How I arrived in Saigon (Ho-Chi-Minh-City) and realised I am a multi-millionaire. I learned about the Vietnam War, visited a theatre where puppets dance over the water and took a boat in the jungle.
My flight was from Hong Kong to Saigon (Sài Gòn), or how it is called nowadays: Ho-Chi-Minh-City (Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh). Both names are still in common but the official name is Ho-Chi-Minh-City since the reunification in 1976, named after the further president of the Northern part of Vietnam. It is the biggest city in Vietnam with more than 7 million habitants and was until 1975 the capital of the Southern part of the country when Vietnam was divided.
My first impression when I arrived in Saigon was: The city is crazy. There are cars and especially motorcycles everywhere. The latter replaces the family van. Parents and three children fit easily on one motorcycle. It’s loud, it’s crowded and especially for a Westerner as me, it is confusing. When you want to cross the street there are often no traffic lights and if there are some there are still motorcycles which ignore it (They sell shirts in Vietnam with “Red means I can still go”). Especially Rush Hour is horror. People told me the trick – as pedestrian – is: Keep walking.
Oops, I am multi-millionaire
One other overburden thing is the money. The lowest banknote in Vietnam is 1,000 VND (circa 0.04 US$), the highest 500,000 VND (circa. 22.18 US$). So when I first came to the bank I took 2,000,000 VND (circa 88.70 US$) from my bank account – I never felt richer. If it is your first time in Vietnam, the money could be probably a bit confusing. The banknotes are high, all notes are colourful but have the same person (Ho Chi Minh) on it. A nice idea is to install an app for currency translation to make sure how much money you spend for something. A helpful rule of thumb is around 20,000 VND are one US-Dollar. Don’t get into a rush by paying because unfortunately, there are people who try to utilise the situation and get more money from you by not telling you that you paid one zero too much or giving the wrong change. But do not worry you will get used to it pretty fast.
Tears at the Sightseeing Tour
In my opinion, Ho-Chi-Minh-City does not offer so many Sightseeing-places. They have some nice buildings in the French colonial style as the post office (built by Gustave Eiffel the engineer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris), the Reunification Palace or the old City Hall with a little park and a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the front. All the places are nice to see but you can not really spend a lot of time there. I would recommend the War Museum and the Water Puppet Theatre.
The War Remnants Museum costs only 15,000 VND (circa 0.65 US$) and shows different photos, articles from newspapers and some videos about the Vietnam War (1955-1975). They tell some really personal stories about different people who got killed in the war or even crueller through war crimes as massacres. People, who were born in the last 35 years (some of them are in my age or younger) and have to live with worst deformation of their bodies as consequence of the toxic of Agent Orange. But also of victims of the war who lost their legs and/or arms and who are top athletes or painters today. I have to admit that I had more than once tears in my eyes. Tears because of the incomprehension how so many people can protest all over the world against this war but can not do anything against it. Tears because of the never ending possibility of the cruelty of people in killing, destroying and torturing others which make me feel sick and so angry. But also tears for the hope the people in these stories can give you about living a successful and happy life whether they have to live with diseases.
Dancing puppets on the water
One other highlight was the Water Puppet Theatre to me. The tradition of the theatre goes back until the 11th century and is from Northern Vietnam. The show in Saigon was around 45 minutes long, cost 200,000 VND (on a Sunday evening, circa 8.90 US$) and showed several little stories about animals and humans in the water combined with traditional live music, singing and sometimes speaking (in Vietnamese). The puppets are made out of wood with lacquering and dance, swim and walk through a small pool. The puppeteers are hidden behind a drop.
Shipping through the dschungl
Many hotels and travel offices offer different kind of tours. Really famous are one-day-tours to the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi Tunnels. I decided to do former. Some agencies already offer group tours for 10$. The Mekong Delta is a region in Southern Vietnam. The Mekong is a huge river which extend over six countries: besides the Vietnam also China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I would guess most Mekong Delta tours offer a similar programme. We went to a little temple on our way and at the Mekong Delta we took a boat, tried some tea and domestic fruits. We went to a coconut farm, rode in a horse-drawn carriage and of course the highlight – taking a rowing boat along the different canals.
After a few days in Ho-Chi-Minh-City I went on to Da Lat in a sleeping bus – travelling while you’re sleeping, that’s a nice one.