Saigon is a beautiful city, warm, friendly and a beautiful way to kick off the adventure in Vietnam. On this trip I have a few travelling companions, friends with the same goals – to relax and party our way through Vietnam.
Staying in the bustling district one, a few short minutes from the main street for bars we jumped head first into the Vietnamese experience on our first night indulging in some street meat and 80c tall beers. The street food here is great, cheap, authentic and tasty and a great way to sit and enjoy the nightlife as we acclimatise to a new city.
Following a solid day of travel our first day ‘sightseeing’ was around the local district, full of hidden alleys and retailers selling everything from knock-off Ray Bans for $3 through to seriously heavy duty safe’s. Fun fact – Saigon has a safe district. 3 Shops next to each other that all sell safe’s. Nestled amongst the busy city there are beautiful serene parks, well-kept areas of respite from a city that is always on the move.
We also took the opportunity to visit the War Remnants museum from the Vietnam War, or as it is known here – the War of American Aggression. This was a fascinating look at the other side of history, and a war that is not widely taught about or discussed in my home country, Australia. It was also a frightening insight into the barbaric prison conditions and inhumane torture that Viet Cong prisoners were subjected too at the hands of the South Vietnamese.
The Vietnam War is an interesting lesson in history and seeing the atrocities that happened during the war was remarkably thought provoking. Incidents like the use of Agent Orange, a potent chemical weapon, are shocking and the country is still seeing the effects of today.
Another highlight was the Co Chi Tunnels about an hour from the city centre. These tunnels were one of the secrets behind the Vietnamese victory during the war. The Viet Con built a remarkable network of tunnels below ground, big enough only for the Vietnamese soldiers to fit through. Our tour guide was more than happy to remind me on several occasions that I would not fit and coined a very unflattering nickname “Ample Man” – a real confidence booster.
Crawling through the tourist tunnels (much bigger versions of the original tunnel network) was a very
interesting experience. Narrow tunnels saw none of our group able to stand and had me on hands and knees as we went through most of the tight spaces. It is incredible to think that these tunnels were the home to thousands of soldiers during the war. Another amazing sight to see were the traps that were used against the American soldiers, bamboo traps in pits, all types of skewers, pressure weighted to hit enemy soldiers as they took a wrong step.
The experience with the Vietnamese war history is a fascinating look at how they were able to use their ingenuity and determination to keep their countries culture in their fight against a much stronger, far better-equipped foe.
The highlight of our stay in Vietnam without a doubt was our scooter food tour through the city. XO Tours, for my friends planning a visit. This was amazing – a pickup from our Hotel on Scooters as we were introduced to our drivers for the night and taken, by scooter, to our first restaurant stop. The tour was a unique insight into the vastly different districts that make up Saigon, from the touristic district one through to the ex-pat district 7 and the “mafia” district 4.
What I loved about this tour was we got to see Saigon as locals on scooters taken not to the best fine dining
restaurants but rather hidden local gems that served delicious food. Among the more exotic food that we enjoyed was chicken, beef, goat, local noodle soup (different to pho), a selection of great seafood, frog (or the jumping chicken) and for those who were really game an egg with a duck fetus – a Vietnamese delicacy so I am told.
Following an amazing tour we decided to join an age-old backpacker tradition – the pub crawl. Spending the rest of the night partying away with new friends from afar was the perfect way to finish an amazing day.
Before we left Saigon we also took a day to unwind, relax, and get a little work done before we found our way to some of the sky bars that are sprinkled through the city. It was definitely a more fancy affair when we had to don jeans for the first time since setting off, but well worth it. The view from the two sky bars was nothing short of spectacular and having a chance to take in the breathtaking view of Saigon by night was not one quickly forgotten.
Saigon has really been a great way to start the trip – relaxing in style, enjoying the local culture and experiences, amazing weather, swims and massages are exactly what the doctor ordered. Our next stop is Mui Ne – a beach famous for kite surfing about 5 hours north.