Our final destination in Vietnam was to be it’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh city, formerly known as Saigon. The city centre is situated on the banks of the Saigon River, more than one thousand miles south of Hanoi, where we began our Vietnamese Odyssey almost three weeks ago.
Under the name Saigon, the city was the capital of the independent state of South Vietnam from 1955–75. South Vietnam, as an anti-communist state, fought against the communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong during the Vietnam War (known as the American War here), with aid from the United States of America. Saigon fell when it was captured by the communists on April 30, 1975, thus bringing an end to the War.
Our first port of call was the infamous Ben Thanh market where I was hoping to buy a few items I needed. However, I was so overwhelmed by stall-holders surrounding me and literally grabbing my arms and pulling me, that I high-tailed it out of there within a couple of minutes, empty-handed.
The Reunification Palace was the place where tanks crashed through the gates to signal the fall of Saigon in April 1975 and which, curiously, has remained trapped in the time warp of the 1970s ever since.
We then strolled to the very grand Central Post Office which looks much more like a well-preserved Parisienne railway station, near to the Notre Dame cathedral before ascending to the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower – better known as the Saigon Skydeck.
The following day we took a trip out of the city to the Cao Dai Temple to witness the noon ceremony attended by hundreds of tourists and worshippers alike.
The Cu Chi tunnels provided a fascinating alternative viewpoint of the war in Vietnam as seen through Vietnamese eyes. This immense network (over 200 kilometres) of connecting underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong were of great importance in their resistance of American forces, and helped achieve ultimate military success. A short section of the tunnels has been enlarged to allow tourists to crawl through – and I can tell you that they are cramped, dark, hot, humid, airless and very claustrophobic.
Our final thrill of the day was to play at being Rambo and fire some rounds of an M30 machine gun on the shooting range at the Tunnels before we left. The power and noise were absolutely incredible.
Watch out for my next report from the Kingdom of Cambodia.