Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Saigon - the end of the tour

Saigon 24-25 February

Saigon is the final destination of the tour, and is a beautiful city which shows no outward signs of the war in the 1970s. It has wide boulevards, lots of gardens, 9 million people, about 5-6 million bikes and other vehicles, and a number of luxury stores. Our guide Ut lives in Saigon and has a passion for the city.

Beautiful Singapore orchids in the foyer of our hotel
 On our arrival we had a short tour of the centre of the city, which is known officially as Ho Chi Minh City, but equally frequently as Saigon. The names seem quite interchangeable. The next morning we had a more extensive tour visiting the Re-unification Palace, or Independence Palace, which is usually now used only for ceremonial purposes. It has louvred windows which create very cooling breezeways. It’s furnishings are elegant with Asian and French influences. It also has immaculate gardens.
The Reunification Palace
Floral decorations for Tet (new year)

Elegant French inspired reception room with large lacquered wall collage

Garden in the President's private quarters
 In the palace was an exhibit from the Vietnam War showing the last stages of the US rapid withdrawal from Saigon. The 2 images below show phots of the withdrawal and the building as it appears today.

Troops escaping by helicopter from the top of the CIA building

The CIA building in the foreground
We also went to the Catholic Church – religious tolerance is a significant feature of Vietnam – which is quite plain and austere, especially in comparison with the ornate Post Office next door which was designed by Eiffel and built in the 1880s.The group had its photo taken in front of the Town Hall, another ornate building.
Inside the Catholic Church. It actually looks quite gloomy inside
The Post Office, designed by Gustav Eiffel, a very ornate building, inside and out
These were phone boxes but are now ATM booths
This elderly man is 80 years old and for many years he has come to the Post Office each day to write letters for people and translate documents. I think he's almost part of the furniture.

The Saigon Opera House at a rare moment with hardly a bike in sight

In the afternoon we travelled about an hour north-west of Saigon to the Cu Chi tunnels, an extensive tunnel complex used by the Viet Cong during the war. The tunnels covered an area of about 200 sq. kilometres, ans some extended under a major US Base.The complex was comprehensive, containing areas for cooking, tool making and a variety of other occupations. The complexity of the tunnels showed great ingenuity on their part, and it’s no wonder that the US troops found it impossible to defeat the locals on their home ground. It has become apparent that most people supported the Viet Cong, except for the South Vietnamese puppet government. The defeat was inevitable.
Tony barely fitted into the tunnel entrance disguised under leaf litter

Nasty booby trap

There were comprehensive cooking facilities. Rice paper making demonstration shown here.

We ended the tour with a farewell dinner which was held on a dragon boat touring the Saigon River for about 2 hours. It was an excellent venue with an excellent buffet followed by traditional and modern singing and dancing. One interesting performance used a traditional bamboo percussion instrument called a trung which makes a wonderful sound. David started up the move towards everyone dancing – having his usual fun time. A magician also performed a few tricks at our table. He was very good and none of has any idea how he performed tricks with metal rings. All round it was an excellent way to end the trip.

We had an excellent guide for the Vietnam sector of the trip. Ut has excellent English and a real passion for his country. Our group made up a song and preformed it for him on the final night. In return he sang us a traditional lullaby as well as “I will always love you” from The Bodyguard, which proved he has a fantastic voice.

Our song lyrics were not nearly so polished, but I’ve included them anyway – sung to the tune “When the saints come marching in”
Tour leader Ut, you are a beaut
Tour leader Ut, you are so cute
We looooved doing this tour, Ut is a cool dude.

Verse 1
We saw Hanoi and did tai chi
We saw Hanoi and Halong Bay
We could have staaayed there longer,
With kayaks we loved to play

Verse 2
We came to Hue, and Ut would say
Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah
We go up the stairs this way
To watch the monks all chant and pray


Verse 3
Now from Saigon, we’ll say so long,
And across the sea we’ll fly
When you visit Australia
Be sure to say g’day

FinaleAussie Aussie Aussie , Oi Joy Oy

Oy Joy Oy translates roughly in Vietmanese to “oh my goodness” and was a phrase we all mastered well.

Now we’re all home, having seen many beautiful places and some not so beautiful, experienced a high level of hospitality and welcome everywhere we went, and learned a lot about life in Indo China in all its variety. We are a lot wiser about many things and more aware than ever of how lucky we are to live in Australia.

No, this is not the City to Surf Saigon style. It's just a few bikes having a law abiding moment at a red traffic light.

Probably one of the enduring memories will be of motorbikes everywhere, and the realisation that there is very little of importance that cannot be carried on one. Another will certainly be the sight of young Hmong children in Laos carrying several 2 litre containers on their backs from the village tank to their homes further uphill.


1 comment:

  1. Hey Joy

    Just went thru your Indochina postings from end to start. They are just brilliant!! You are so insightful & have picked up things that I certainly didn't even consider or notice. It was a total review of the holiday for me and I really enjoyed it.

    You have a real talent for this & probably would have been a world famous travel writer if the opportunity had arisen!

    Hope to catch up with you two sometime soon.



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