20th – 26th December
We arrived in Saigon around midday on the 20th, and not knowing where Saigon Backpackers was, got a motorbike taxi from Pham Ngu Lao. You have to assume that these guys are trying to rip you off but when you don’t know where the hostel is and dont have a map, you don’t have much of a choice. We cut their starting price in half, telling them we’d stayed there before so knew it wasn’t far, and ended up traveling about 500m for 20,000 dong ($1) each. We tried to check-in to Saigon Backpackers on recommendation from others, but it was booked out for that night, so we made a reservation for the following few nights and checked in to Venus hostel down the lane.
After catching up on the sleep that day that we didn’t get the night before in Mui Ne, we met up with Laurence and Tom at the Crazy Buffalo for a few beers and some pool, it was their last night in Saigon. Crazy Buffalo has comparably expensive drinks for Vietnam and they add a service charge even when you order from the bar, but I guess they need to earn money to pay the 15 touts they have trying to bring you in!
The next day we moved to Saigon Backpackers, which I must admit was a very good hostel with a good lobby and friendly staff (Play some pool with Dante).
We went to the Reunification Palace, which was the headquarters of the South Vietnamese government prior to the storming of the gates by the communist North, made famous by this picture:
The reunification palace was formerly known as the Independence Palace (and still is by many South Vietnamese still against their communist government), established in 1966. When it was stormed by the North in 1975 on April 30, 1975 it signified the end of the Vietnamese War and the fall of the south Vietnamese government.
We spent every night until the 26th at Bia Hoi, beers were 7,000 dong, which is about 35 Australian cents, so its hard not to! On the 21st (I think?) we ran into Vasco at Bia Hoi on Bu Vien st, and also Annika and Helena from Sweden who we met in Mui Ne. We also met Giulia (Italy) and Viktor (Sweden), and again met up with Esther and Kelly (originally met in Vang Vieng), and we all went to the Go2 Club. The club wasn’t anything special, but with a few of us we had some great fun.
At one stage, someone grabbed a bottle of Russian Standard vodka from a table, and passed it around. I was oblivious to all this (no, really oblivious), but it had been taken from the table of a Vietnamese hooker. When she realised, she ran up and grabbed the bottle off the dude who ended up with the empty. She proceeded to bottle him on the head with it, but I was standing behind her, and on the back-swing I copped it right on the forehead! I felt blood drip down my face, and luckily Helena, being a nurse, fixed it right up on the spot.
The next day we went to the War remnants Museum with Annika and Helena before they flew home that night, and we were back at Bia Hoi with Vasco. Vasco told us that the guy who was attacked with the bottle was in his dorm room, and had his face heavily bandaged after the attack, the poor guy didn’t even get any vodka, just the empty bottle!
On the 23rd Jack and I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels that can be entered by tourists have been made larger. I think they are now 120cm high by 80cm wide, but they were originally 80cm high by 60cm wide. It is unbelievable to think that they spent up to 18 hours a day in the tunnels. Our guide was originally a soldier who had to crawl through the tunnels, he insists he will never enter them again because of the terrible memories. We also went to a shooting range where you can choose your weapon and fire a few shots. We shot 10 rounds each on the AK-47.
I had booked a Mekong cruise for the 24th, but sort of forgot about it a little bit as that night progressed. Darryl had just arrived in town so I had to have a crack, it would be rude not to! We had a big night at Bia Hoi and then at the Go2 bar, and I only got back to Saigon Backpackers at about 5am. Before going to bed, I sadly but wisely cancelled my Mekong cruise.
During the day Jack and I checked out a movie poster place. I got some pretty cool retro posters printed on rice paper of Pulp Fiction, Fight Club and the Karate Kid. In the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas, we had been meeting people who would be in Saigon for Christmas and arranging to meet up. From Vang Vieng there was Kelly (it was her birthday too) and Esther, Max, Darryl, Vasco from Mui Ne and three other dutch girls who Darryl knew. We sort of expected around 10 or so of us for dinner, but things escalated with people inviting others, and we had 19 people for Christmas dinner! The more the merrier, though I didn’t get to meet everyone, there was a German and a French guy, a Spanish dude, some Americans and 2 or 3 Finnish girls.
It was as good a Christmas as I could have expected away from home. Here is us all enjoying a Bia Hoi before dinner;
The next morning, Jack and I got the bus to Phnom Penh and onwards to Sihanoukville, Cambodia, departing at 6am.