Vietnam is organised chaos. At least, that’s how it appeared to my Western sensibilities. I don’t understand how thousands of motorbikes can compete with cars, buses, and trucks on city roads with little (it seems) in the way of road rules. But they do! How do they get it all to work. Bikes zip in and out of the traffic, around the cars and buses, and along the sidewalk, without hitting anything or anybody. They come close, of course, but actual collisions seem to be few and far apart.
Pedestrians cross the road at their own peril, but there’s a system to that as well. Wait for a gap and go, don’t stop, directly to the opposite footpath. People give way to everything on wheels though bikes will zip around them, and all vehicles give away to whatever on the road is bigger than them. Fairly sensible really. It’s a pattern that is amazingly easy to slip into and reflects an unusual philosophy: live and let live but be careful what you say… It is a communist country after all.
We joined a Wendy Wu tour last August. Not being familiar with Vietnam, and never having travelled anywhere in Asia, we thought we would play it safe and let a tour guide navigate us through the unfamiliar streets and customs. It was a good decision.
Our Sydney departure didn’t really get off to a good start. It was early, cold, wet, and I forgot my camera. Luckily, we were less than five minutes down the road when I remembered it so we turned for home and started again. First in line at the check in counter and the only ones in line for nearly half an hour – we even beat the counter-staff!
The rest of the day was uneventful including the flight, and then we arrived at Ho Chi Minh Airport to be greeted by serious looking customs officials, bemused fellow Wendy Wu travellers, hot and humid weather, and finally, a representative from Wendy Wu to take us to our hotel. He greeted us with smiles, cold water, and an air-conditioned car.
We joined a group of 28 (Australian and British tourists) and happily left all decisions to the man in charge, Mr Phong ….. (or John for those of us that found the Vietnamese language a little tricky, which turned out to be the whole group). John works for HG Travel who hold the Wendy Wu contract for Vietnam. He patiently and with good humour showed us everything our touristy little hearts could wish for.
The tour started in Ho Chi Minh City (often still called Saigon) and the Presidential Palace. The one the North Vietnamese tanks crashed through at the end of the Vietnam War. It’s now a museum with some of the more important rooms used for important meetings and functions (you know the type, visiting dignitaries needing to be impressed). The design is unusual with the outside concrete pillars designed to resemble bamboo and allow for increased air flow. The interior walls are huge glass windows. Underneath the palace are the war rooms, all intact and without the luxury of glass windows (or any windows really) and natural air flow.
While in Ho Chi Minh City (about four days) we bused our way to the Mekong River, and visited various temples, restaurants. The photo gallery below shows you all of the highlights. We developed a taste for green tea with honey, the local bananas, and dragon fruit!
The Cu Chi Tunnels are definitely worth visiting. We were shown how the Vietnamese army was able to survive and defend themselves from the Americans during the Vietnam War by living in and travelling through a vast network of tunnels dug under the jungles. Resourceful is an understatement. Of course, the tunnels existing now are not the original, which were destroyed during the war. However, the tour of the site encompasses a demonstration of how well the tunnel entrances were hidden as well as the buildings that were “topside” such as kitchen, hospital, munitions factory, and the war room. There are also various displays of the weaponry and booby traps used during the war. We even had the opportunity to try some of the food that the soldiers ate day in day out (tapioca with salt washed down with green tea and honey) wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t want to have it every day.