After what felt like an entire country sped through on a bus, I finally reached my last stop in Vietnam; a slight jolt back into the reality of city life, full of hectic roads, shopping malls, advertisements and western food chains.
We arrived at around 6am, to a bustling city alive with aerobic classes on the pavement, a parade down the main street and a competitive game of badminton also on the heaving pavement. It was chaos. With Roxanne and Andrew deciding to check into a hotel I headed off in search of a hostel and some company…within minutes of checking in at Hideout I bumped into Lauren and Lucie, we reunited…which naturally led to us going out for breakfast and a brew.
Unable to check into our room we spent the day lazing and attempting to watch Frozen, which was sneakily stolen from us by 2 cocky Canadian guys, who after pretending to work at the hostel, made us go to reception to “check-in” and proceeded to lock themselves in the film room. We were not happy, but after no sleep in over 24 hours we didn’t have the energy to care, and used it as motivation to get out and explore the city.
It was a jam packed first day, the first port of call was the MAC cosmetics shop, after months of no makeup it was heaven to be girly again. I brought a slightly darker foundation with the thought that I could wear it when I get a tan..unfortunately it’s still unused to this day. Andrew had a great time, assisting in shade selections and enjoying the much welcomed air conditioning.
After shopping it was time for some culture! We stumbled through a large heaving market, full of the usual trinkets and vest tops en route to the Post Office, which was actually our first sight for the day. It was a fairly standard working post office, the only difference is it was designed by Henri Eiffel, which makes it kind of interesting right…because of the whole Eiffel Tower thing? Just over the road is the Notre Dam Cathedral, which was really nice inside, full of candles and a piece of quietness inside the hectic city. After a quick break consisting of fresh coconuts purchased on the street we headed for the Presidential Palace. It was basically a nice building full of expensive looking furniture that a lot of important people have sat on.
After bumping into one of Lauren and Lucies former volunteer project friends we all headed out for a few drinks at a rooftop bar, which surprisingly did remain at ‘just a few’. The main backpacker drinking street was not my scene, there seemed to be a lot of trouble around and working girls outside every bar. The night however was not a complete failure, as Roxanne and I found miniature boxes of cereal and fresh milk, and thoroughly enjoyed our cereal sat on the pavement, which we had both been craving for months.
Feeling fresh and ready for another day we headed to the ChuChi tunnels, which were a few hours outside of the city. They were the tunnels used during the war, where people lived sometimes for months on end. I volunteered to climb inside an underground pothole, hidden by leaves and used to hide from enemies. We learnt all about the various traps the Vietnamese army used, including foot traps which when stood on would impale spikes through the leg. It was all pretty barbaric as I tried to imagine how people could do this to one another, the man who led the tour seemed almost proud of these traps when demonstrating their attack. The highlight of the tour was the actual tunnels, which have been widened for tourists. We made it through the 250 metres to the end, it was a struggle as we shuffled, crawled and squatted our way through the small sweaty tunnel. After, I had the option to shoot a variety of guns but opted out as it just didn’t sit right with me, to shoot guns in the area where so many people had been killed by the same gun, it did not appeal to me and how I thought of the experience.
The bus back stopped at a factory which made and decorated plates, tiles and vases, the employees were all disabled, some in wheelchairs, without limbs or full movement. Their work was incredible, you could see the entire process of washing, glazing, stencilling and painting. I watched one lady work for a while, she invited me to sit with her and went on to explain that her task was to stick egg shell onto the wet glue, then use a blade to carefully crack the shell, making a mini mosaic effect. She showed me how to do it, and let me do a few pieces myself, it was quite fun but must take months to finish each piece. Little did I know that the bus was waiting for me at this point, I looked up to see Roxanne running towards me saying the bus wants to leave, I thanked and said goodbye to the lady and jumped back on board.
Feeling a war filled day, we headed to the war museum, which is so far the best museum I have ever been to. It brought tears to my eyes and portrayed the suffering of the war so clearly. We had lost Andrew outside somewhere, with slight concerns he had been kidnapped by the Vietnamese mafia we headed into the museum without him…only to later find him in there without us! The photographs inside the museum were so real, I spent so long just looking at them, seeing the fear and pain in so many peoples faces was hard. There was one image which had a quote from the photographer, saying he had asked the soldier to hold his position (standing above 2 Vietnamese men holding his gun over them), so that he could get his photograph, that he turned and walked away after getting his picture and heard 2 gunshots, he said he never looked back. One section which really got to me was the Agent Orange part, it was heartbreaking. It explained about the chemical which was used then to kill, but is still affecting people today, children from those hit with the chemical are still today being born deformed and mutated as the chemical has changed their DNA. I didn’t speak to anyone in this section, I just read every bit of information, including letters pleading for help to Barrack Obama, stories of people whose lives have been affected and many distressing images of mutilated people.
After a hard going few hours in the museum, Roxanne and I decided to walk back to get some fresh air and process our thoughts from the museum. We ended up running for part of it, deciding a bit of exercise would be good…we happened to stumble upon an outside gym in the park. Unable to resist we played on the swing and seemingly challenged a local man to do pull ups..we failed miserably, him laughing as he pulled himself up over and over again. Continuing our walk back we walked into an outdoor evening aerobics class, obviously joining in we jumped and flapped around for a few minutes before continuing what should have been a short walk back.
After late night seafood fried rice, a last minute decision was made to head to Cambodia the next day, after just one night in Saigon I needed a change and wanted to leave the hectic city for my next country…