February 5, 2012

Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City

A few weeks ago I went to Vietnam. I flew into Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, and wandered around the south. Two days were in the Mekon River Delta, then back to Saigon for a night. Next was Dalat, exploring the countryside. Then a motorbike tour from Dalat to Mui Ne, and finally back to Saigon. For my posts, I will break up the trip into city so it isn't too overwhelming.
First things first, Saigon!

These two pictures are the most representative of my experience in Saigon. Crowded, bustling streets filled with motorbikes and yet, chickens wandering around the storefronts.

Here's a clip of street traffic on a Monday night.

The French influence is visibile throughout Vietnam. There are small parks around the city with tall trees and sculture gardens. A nice place to relax in the shade!

One of the most iconic buildings in Saigon is the Reunification Palace. The interior is lavish, long tables with elegant chairs, furniture made from carved wood in pristine condition, and beauitful ornate rugs decorated with "Do not walk on!" signs. The most memorable part is not the display of Vietnamese affluence, though - it is in the basement.

This historic building has been kept true to its history - the furniture and decor have not been changed since 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army broke down the gates. You can see the President of South Vietnam's workplace and living quarters, complete with intelligence and communication rooms, kitchens, and so on.

The palace's grounds are memorable also, because there are tanks and planes on display.

The Russian T-64 tanks used to knock down the palace gates are on proud display here. Though the signage indicates that they may not be the actual ones used in the event, the language barrier leaves room for ambiguity.

Captured US planes are also scattered around the grounds.

From the roof, you can see the helipad used to evacuate the palace once it was under seige.

Accomodation Recommendations:

Ngoc Thao Guesthouse in the backpackes' district was highly rated on HostelWorld.com, but they were booked and referred me to Ruby Guesthouse, just around the corner.

Ruby Hostel was fantastic. The host was always close by and willing to help, not only with suggestions on trustworthy companies, but also held our bags for two nights for free when we left Saigon. One day we arrived at 6 am - well before check in, so she let us sleep in her family's bed while we waited for an available room. Needless to say, she was extremely accomodating!

The hostel is a tall and narrow building, and each room is on its own floor. We stayed in one with two sets of bunkbeds and another that was "familiy style" meaning it had a queen bed. Each room had its own bathroom and lockers or locking cabinets for valuable possessions. The main floor was being remodeled while we were there. When we left it had a sofa and chairs to make a communal area. There was also a free computer with internet acceess and wifi blanketed over the building. The set up was intimate and a nice change from the overcrowded hostels I have seen in the past. Most importantly, I felt very welcomed and safe the entire stay.

Contact info - for some reason, it isn't on Hostel World! You can stop in Ngoc Thao and ask about Ruby Hostel or email them directly at: rubyhostel@yahoo.com.vn

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