disappointed.
I found a few options and spoke to a travel agent about them, and he recommended a beach resort called Mui Ne. We had originally looked at going there before we found out about Con Dao, so I knew that the others already knew a bit about the area and had been interested in it before. Additionally, the travel agent could book us return coach tickets and even our hotel. I went back to our hotel, where the others were up and getting ready for breakfast and I explained the situation. Fortunately, everyone was happy to go ahead and book the hotel in Mui Ne. In fact, we were able to book 2 bamboo hut-style bungalows for $25 per night. That worked out at about £7 a night each. Bargain!!
Once that was booked, I felt like I could relax and take in the sites. And, of course, do a lot of shopping We also booked ourselves on a half day tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. We had read about this before leaving - its a huge network of tunnels built by the Vietcong for hiding from the Americans and South Vietnamese. One of the unusual things about this tourist site is that it has a shooting range, where tourists can have a go at shooting various guns, from pistols to AK47s. We'd all agreed we wanted to try shooting something, so we put our names down for the tour on our last day in Saigon.
Next, I wanted to order some clothes to be made. There were many shops that had beautiful, handmade, silk dresses and I wanted to get mine ordered so that they would have plenty of time to make it. We found a very reasonably priced shop, but because everything was so reasonably priced, I got a bit carried away (no surprise there then!). I eventually ordered a grey and white, silk, Chinese style dressing gown for me, a silver and purple dressing gown for my mum, 2 silk scarves for my sisters and a tie for my dad. Then I also took a look at the different coloured silks available and a pattern book that the woman had. I chose a simple, and what I hoped would be, flattering style and a reversible silk that was a shiny, kind of lime green on one side, and a darker green-blue on the other. All of this together came to just $45. Again, another bargain But the shopping didn't stop there. Before heading back to the hotel I bought 2 wooden noodle bowls with matching plates and chopsticks, 3 small paintings, one large, lacquered, wood painting and a jewellery box. One last thing I did before heading back to the hotel, was chat to a cyclo driver and arrange a tour of the city later that evening... I'll tell you all about that next time.