The bus journey to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as it is still known locally) is a much better experience. We were able to get the marvellous Mekong Express. Couldn’t be more different to the previous bus trip. The 6 hour trip flew by and the border crossing was very interesting. The Cambodian side of the border is like a mini Vegas – giant casino hotels and not much else. Must be something to do with the Vietnamese gambling laws.
Bit of a palaver to cross the border. We got off the bus on the Cambodian side and were stamped out of the country, boarded the bus, drove on about 100m, got off the bus – this time with our backpacks. We then queued to be stamped in and took our bags to the airport style scanner which looked like a hangover from the communist era. The man on the other side of the scanner was sprawled across his seat in a deep slumber – UKBA, watch and learn (unfortunately photography was prohibited or it would have been a corker!)
We arrived in Saigon, off the bus and into the arms of some particularly assertive hawkers but we grabbed our packs and stomped off in search of our lodgings. In, out and straight for a beer which today is…..Saigon Green, very refreshing it is too.
So, the rule here is that the smaller the chairs, the cheaper the beer. We start off here – big chairs and even a table – bottle of beer is about £1.20 (quite pricey for SE Asia). By the end of the night we ended up on tiny plastic chairs on the edge of the road. Bottle of beer is 30p – happy days! Here we met James and SJ who have been here 3 weeks, they’re planning to teach English for the next year. Stumbled back several beers later.
Next day we explored Ho Chi Minh City. Starting with the War Remnants Museum we saw another troubling part of the region’s history with American planes, tanks and artillery as well as the horrific torture used during this time.
On the way back from pounding the streets we came across the new Saigon Sky Tower so went up to the viewing deck for the stunning Saigon sunset.
We didn’t have great expectations of Saigon, it was more of a transit stop on our way up the coast but we loved it, vibrant, cool and like other SE Asian cities – seemingly on the up after recent troubles. Crossing the road though remains a big challenge. The only way to do it is to forget all Western road safety practices, hold your nerve and just walk out into the street. Hopefully most vehicles will just ride round you (they’re coming at you from all directions). Great if you’re an adrenaline junkie, tough if you’re an uninitiated Westerner and suicide if you’re a little on the infirm side!
We’ve covered a lot of ground of the last 2 weeks so we leave Saigon to slow down for a few days on the beach near Mui Ne.