55-58 Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)

See trip index here,Vietnam index here and additional Vietnam photos here

For our last full day in Hoi An we decided to go to the Marble Mountains which are about 30km away.  We were told the only way to get there was via a private taxi ($25) and then get a guide, but we found an organised tour for $10 each with a guide and so we booked this.  When the minibus turned up we found we were the only two people, so ended up with a superb private tour of the mountains with an excellent guide who gave us interesting history with the Cham people and with the more recent usage by the Viet Cong.

The caves are like many others we’ve seen on this trip, but are probably top pick easily beating Batu caves in Malaysia.  Good views, lovely natural caves, and of course a couple of Temples and Pegodas.  Having a private guide also meant no hawking or sales pressure which was good. There were some lovely marble sculptures but none that would fit in our backpack.

Leaving Hoi An is probably our first real “mistake” of the trip, caused by both the weather and the Tet New Year holidays.  In Hanoi and Hue the weather was quite poor, and we were also told that hotels places get booked up over the new year period.  So we booked in advance in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) – bypassing the beach resort of Nha Trang and the mountainous French-esque town of Dalat – both of which are typically visited in Vietnam. However, in Hoi An the weather improved and we now know the long distance Sinhtourist night bus is good, meaning that Nha Trang and Dalat were easily accessible and the weather was ideal, but we could not change.  🙁  Damn.  Interestingly, Winter and Summer occur at different times in Vietnam – the North is still in Winter, whereas they say the south is in Summer (more tropical climate)…

Instead we took an easy flight from Danang to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) for £34 each and will try not to plan too far ahead in future!

We say easy flight, but our plane (Boeing 777 – bizarre choice for an hours’ flight) had a technical problem – we could actually see a load of guys on ladders fiddling with an engine.  After over an hour late we boarded and took off, and as soon as we landed the engine was in bits again.  Hmmm.  100% record of technical malfunction on Vietnamese airlines for us…

Our pre booked taxi picked us up from the airport so we avoided the scams, and got to our hotel which is in the backpacker ghetto.  Every shop is a hotel, travel agent, or bar – and some very dodgy bars (busy!) charging 4x the going rate for a bottle of beer.  We met some French people we met in Hanoi for a drink and they chose the rip-off bar!  DOH!

HCMC is a bit quieter than Hanoi (though still very busy), the streets slightly wider, and still an adventure to cross the road.  Doing our usual walking spree, we visited the Reunification Palace which was clearly an ultra-modern 1960s building, but now just an impressive out-of-date building.   Not much to see, and not many facts and much history being told. 

Then we went to the War Remnants museum dedicated to the Vietnam/American war.  We were warned this was highly biased and full of propaganda, but actually we found it reasonably factual albeit telling just one side of the story.  Most photos/quote were backed up with “facts”, and learning about some of the things the Americans did, along with recorded quotes from the American politicians – you have to wonder what on earth the yanks were doing….  Some very very sad and distressing pictures, especially regarding Agent Orange, but worth a visit to learn some more about the recent troubles.

After a rather nice meal and some good random company of a couple moving UK to OZ, we headed into town to see some dodgy live music, then the busy flower streets down to the river for the 2012 lunar new year (Tet) celebrations.  1000’s of people, though very orderly, and bizarrely everyone just sits on the floor!   The midnight fireworks were impressive (though not mega-wow) – and they had some we hadn’t seen before.  Afterwards, there was a fairly orderly getaway – until that is they all got on their mopeds…

1000s of mopeds and people and it was grid lock – the only way to cross the road was by forcing your way through and even tilting handlebars to squeeze through! Even the pavements aren’t safe havens!  We lost 20 years of life getting back but it was nice to see in another new year in a different way.

See our last stint in Vietnam here


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