Xin Chao from Saigon

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Despite the name change after the end of the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh City is still called Saigon by many of the locals, especially District 1, the backpacker ‘party district’, where we stayed. Our hotel, the Luan Vu, was a little gem, tucked away off the main strip, so it was in the heart of the action but still quiet enough to sleep, and all for the mere sum of 25 GBP a night, including breakfast for all four of us! Amazing value.

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Saigon roads are hard to cross!

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Ben making crispy filled pancakes on the street food stall

We had also, on the recommendation of an Aussie family we met in Hoi An, booked a food tour with the Back of the Bike Company. Seven Vietnamese university students picked us up at the hotel, and for four hours drove us around Saigon on the ‘back of their bikes’ taking us to 5 different food areas to get a taste of real Vietnamese cuisine. The kids were absolutely in their element getting a ride on the back of the scooters, looking very relaxed while I, for one, held on for my life as they merged into the crazy scooter packed streets of the City, a literal white knuckle ride! But soon you realised that the girls were excellent riders, well used to negotiating the chaos, one of the girls noted that there are over 6 million scooters in Saigon and one thing they were good at was avoiding hitting one another!  I can confidently speak for us all when I say it turned into one of our most memorable nights in Vietnam!

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Our ‘girls’ were so interesting to talk to, we asked them so many questions about the City, 5a860d80-6cc5-11e5-a4f2-060cfa67f42f-img-previewthe food and their lives and they were great fun with the kids. And the food? Amazing. We had street food from a stall of grilled meats, green papaya salad with beef jerky, whilst sitting in a park, a busy locals restaurant specialising in seafood soup with rice puffs and a speciality desert-only café for a selection of the most delicious ice-creams, fruits and sticky rice – yummy! And we even learned that the word yum is rude, not to cross your fingers and how to pronounce Pho (soup)properly so you were not asking for something unmentionable! We also found out why people sometimes laughed when Ben said thank you in Vietnamese – it’s all in the inflection apparently – he’s been telling them to ‘shut their mouths’ instead!

DSC06421And finally when the girls dropped us off at our hotel that night they asked if they could take the kids out for ice-cream the next afternoon (how could we refuse?), and so the kids all got another scooter ride the next day, free ice-creams and their faces all over the girls Facebook pages! The kids are just as popular here in Saigon as they were in Hanoi, stopping daily for cheek pinching, hair stroking and photograph taking.

Ice-cream with the girls

Ice-cream with the girls

This gave the adults a bit of child-free shopping time. We had already enjoyed a brief but alarming encounter with the hawkers at the Ben Thanh Market the day before, where the kids were manhandled a bit too much for our liking, so Saigon Square 1 was a welcome relief.  We did return later for some souvenirs, but stuck to the ‘fixed price’ stalls to avoid the aggressive sales tactics.

DSC06493Then it was history curriculum time with a trip to the Cu Chi Village where the infamous Vietcong tunnels system was used very successfully in guerrilla warfare against the American soldiers inthe Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s. We went on a private tour with Quang, a very knowledgeable tour guide who explained how the tunnel system worked, and demonstrated some of the ingenious, but brutal, man traps and ambush techniques the Vietcong used.

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And these tunnels have been increased by 30% to accommodate European tourists!!

DSC06437There are also some tunnels that you could go down to ‘experience’ how the Vietcong lived and fought for nearly 20 years. The kids loved it but far too hot and claustrophobic for me.  It was interesting viewing the war from the Vietnamese point of view, rather than the war movies of the Americans. Quang also talked about how his family was affected as his father fought for the South Vietnamese Army, the SVA, on the side of the Americans and how his father was later ‘re-educated’ by the Communist government. Ollie was quite shocked to hear the term ‘American Killer Heroes’, used in the displays celebrating the Vietcong victory, but it made for an interesting and lengthy discussion about how we write history with Ollie afterwards.

Ben and Rob both had a go at firing an AK-47 (at $1 per bullet)

Ben and Rob both had a go at firing an AK-47 (at $1 per bullet)

Considered too graphic for the kids, Ben and Rob followed up with a visit to the War Remnants Museum. We later took the boys to see the tanks, jets and armoury in the museum courtyard.  Ollie wanted his picture taken with every single one.

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The Post Office – designed by the famous Eiffel (lots of steel!)

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Sadly, this was also where we had to say goodbye to our awesome travel companions, Cath, Rob & Lani. We had such a ball with them, we walked, drove, cycled, flew, swam, biked, rowed, floated, chugged, laughed, played, haggled, ate and drank our way through this amazing country together and have some incredible memories to take with us. Thanks so much guys, you made Vietnam a very special experience – how does same time next year sound??

Everyone loves having their photo taken

Everyone loves having their photo taken

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Electrician is a high risk job in Vietnam

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Another great scooter shot!

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4 Responses to Xin Chao from Saigon

  1. Joe Walsh says:

    Hey Cameron
    Your trip is looking so exiting now!with those planes and spike pit.I hope your dad didn’t poke that AK-47 in your face

    From Joe

    • Cameron Walker says:

      Hi Joe

      Thanks for the email, don’t worry Dad did not poke the gun in anyones face, he only managed to blast a leg of one of the vietcong soldiers guarding nearby!

      At the moment we are in Cambodia and are taking a boat trip to a small, tropical
      island for 5 nights! It is a bit of a weird place for my birthday party?

      Wish I could invite you! From Cameron 😉

  2. Joe W says:

    Thank you so much for the ink stamps,it was so nice to receive a parcel from halfway around the world.and also to wish you a very happy birthday whatever you may be doing

  3. Tom W says:

    Wow it looks absolutely amazing there and I hope your having a great time (well pretty obvious you areLol).Also I’d like to thank you for my stamp it’s amazing,how did u get it?thx and hope your back home,you will have so many stories to tell anyway thx and bye!

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