Once upon a time in Saigon

Fact #1: Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, not Saigon (came as a completely surprise to me)
Fact #2: Ho Chin Mihn City is the official name, but nobody in the south ever uses it. It is Saigon.

Arrived to Saigon at 4:30AM. Shared a taxi with Singaporeans I had briefly met on Lang Biang mountain in Da Lat. A guy on a motorbike found me a room for the 1€ fee. I made him carry my baggage to my room too. Continued sleeping. Woke up two hours later. Went outside and met a fellow traveller from the Laos phase, who was about to leave Saigon. Funny how it goes.

Saigon has got nice bustling energy. It is sometimes compared to Bangkok, but not as large and not as wild. Saigon is the city of ubiquitous motorbikes. Reputed for its mad traffic, where crossing a street can be a challenge, but I did not find it that intimidating. The worst traffic I saw was in Ulaan Baater with its too many cars, no traffic lights and complete disregards for any traffic rules. On the other hand, Ulaan Baater taught me how to cross a street. The secret is to just go, full of confidence and clearly showing your intentions. Saigon is piece of cake comparing to the capital of Mongolia, as most of the traffic is motorbikes with higher maneuverability. As a bonus, uou can cross the street in any fashion (diagonally across a roundabout for example). Unlike Bangkok walking around Saigon and gazing at the local street-life is surprisingly pleasant, although the heat was killing. There are some parks scattered around the center and tree alleys French style providing a refuge from the heat. The dehydration was ever-present and no matter how much I drank I could never quench my thirst and during the day body hardly produced any urine. In a true backpacker fashion I saved 2$ on A/C in my room, but had to pay with constant sweating. On my last day I went to Botanical Gardens to escape the heat and chill out only to find out that the “garden” was full of caged animals and theme park attractions.

Saigon has two “must visit” sights: The Reunification Palace and War Remnants Museum. The Reunification Palace is left in its more or less original form after the war ended and is a fascinatingly strange place, indeed. There are very few individual exhibits, the whole place is rather one gigantic exhibit. Very 70s and very charming. The basement is particularly interesting with its semi-empty office rooms, outdated communication equipment, metal tables and wall maps. The roof has a replica of the helicopter Americans used to flee, when North captured the city. Good stuff. The War Remnants museum is, on the other hand, a proper museum. The front-yard proudly displays captured American war machines and has got a replica of prison cells used to hold Vietkong prisoners. Inside the museum are the exhibitions dealing with a brief history of the war, Agent Orange, aftermath and so on. The exhibitions are very graphic and sport in your face attitude. No toned-down Western style. The general message of the museum can be summed up as: French came, we kicked their asses. Americans came, we kicked their asses. Chinese came, we kicked their asses. Several travelers have complained that the museum gives an one-sided picture of the war, but hey what can you expect. It is Vietnam, it is communist and it is their war.

I like Saigon. There is nothing much to do in terms of sights, but said before the city sports nice energy. You get constantly pestered by motorbike drivers (Hello! Motorbike?) offering their service, but their attitude is good-natured and friendly, although persistent. Not for the weak-spirited. After two days in Saigon it was time to move on. I pondered between Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc and finally settled on going to Mekong Delta. But after talking with fellow travelers from Canada, Niels and Stephanie, who were going to Phu Quoc, I suddenly realized that I had seen Mekong already and change my mind to fly to Phu Quoc. So the finale beach phase has begun.

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