It took a bit of time, but this is our concluding post from our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. Cédric and I are still sorting out our lives and getting used to the concept of work.
Our second attempt with the overnight bus (from Buon Ma Thuot to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City) wasn’t as refreshing as the previous one… this bus company decided that shrill, loud, traditional Vietnamese music was perfect for notifying us of any pit stops or that we arrived in the city (at 5am).
Our first day in Saigon was spent getting familiar with the city… we walked all over the downtown area and saw most of the major sights. Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum, where we were reminded of our respective ‘imperialist’ countries and their invasions of Vietnam. The Museum itself was interesting and we were able to see the toll foreign influence had taken on the country. Our next stop was the Independence Palace, which was the ‘White House’ of South Vietnam. Walking through the Palace, it seems as though the decor hasn’t been touched since 1975, when South Vietnam was ‘liberated’ (or invaded, depending on your point of view) by the North Vietnamese/Viet Minh. Other sights we saw were the Ben Thanh market, the French post office, and a cathedral replicating one from Toulouse.
The next day, we joined a tour group to see the Cu Chi tunnels, which are the famous guerrilla warfare tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war. Our self-aggrandizing tour guide, Jimmy (“Jimmy knows everything, no other tour guides know this”), showed us reconstructions of the tunnels and hideouts used by the guerrillas. For both Cédric and me, it was interesting to see how innovative the Viet Cong were, with their trap doors and booby traps, in circumstances with very limited resources. As the tour ended, our guide who knew everything forgot to mention that life in the tunnel wasn’t so idyllic (pests and sicknesses ran rampant) and ultimately, the tunnels didn’t hold up to extensive bombing.
Our last day in Vietnam was spent visiting the pagodas and shops of Saigon’s Chinese district. With a few extra dollars on hand (which goes really far in Vietnam), Cédric and I had fun buying odd spices and herbs in the Binh Tay market and lighting a prayer incense coil in the last pagoda we visited. As the day progressed, however, we both started to get overwhelmed with the noise, pollution, and general urban chaos. We were happy to be leaving that evening.
Before we returned to Munich, Cédric and I had another short layover in Beijing, but long enough to stretch our legs outside of the airport. This time, we visited the Temple of Heaven Park. In contrast with the last time that we were in Beijing (the beginning of March), the trees showed green buds and the smog and pollution had cleared to the point where we could see the mountains encircling the city. We ate both lunch and dinner in the city, and both times we ate some pretty odd things; for the most part in Cambodia and Vietnam, food wasn’t so different from what we know as Asian food in the West, but in China, knowing what you order is a challenge. We also had a bizarre Chinese breakfast with tea / soy sauce soaked eggs and fermented mustard root on our flight back to Munich.