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Good Morning Vietnam!
Rating: (4.9)

Saigon, Vietnam
Aug 25, 2003 01:19

Pros: bright green rice paddies, alot to do and see, colourful temples,
Cons: none

Entering Vietnam was like entering the civilised world again - after the dusty pot-holed roads of Cambodia we were suddenly on a 'normal' road, flying past bright green rice paddies towards Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon. The city was a pleasant surprise and totally different to what we expected. We're staying at Hotel 64 in the backpacker area known as Pham Ngu Lao, and totally recommend it to anyone heading this way.

There is so much to do and see here, no wonder it's our 5th night in Vietnam and we haven't ventured on yet! We've visited the Fine Arts Museum, Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum and sampled some pho (Vietnamese noodle soup - yum). The Reunification Palace was decked out in retro decor and furniture and was like walking into a 60s or 70s spy movie. There was even a helipad, a rooftop ballroom and casino with Austin Powers type furniture! Aesthetics aside, this is where a tank crashed through the front gates in 1975 signifying the communists of the north taking over the south (and the name changed from the 'Presidential Palace' to the 'Reunification Palace'). There was an interesting network of tunnels under the ground which we got to walk through, with telecommunications rooms which were instrumental in the war.

Yesterday we went on a day trip to a Cao Dai temple and the Cu Chi tunnels. Cao Dai is a bizarre sounding religion (some people refer to it as a cult) that is made up of lots of different religions (Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity and more) and their purpose to escape the cycle of reincarnation. Their temples (and the robes they wear) are white, blue, yellow and red. Our tour went to the largest Cao Dai temple at the Holy See complex, back near the Cambodian border. The temple has to be seen to be believed - it's so colourful, and has a huge globe suspended from the silver star covered ceiling, featuring their symbol of an eye on it.

We then headed back towards Saigon to the tunnels, a crazy underground maze of tunnels which the Viet Cong used to attack the southern Vietnamese and US armies, and to receive supplies from the Ho Chi Minh trail. We got to go inside several of the tunnels, though some had been widened to fit western tourists. They must have been pretty darn small as it was hard work getting through them! As well as it being so dark and boiling hot down there, you nearly had to crawl to get through, and these were twice as large as the originals. There were also different kinds of traps on display and they showed us hidden trapdoors on the ground and tricks used to disperse smoke in the air from underground kitchens to avoid detection. Overall it was a definite highlight of our trip so far and we can't wait to see what else Vietnam has in store..