Ho Chi Minh: Our first two days

Yesterday we flew into Ho Chi Minh City which is our last stop in Vietnam. It is even bigger population-wise than Hanoi, with approx 8.5 million people (a million more than Hanoi), despite the larger population it is also 1000 square kilometres less in land area so it is even more densely populated. There are more high rises here and everything is a bit newer/cleaner, at least in the areas we have been to. The CBD feels just like any other big city really, I imagine it feels like an asian/eastern version of Los Angeles or New York. Lots of flash hotels and office buildings, crazy lights and a lot of western brand names. Even the area we are staying has much wider footpaths and feels more ordered than Hanoi.

We are on a road that is about 6 lanes either direction, and in rush hour each lane will have about 3 scooters/motorbikes wide in it, the traffic is immense and there is zero chance of crossing the road here. Even the narrower roads in the city centre are much harder and scarier to cross than Hanoi as the traffic moves a lot faster and people seem much less willing to give way and go around you. The videos below are in the evening, not even close to rush hour.

When we arrived yesterday we went to the War Remnants Museum. This was a lot bigger and more comprehensive than the War Museum in Hanoi and also had a very big photo exhibition with a lot of photos taken by war photographers in the field. There was also a lot more detail given about the horrific injuries from napalm and phosphorus bombs used by the US and also the injuries and subsequent birth defects caused by agent orange – not just Vietnamese people but US soldiers that were hit by way of friendly fire.

Today we went to the Cu Chi tunnel complex which is about 50km from central Ho Chi Minh. These were tunnels dug by the Viet Cong to shelter from US bombing and to aid their guerilla warfare. We got there via speedboat up the Saigon river, the breeze from the speed of the boat was a welcome respite from the heat. It is similar/a bit hotter than Singapore (33 degrees today), but a bit less humid so slightly more tolerable. The tourist complex includes some of the tunnels, replicas of spike traps etc plus a shooting range. The tunnels have been expanded slightly to allow easier access for tourists but are still pretty small. I’d guess that the narrowest bits of the tunnels we went down are probably as wide as the widest bits of the original ones, with some sections being much narrower. I’m not a big guy but I think I’d be bigger than the average Viet Cong soldier. The 100m section of tunnel we crawled through was very hot and claustrophobic, I could crouch some of the way but was crawling to make it through the narrowest parts. I could only also just squeeze in the secret trap door entrance. There was an option to fire some assault rifles (AK, M16 or M1) and light machine guns(M60) at the shooting range but the price per bullet was high and there was a minimum amount of bullets you had to buy also, plus my shoulder is still giving me a fair amount of grief from my bike crash recently so thought the recoil of large caliber guns wouldn’t have been great for it.

One thing that you immediately notice about Ho Chi Minh City is the smog. It can be a clear day, but unless you look straight up you do not see blue sky. Hanoi did not have any smog like this, it must be the hotter temperatures here, it is also very still. It also has not rained for quite a while though they are due some in a few days. Tomorrow is our last day here, we fly out for Phnom Penh tomorrow evening. We are going to check out the zoo and botanic gardens tomorrow morning, then head back to the city centre to see the Reunification palance, the central post office and perhaps the city museum.

We have enjoyed our time here but are looking forward to something new in Cambodia. We feel like we are ending on a good note here in Ho Chi Minh City. Everyone seems a little friendlier here than some other parts of Vietnam, we are not sure if this is because they are a bit more receptive to foreigners/white people in the south given the political leanings here in the past. There is less touting here too which is nice, we have not really been harassed here at all apart from a couple of taxi drivers at the airport. It will be interesting to see what Cambodia is like. We are hoping to catch up with one of my colleagues who is also on holiday in Phnom Penh. She is about my age but moved to New Zealand when she was a teenager. She can still speak Khmer so hopefully she can give us some local knowledge!