Ho Chi Minh City & Archie, Liz & Barry arrive to join us
Mar 6, 2007
|Caught a Mekong Express bus on a early grey and wet morning from Sihanouk Ville through to Phnom Penh where we had an hour's interlude before the onward bus to Ho Chi Minh City, a journey that took a total of 10 hours on a surprisingly reasonable road. We were even provided with a snack in the form of a bun smeared with an unidentifiable brown smelly paste. The only really interesting thing about the journey was seeing a young lad holding his own IV drip above his head whilst riding a motorcycle!
At the border crossing there were lengthy delays as bus loads of tourists stood around sweltering in a big hall until our individual names were called out to match up with our passports which we'd handed in earlier. With many nationalities to contend with, and rather poor pronunciation by the immigration officials, this took some considerable time. Chau Doc itself is a weird town, consisting almost exclusively of massive newly-built casinos, catering primarily, I guess, to the Vietnamese who are not officially allowed to gamble. It seems that Cambodia is placing a marker to be the new Macau of SE Asia.
We booked into the AnAn2 hotel
, in the heart of District 1, the backpacker area although, luckily, we were on the 7th floor which diffused much of the late-night Karaoke noise. A nice clean hotel with wifi access, this served as a good base and Alan and I had a few days to settle into HCMC including exploring some of the wonderful French Colonial influenced delights such as the Post Office
before meeting Archie, Liz & Barry
on 24th Feb. We spent the time sussing out places to go and planning our Mekong Delta itinerary, a journey we'd done previously in November 05 and we booked again with TM Brothers, a reputable and reliable tour company that was able to accommodate our mixture of requirements. Alan also took the oppportunity for a street haircut
. Liz & I did the 'tourist thing' and, after a hard day's walking in the heat, took a cyclo ride home.
We first went to a fab sushi restaurant (The Sushi Bar)
and Alan succeeded in finding a good pool hall. We also did some of the main sights, including the War Remnants Museum, and the Reunification Palace, scene of the famous US evacuation in April 1975. We also re-visited the Cu Chi tunnels,
an ingenious underground network of Viet Cong tunnelling which foiled the occupying Americans who inadvertantly built one of their main army bases right above it. We were fortunate to have the same guide as before, an amiable and smiley man known as "Charlie" who had been a translator for the Americans. When the occupation was over, he spent three years doing hard labour in a re-education camp' followed by 10 years unemployment before managing to obtain a job as a tour guide, but, as with all the Vietnamese people we've met, no trace of anger or bitterness as a result.
much to my surprise, decided to have a go at the firing range - a shooting gallery with Russian AK47s and live ammunition (so much for banning guns when he was a little boy). Apparently. tourists used to be able to have a go shooting pistols as well until last year when a Korean decided to commit suicide there.
On the way to the tunnels, we visited a famous temple for the Cao Dai religion
widely practiced in the Mekong Delta area and started by a former Civil Servant in the 20s after a group of people got together for a seance and received messages from beyond, which form the basis of the rules and regulations even today. It's a colourful melange of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucius. An odd mixture of 'spirit intermediaries' created saints within the religion includes Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, Shakespeare, Napolean and Winston Churchill. All three religions are fused into one although individual followers wear coloured robes specific to their 'branch' (Buddhists red, Taoists white, Confucions blue). A big staring eyeball
features throughout the adornments on and in the temple. Our timing was good as post-tet (Vietnamese New Year) a congregation gathers from far and wide with services held three times a day.