Postcards from Abroad

Whether your dream is to stay in a colonial-era bungalow in the middle of a tea plantation, an Indian princely palace, or to cruise in luxury the Irrawaddy to Mandalay, we never tire of searching for your next great travel destination. This is the place to share with us your most recent adventures.

Scintillating Saigon by James and Cate Fraser

cateWell, we are not disappointed! Our Vietnamese Dreamliner flight was excellent but we won't dwell on the wait we had to get visas; Khai our guide had given up on us and had only come back to the terminal to have one last check...... In addition, our hotel room was not to be ready for another 5 hours; luckily our hotel in the Dong Khoi area, the Majestic, is very central overlooking the Saigon River so undeterred we decided to wander around.

 

 

  

Majestic Saigon

This vibrant, booming, throbbing city with tree lined avenues teems with life. Lovely low colonial buildings are surrounded by skyscrapers and mammoth malls. The most dangerous exercise is crossing a road as thousands of helmet and mask clad motorcyclists speed towards you. Next is being sensible or stupid enough to walk on the pavement, scooter drivers are so impatient they use the pavements driving in both directions, you need eyes in the back of your head - we are lucky to be alive!! To sum it up there are 9 million inhabitants and 7 million ride scooters! We had a bit of fun trying to choose the best collective noun to describe them: finally settling on a "madness".

Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the war ended in honour of their leader, there are many statues.

Saigon

 

Our day 2 began with a city tour. 19th century Notre Dame Cathedral stands tall and proud in the government quarter but the inside is a sad relic of the past. Opposite is the Central Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel, it was bustling with life and the curved inside roof reminded one of a railway station. Outside immaculate groups of green and white clad tiny kindergarten tots were arranged for photographs whilst their flustered teachers behaved like mother hens ensuring that none wandered off into the menacing traffic.

The Reunification Palace built in 1966, previously South Vietnam's Presidential Palace looks like a giant egg crate, it was here that the Soviet tanks burst through the railings when Saigon fell on 30th April 1975. The building is a time warp and exactly as it was on that day; the 2 tanks now sit silently as a gentle reminder of past events as people panicked and fled the city. We were shown the exact spot where the last American helicopter evacuated pleading personnel, apparently, the top of the CIA building and not the Embassy. We can only imagine the fear as the southern Vietnamese soldiers discarded uniforms in the hope of disguising themselves as ordinary people.

The Thien Hau Pagoda, a Taoist temple built by the Cantonese in the 19th century was unusual. We gained our first sight of large slow burning suspended incense coils containing red or pink labels. The smell was overpowering and smoke quite atmospheric, the labels symbolised whether you were Chinese or not. Each bore a family request written very neatly for health, happiness, or longevity. Many believe that the goddess, to whom the temple is dedicated, can travel the oceans on a mat and ride through the clouds bringing one good fortune.

Thien Hau Pagoda

Later a wander through the Chinese quarter gave us an understanding of just what the 1.3 million Chinese contribute to the local economy.

Interestingly where we are staying has gone from being the notorious brothel and bar area to a high-end shopping street. When the Americans left, the whole area changed and now it is very smart. Business rents are exorbitant, obviously, the tourists with the exception of us must be doing a lot of buying!

Day 3 - Our visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels was an experience not to be forgotten. This network of underground tunnels used by the Vietcong made us appreciate the real horrors of the Vietnam War. We were shown assorted spiked and explosive booby traps, the effects of which did not bear thinking about. James and I managed 20 metres underground; it was hot, airless, backbreaking, and claustrophobic and bearing in mind the original tunnels were infested with ants, scorpions, spiders, and vermin, we got away lightly. Our guide persuaded us to get up very early for this to miss the main rush and when we saw the number of busses assembled at the end of our tour we were thankful; 1 million tourists visit each year.

cate

We later visited Cao Dai Great Temple, the religion is a puzzling variation of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Dominating the centre far end was a giant blue globe containing a huge left eye which stared back at one. God was watching! The ceremony consisted of white clad devotees praying and chanting accompanied by rhythmic musical notes. Looked like a cult gathering led by the 3 high priests in yellow, red, and blue.

Cao Dai temple

Day 4 Mekong Delta
Relaxing river boat ride from Cai Be to Vinhlong watching the world pass by, sadly, as it was Sunday, the usually very busy river market was quiet. We witnessed the making of rice wine, coconut caramel, rice popcorn and coconut candy. Obviously sampled it all but declined the rice wine with the addition of a cobra and scorpion known as the poor man's Viagra! Later rowed by smiley Loan on a Sampan through a quiet mangrove area. The Mekong River experience in Laos was far more exciting as the river was not as polluted and the tourism trail less well trodden. Our overnight stay in Can Tho at the fabulous Victoria Hotel is thoroughly recommended. Our favourite memory will be that amongst the bathroom freebies was a single condom! We have never ever been so well provided for.

Victoria Can Tho

Day 5 - Back to Saigon via farmer paddy fields, small shops, and cafes; the sheer numbers of motorbikes made the journey a pain but we got some solitude from the toll area where bikes are banned. In the afternoon, we visited The War Remnants Museum. It was very busy, fascinating but gory, also the aftermath of any war where chemicals and poisons are used is depressing - missing limbs, hair lips, congenital diseases etc.

Day 6 - left sunny Saigon and headed for Hoi An .........
It has been a hectic but rewarding first week.

J and C

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